Sport Froome: A lot can happen before the Tour de France
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Spaniard denies rumours of comeback after setting Everesting recordContador is convinced that despite the Briton’s veteran status and his decision to ride for an inexperienced Grand Tour squad like Israel Start-Up Nation, Froome will still be a Tour de France contender.
might have shipped over five minutes on stage 3 of but the four-time winner shrugged off questions about his form and recovery from his devastating crash at last year's Critérium du Dauphiné, saying he was working to set up teammate Egan Bernal who won the stage and took the race lead.
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'I'm not 100 per cent sure he can get to where he needs to be able to win' says technical director JeppesenFroome is aiming to join Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault, Jacques Anquetil, and Miguel Indurain as five-time champions, but Jeppesen cited his 35 years of age and his serious crash last year as complications.
Bernal rode away on a mountainous stage and a finish on the 10.9km long Col de Beyrède on a stage that also traversed the Port de Bales and the Col de Peyresourde.
"I'm impressed with the whole team. The guys were amazing. Everyone did exactly as we planned today and we can be very happy with that as a team," Froome said after the stage.
The same climbs have been Froome's stomping grounds each July but this year he faces internal competition within Team Ineos for leadership at the Tour de France, with Bernal on sparkling form, Geraint Thomas next in line as the 2018 Tour de France winner, and doubts over whether he is back to his pre-injury self. The lack of faith in part led Froome to transfer to Israel Start-Up Nation for 2021.
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Froome expressed no concern over his result on the stage ahead of his bid to claim a record-tying fifth Tour de France victory.
"We're taking it one week at a time and keep improving my level. Obviously when we get to the Tour things can change by then. It's still a month away, a lot can happen."
Bernal, the defending Tour de France champion, showed that a six-month absence of competition due to the coronavirus pandemic has not taken any of the edges off his climbing form. He played off his team's work to take the stage win and the overall lead, with teammate Pavel Sivakov moving into second place, 14 seconds behind.
"We did everything to set it up for Egan in the last couple of kilometres," Froome said. "The team rode fantastically today from the start took control straight away, basically we rode on the front all the way to the finish. It's fantastic."
The stage also evoked fond memories of the team's former directeur sportif Nicolas Portal, who died suddenly in March.
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"With a stage like this, it's a special day to be able to remember Nico Portal. Personally, I had so many memories on the roads today," Froome said, his voice cracking behind his face mask. "These are the roads I've spent hours and hours with him reconning this region for the Tour de France. It brought back a lot of memories.
"It's a special day that the guys are able to get first and second. Egan and Pavel are in fantastic shape at the moment. To be able to help them do that - I was really happy with how I was feeling out there."
La Route d'Occitanie concludes on Tuesday with an undulating stage to Rocamadour with a steep 1.4km finishing climb making it one for the puncheurs.
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Chris Froome: I'm still optimistic about the Tour de France .
Ineos leader insists his form is advancing after a strong ride on the Col de Porte“I’ve obviously only had a handful of days of racing in over a year, so I’m still finding the race rhythm, but I’m feeling better and better as I do more days of racing and I’m still optimistic about the Tour,” Froome said, having produced what was his best performance since his return to racing at the Route d’Occitanie just 13 days ago.