Chris Froome came close to joining Movistar during the 2011 Vuelta, the management of the Spanish team has claimed. Froome, the current Tour de France champion, finished that race second overall, joining Robert Millar as the then highest placed British rider ever in the general classification of a Grand Tour.
In an interview with Spanish newspaper El Diario di Navarra, Movistar team manager Eusebio Unzué revealed that as Froome’s stock rose during the race, the opportunity to prise him away from Team Sky slipped away, reports Biciciclismo.
"We tried to get Froome to ride with Movistar,” said Unzué, “but the problem was that he grew up during the race.
“We courted him at the start of the 2011 Vuelta, but his promise was realised.
“He made the podium, and the Sky empire was not going to let such a rider slip away. And the facts have proved them right.”
Many believe that Froome, who took the lead of the 2011 Vuelta after the Stage 10 individual time trial in Salamanca, could have gone on to win the race had he not had to continue working for team leader Bradley Wiggins rather than the team helping him defend his own lead.
Wiggins, only riding the Vuelta because had crashed out of the Tour de France less than two months earlier with a broken collarbone, took over the race leader’s red jersey from Froome the following day.
He would surrender it to Geox-TMC’s Juan Jose Cobo on the Angliru on Stage 15 and in the closing days of the race, it was Froome who proved to be the stronger of the two Team Sky riders.
On the summit finish at Peña Cabarga on Stage 16, Froome seemed to be riding back into the overall lead as he won the stage, but Cobo recovered on the final part of the climb and went on to win the Vuelta by just 13 seconds.
Wiggins finished third overall in Madrid, 1 minute 46 down on Cobo.
“He [Froome] tried to come [to Movistar], he wanted to come," added Unzué.
"The shame is that [his talent] exploded during the negotiations.”
Unzué said he didn’t believe that Froome would have been a better rider with Movistar than he has proved to be with Sky, because “in sporting terms, his level is what it is.”
However, Unzué did say that Froome could have become a more successful rider.
“If he had come here, perhaps he could have had a Vuelta and another Tour de France in his palmarès,” he explained.
“He’s going to be everyone’s rival for the next three or four years.”
Froome’s reward for his performance in the race was a renewed contract with Sky, and a lucrative one, too – leading to team-mates nicknaming him 'Froomedog Millionaire'.
It’s likely that the rivalry between Team Sky’s two leading GC contenders, which has manifested itself at times despite the efforts of management to promote harmony within the team, had its origins in that year’s Vuelta.
In the following year’s Tour de France, when Froome appeared to attack Wiggins, then in the race lead, on Stage 11, his girlfriend Michelle Cound hit back at apparent criticism of him on Twitter by Wiggins’ wife Cath, saying: ““If you want loyalty, get a Froome dog.”
Wiggins went on to become the first British winner of the Tour de France, with Froome finishing runner-up.
But despite Sky insisting as they headed towards this year’s race that Froome was the designated leader this time round, Wiggins made noises about defending his crown rather than supporting his team mate.
A disastrous Giro d’Italia for Wiggins in which he pulled out midway through, followed by what many see as a convenient injury, led to Team Sky nearly a month before the Grand Départ on Corsica that he would not be selected for the race.
As a result, they scotched what would have been weeks of intense media speculation in the build-up to the race and beyond about the ability of Wiggins and Froome - who of course went on to win the overall title - to race together.
Had Froome not broken through in that 2011 Vuelta and secured that new contract with Sky, however, it might never have been an issue to begin with.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.