After winning nearly all the stage races he has started this year, Sky’s Chris Froome checked off another task ahead of the Tour de France: a press conference.
The Tour favourite met with around 30 journalists this afternoon in Nice, France, the team’s European base and host of stage four. The pressure is building on Froome’s narrow shoulders after his most impressive season to date – and with Bradley Wiggins staying home.
“It’s daunting, but I feel ready,” Froome said. “I have a lot of confidence in the team behind me. All through these races [that I have won], the guys have been great. They have confidence in me and that I can deliver the results.”
Froome travels to his home in Monaco, a half hour’s drive, this evening. Next week, he and his eight team-mates fly to Corsica to deliver a result in the Tour, starting on June 29.
The Tour takes on greater importance this year for Froome. Not only is the race celebrating its 100th edition, but Froome is in a position to win. This year, he conquered the Tour of Oman, Critérium International, Tour of Romandy and the Critérium du Dauphiné. His only stage race failure, if you can call it that, was losing grip on the Italian stage race, Tirreno-Adriatico.
Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) took control on the rain-soaked stage through Le Marche. Froome found himself alone and unable to keep hold of his Italian rival, who zipped up and down the technical roads leading to Porto Sant’Elpidio. He gained 48 seconds, too much for Froome take back on the final day’s time trial.
“You can take more away from losing than winning. In Tirreno the big thing I took away was the clothing and how to deal with the cold and wet conditions, to always be prepared,” Froome explained.
“I was underdressed that day; I was freezing on the bike. Because of that, I was struggling to get any food out of my pockets; my hands were cold. It was just one chain reaction after another. Coming away from that, I’ve had cold days in Romandie but I felt that I’d learnt [my lesson].
Nibali, after placing third last year and winning the Giro d’Italia last month, is staying home to prepare for the Vuelta a España and the World Championships.
Froome will have to deal with 2011 winner Cadel Evans (BMC Racing), multiple winner Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff), Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp), Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha) and many others. The situation is very different from last year, when he rode the French Grand Tour as Wiggins’ lieutenant and placed second at 3-21 minutes.
The 28-year-old Brit, born in Kenya, stands as the outright favourite. Ahead of the Tour, he has never been in such a situation.
“Leading a Tour team is a novelty for me, I’ve never done that before,” added Froome. “I was able to lead the Vuelta a España last year, but as a Tour leader… You get the feeling everything on a different level, the hype, the fans… You feel everyone is there with his A-game. I feel the big adjustments I’ve made have been more from that leadership perspective and learning to deal with the pressures that come from that position.”
Out of the hotel’s doors, with all pre-Tour racing, training and the press conference complete, Froome looks to take the biggest win of his life. If he succeeds, the victory would complete his journey from the Kenya’s out-back, from his Tour debut in second division Barloworld team in 2008 and from being Wiggins’ lieutenant.
Instead of just being an outright favourite, he would have his name amongst the Tour’s 100 winners.