JABAL AL AKHDHAR, Oman (VN) — Chris Froome showed that he is prepared to defend Sky’s Tour de France title with an impressive display in the Tour of Oman’s summit finish on Green Mountain today. He dropped his rivals and closed on eventual stage winner Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha) to take the overall lead.
Froome was second behind Rodriguez, by four seconds, and ahead of his rivals by around a half-minute. Former Tour winners Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) and Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) were third and fourth, at :18 and :23, respectively. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) was fifth, :31 behind Froome.
After riding to second in the 2012 Tour and the 2011 Vuelta a España, Froome is now in a position to win his first stage race classification. Friday’s stage to Boshar appears to be the only obstacle with the final stage on Saturday suiting stage 1 winner Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano).
“Today was first real test for me this year,” Froome said. “It’s extremely pleasing, extremely comforting to know winter’s been a solid winter. I haven’t done much high-end training yet, so to be in this position at this stage of the race is a very comforting feeling.”
Sky principal David Brailsford led Bradley Wiggins through the Tour last year. He nodded in agreement with Froome’s assessment.
“Quite frankly, it’s good for Froomey’s confidence to be able to put in a performance like that,” Brailsford told VeloNews. “Albeit February, it’s good for him.”
Froome’s goal is to win the Tour de France in five months’ time. Wiggins said his season will revolve around the Giro d’Italia in May, but left the door open to a possible Giro-Tour double.
Wiggins showed today that he would be willing to help Froome win in the Tour. He orchestrated the Sky charge before sitting up at the base of the 5.7km climb south of the capital city of Muscat.
“I owe it all to the team, they rode fantastically. Having riders like Bradley Wiggins, as classy as him, helping position me into the climb, Richie Porte, Dario Cataldo, helping me at the bottom of the climb, they even helped close a couple of Contador’s attacks early on,” Froome said. “Saxo-Tinkoff took it up at bottom of the climb, made it very hard, explosive. I got dropped at the foot of the climb and got across on the flat bit, in no man’s land.
“I tried to ride the climb without any major surges, knowing it was a hard climb and the toughest part’s still at the top. It was very tactical; Contador, Nibali, and Rodríguez even put in a few accelerations each time leaving me behind a bit.”
With 500 meters to go, Froome trailed Rodríguez with Nibali, but the Kenya-born Brit made his solo bid at 400 meters out. With 200 left, he surged to close the gap to Rodríguez and might have caught him if he had not misjudged the climb.
While riding on his trainer near the finish line, Froome looked up and pointed: “I thought the finish was up there.”
The Tour of Oman covers the Bousher Alamrat climb three times on Friday. As in the Tour, Sky should be able to control the race and set Froome up for what would be a confidence boost heading towards July.
Froome remains cautious not only for tomorrow but for the months to come.
“If you’re saying it has relevance for months to come, I don’t think you can take much from it,” he said. “It’s still February and I doubt riders have been doing much intensity work. It’s a good thing for this race, but I’m fully aware it’s only February.”