Chris Froome says he has set himself the goal of dominating the Tour de France for the remainder of the decade, and that he is relieved that team mate and defending champion Sir Bradley Wiggins is missing this year’s race through injury, since the absence of media speculation regarding Sky’s leadership and tactics will result in less pressure.
Despite a stellar 2013 to date, in an interview with The Times [£], the 28-year-old Froome said he is still getting used to being in the limelight and that what counts for him is results, not stardom.
“I am who I am, I am not some of the things I’ve been told that I am,” he said. “There are already a lot of people making opinions of me. It’s one of the things I am still adjusting to. I see comments on social media which are hard not to take offence to.”
“I don’t feel like I am looking for fame or looking to be recognised for something. I’ve got my goals, and personally where I want my career to go is to target the Tour, not just this year but for the next six or seven years. I am driven by that goal, not from a fame point of view.”
Born to British parents in Kenya, schooled in South Africa and now racing for Great Britain after initially representing the country of his birth, Froome has had a singular and often difficult journey to reach the top ranks of professional cycling.
The fact he has got there, with stage wins and podium positions in two of the three Grand Tours and an Olympic bronze medal in the time trial, is a sign if nothing else of his determination.
“When I focus on something, there is not much that can throw me off course,” he said. “That is my personality. Once I’ve set my mind on something, I’ll do everything I can towards it. I can become very self-immersed.”
Froome heads to Corsica for the start of the 100th edition of the Tour in a fortnight’s time as a strong favourite, following victories in the Tour of Oman, the Critérium International, the Tour de Romandie and, last week, the Critérium du Dauphiné.
The only rider to have got the better of him this year – Vincenzo Nibali in Tirreno-Adriatico, where Froome was second overall – misses the Tour, having targeted and won the Giro d’Italia, while the man many expect to be his biggest rival in France, Alberto Contador, looks nowhere near his best.
Indeed, until it was confirmed earlier this month that a knee injury meant that Wiggins, who abandoned the Giro midway through due to illness, wouldn’t be riding the Tour, it looked as though Froome’s greatest potential rival at the Tour would come from Sky’s own ranks – even though the team had recently publicly reiterated that he would be undisputed leader.
Reflecting on Wiggins’ absence, Froome said: “It’s a shame because with Bradley, there comes a certain feel of, ‘We’ve got the defending champion, we have more respect in the peloton.’ But it is also nice not to have that continuing pressure from the media.
“The last six months, every time I have been on the record, it’s probably been the first question: who is going to be the leader for the Tour? In that respect, it will be more relaxed from a media point of view in that we will not be constantly questioned on leadership and team tactics.”
In last year’s Tour, Froome was runner-up to Wiggins, and while the latter may be absent, the man who will lead Sky’s challenge in this year’s race believes that Richie Porte’s form – he finished second to Froome at the Dauphiné and the Critérium International, and won Paris-Nice – may have a psychological impact on rivals.
“An interesting element now, with Richie Porte sitting second twice, is in some people’s minds. They are going to have to work pretty hard to get a spot on the podium, let alone trying for the victory. It is probably moving the goalposts a bit.”
The relationship Froome has with Porte certainly seems a world away from the often strained partnership with Wiggins that became evident at times during last year’s Tour and again in recent months as the latter made noises about defending his title.
Neighbours in Monaco and close friends as well as training partners, Froome acknowledged that he and Porte have contrasting personalities.
“He’s very vocal,” he explained. There’s not a thought that goes through his mind that he won’t say, which makes it interesting in the peloton especially. He will always call a spade a spade. He’s very different to me.”
Porte’s success this year has been rewarded with an extension to his contract, and the Tasmanian is targeting the world championships later this year, and has also said he wants to lead Sky in next year’s Giro d’Italia.
Like Froome, Porte is 28, and with those opportunities ahead and his career entering its peak years, he doesn’t face the time pressures that may have been in part behind Wiggins’ desire to defend his title.
That said, three weeks’ racing is a long time and anything can happen, and in Porte, Team Sky have a very useful Plan B should anything go wrong with Froome’s challenge.