Tim Kerrison, the coach who guided Sky to back-to-back victories at the Tour de France, said Chris Froome is handling the pressures that come with the yellow jersey.
After watching Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) and Bradley Wiggins (Sky) struggle with their Tour success, Sky is hoping to take some lessons out of managing the burden that comes with the yellow jersey.
“The year after winning the Tour is bloody hard,” Kerrison told VeloNews. “Chris is right on top of things. He’s seen firsthand how difficult it was for Bradley. It’s not the same, but there is still plenty of distraction for him.”
Kerrison said the team is working closely with Froome to have a relatively seamless transition that comes with the weight of being the defending Tour champion.
To ease into 2014, Froome has been training far from the spotlight in South Africa.
While Froome has emerged as the rider of reference in the peloton, his media profile is in sharp contrast to Wiggins.
In 2012, Wiggins skyrocketed to fame when he became the first British rider to win the yellow jersey. Following that up with the gold medal in the time trial at the London Olympics a few weeks later shot him into the stratosphere in terms of becoming a celebrity.
“[Winning the Tour] changes your life. Bradley not only won the Tour, but he won the Olympics, got knighted. He went from already being popular to being a megastar, and it totally changed his life,” Kerrison said. “Bradley had so many conflicting demands.”
Wiggins could not capitalize on his success, pulling out of the Giro d’Italia, and then missing the 2013 Tour.
Adding more intrigue to the 2013 season was Sky’s decision to pass the baton of Tour leadership to Froome.
“Chris is a pretty patient guy. He did have to wait his turn, in a way,” Kerrison said, referring to the 2011 Vuelta a España and the 2012 Tour. “Froomey did exceptionally well in those races, and he served his apprenticeship, and he learned a lot.”
Kerrison said Froome will only carry confidence into the 2014 season following his dominance across the 2013 campaign.
“He deserved [to lead the team in 2013]. It meant a lot for him to win the Tour, not just the race, but the way he pulled off the entire season,” Kerrison continued. “To win the way he did makes him more confident.”
Even though he’s been training in Africa, that doesn’t mean Froome has been entirely off the radar. Local media have taken notice of Froome as Africa’s first yellow jersey winner, and European journalists have trekked to South Africa to interview him, including Sky TV and L’Equipe.
In an interview with the French sport daily, Froome said he’s been enjoying his African respite before a return to the pressure of Europe.
“To be here in Africa helps me stay fresh mentally,” Froome told L’Equipe. “I am working hard, but it’s not the same as an altitude camp in Tenerife. I am home, I am relaxed, and I see friends and family. I took a long vacation, the longest of my career, but I really needed a mental break from the stress.”
Kerrison said one big advantage Froome will have going into 2014 is that he will know what he can expect, both on and off the bike.
An important part of the first half of the 2013 season was grooming Froome into the role of a team leader and becoming accustomed to dealing with the pressures of media demands and post-race protocols that come with leadership.
“Last year was more than just about performance, it was also about developing Chris as a leader,” Kerrison said. “It was about developing the respect of his peers, of the team, and building the confidence of everyone around him, that people could believe he was someone who could win the Tour de France.”
Froome is scheduled to debut his season at the Tour of Oman and then follow a similar program to 2013, with likely starts at Critérium International, Tour de Romandie, and the Critérium du Dauphiné.
The big difference is that Froome won’t have to prove he can win the Tour, but he will have the burden of winning it again.
Kerrison refused to speculate on how many Tours Froome could win, but he said the team is studying ways to further improve his performance.
“Chris is in the early stages of his development,” Kerrison said. “If you look back at his progression, his actual raw power numbers haven’t improved that much. What’s improved is his ability to deliver that in real race situations. … There are a few little rough edges that we can smooth out over the next couple of years, so he uses his talents more efficiently.”