Chris Froome says that he may begin his 2019 season in Colombia, and that his main target for the year will be trying to secure a record-equalling fifth Tour de France victory.
Speaking to the newspaper El Colombiano on a visit to take part in a race organised by former Team Sky colleague Rigoberto Uran, Froome also shared his views on the Latin American country’s leading riders.
His trip to Colombia clearly made an impression on the 33-year-old, winner of four editions of the Tour de France and one each of the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta.
“I was fascinated with all the beautiful geography I discovered here,” he said. “For many years I’ve wanted to come here, to learn how riders who had a hard route into the big European races train, what they eat, and why they are so good.”
Describing his visit as “an unforgettable experience,” Froome revealed he may return to the country sooner rather than later – next February, in fact, when he may make the Tour Colombia (formerly the Colombia Oro y Paz) his first race of the season.
The six-stage race was won by another Sky team mate this year – 21-year-old Egan Bernal – with Nairo Quintana of Movistar second, and Uran, now riding for EF Education First-Drapac, third.
Recent years have seen the re-emergence of Colombian riders as a force at the top level of the sport, and Froome said: "Just by seeing the results they have achieved, you realise that it is one of the best sports that this country has.
“Obviously, it has to continue rising, because it now has a large number of riders in good teams in Europe. It's on a good path, but the most important thing is to maintain that route, because the future it has is very big."
Asked which one he considers his toughest opponent, he replied: “Hmmm … it depends on the competition, the parcours. Almost all are good. Nairo Quintana has not made things easy for me, not to mention Urán, Esteban Chaves and Miguel Ángel López.
“At least Fernando Gaviria is a sprinter because if he had the ability to climb he would also put me on the ropes … “
Asked his opinion of Uran – runner-up when Froome won his fourth yellow jersey in Paris last year – he said: “He’s a fantastic guy, sometimes a little crazy, but that’s part of how he is.”
He admitted he had “mixed feelings” on Sergio Henao leaving Team Sky to join UAE Team Emirates, but said the climber had “the right to look for opportunities” elsewhere, pointing out that the likes of Uran, Richie Porte and Mikel Landa had all done likewise to further their own overall ambitions.
Two Colombians – Henao’s cousin, Sebastián Henao and Bernal remain with Team Sky, the latter a key support rider as he made his Tour de France debut this year in a race won by Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas with Froome third.
"Egan is a great domestique and enjoys what he does, when this happens things get easier,” he said. “Bernal is an incredible talent for the future of cycling."
Asked about plans to return to Colombia, Froome said: "They've made me feel so good here that I'll tell my team directors to look at how to change my race programme.
“In Antioquia I encountered warm people, and that is how it should be in the cycling environment, something that is often missing in many parts of the world, here there is empathy with this sport. I would like to be in the Tour Colombia, let's see what happens ... “
Looking ahead to who among the country’s riders might be his biggest rivals next year, he said: "The Colombians will always be tough contenders, fortunately I have Egan on my side, but I see Rigo and Nairo among the top opponents,” adding, “my biggest ambition in 2019 will be to win my fifth Tour."
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.