UCI president Brian Cookson, keen for WorldTour events to attract the biggest names, has proclaimed Chris Froome’s absence from the Tour Down Under ‘an odd decision by Team Sky’. Froome himself has pointed out that he almost always starts racing in February and with his son having only recently been born, an extra week at home was rather more valuable to him.
The Adelaide Advertiser reports that Cookson is frustrated that WorldTour races often lack many of the sport’s biggest stars. While admitting that he understood why this was often the case, he singled out Sky for particular criticism with regards to the recently-completed Tour Down Under, won by Simon Gerrans.
“I think it’s an odd decision by Team Sky,” he said about Froome’s absence. “It’s not a helpful decision, but one understands why teams sometimes make these decisions. It’s a long season and riders need to prepare in the best way, but certainly that was a puzzling decision to me.”
Cookson then argued that the Tour Down Under had perhaps been ‘a little bit of a victim of its own success’. “It’s a very difficult event to win, the teams and riders know that, and perhaps some of them choose to have a more gentle start to the season.”
This seems to be the case for Froome, who said: “Any rider who does want to come to Down Under with serious goals to do well needs to be already really in good condition come November/December. That hasn’t been on my programme. I only started training in mid-November, as I have for the last five years, and have found that’s worked for me, and I’m quite happy to stick to that.”
Froome said that sticking with tried and tested plans also ensured more time with his son Kellan, who was born in December. He has now arrived in Victoria for the Herald Sun Tour where he will begin his racing season.
“It wasn’t that I was specifically trying to avoid coming to Down Under or anything, but how it fitted in with my programme at home. I’ve just had a little boy and I’ve been on a training camp already, if I was to come to Down Under it would have meant a lot of time away before my boy was even a month old. So at least this way I got an extra week at home before coming down here and that's made it a lot easier.”
Froome denied that he had been paid to race the Herald Sun Tour, but it is a challenge for Cookson that this is how teams are sometimes persuaded to send high profile riders to events that are not part of the WorldTour.
“It’s not a good idea to force organisers to pay to bring individual riders to events, but one understands why, when teams are in a very fragile financial situation, they might choose to take advantage of those possibilities.
“Interestingly, I was talking to Mark Cavendish before Christmas and he tells me his programme is not defined by being paid to go somewhere or not — it’s defined by what he feels is the best preparation for him.
“And if he doesn’t want a high- key start to the season, I think we have to understand that. They’re not circus performers, they’re serious athletes who have to periodise their training and use their skills to get the best results.”