MUSCAT, Oman (VN) — The Tour de France champion is making his season racing debut this week in Oman, but he does so with less pressure than last season. At least according to Chris Froome.
“I don’t have the same kind of pressure that I had last year,” he told reporters here. “I’m not here, feeling like, ‘ok, I have to win this now,’ as part of the buildup to the Tour. But not to say that I’m not prepared for this and I haven’t trained extremely hard for this… I feel like I’m in good condition, and I’m really looking forward to racing again.”
Froome won the Tour of Oman last year en route to winning the Tour de France and seemingly everything else in his path, in dominating fashion — Critérium International and the Critérium du Dauphiné, namely.
Thus far it’s been a smooth three days of racing, with the decisive moments still to come. Froome said that while yellow jersey obligations had kept him busy during the off season, he arrived in Oman in good form and was excited to race after a long winter’s training. And while the pressure may be less, it’s still there. He has to race against the likes of Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), his chief rival for July.
“I’m always going to put pressure on myself. I always want to get the best result possible out of myself,” he said, also noting life had changed since his Tour victory. “Certainly it’s very different, if I have to compare coming second in the Tour to winning the Tour. Things certainly do change, but I’d like to think that it hasn’t changed who I am and the way that I live my life,” he said.
The saying that it’s a long way to the Tour holds true now, in February, but there’s no denying that the man who comes out on top at the crest of Green Mountain Saturday will have an edge over his rivals going forward. If Froome can reassert himself on the steep, 5-kilometer climb everyone will think it business as usual.
But if he can’t?
“I don’t think it’s really here nor there at this point. There’s a lot of time between here and the Tour, and a lot can happen… certainly, whoever does win here is going to come out with some kind of mental advantage over the other guys as well,” Froome said. “I’m not here to gain experience to be a leader. I did that already last year. I’ve had the experience in that position, where last year that was critical.”
Asked which riders he’s got his eye on specifically, Froome named the usual suspects, and said it was too early to discount any one man.
“There are always going to be new guys coming along, I think, and challenging for the top positions. In reality you can’t really rule anyone out until they’ve actually physically lost the time on GC,” he said. “I take every rival seriously and treat them with respect. The way it’s shaping up at the moment, I think [Astana’s Vincenzo] Nibali and [Tinkoff-Saxo’s Alberto] Contador look to be my biggest opposition. I think Nibali especially, having won the Giro last year, second in the Vuelta. He’s got a really strong team behind him. And it seems that he’s also improved a lot with his time trialing capability. Contador, you can never rule him out. He’s always got fight in him.”
Contador fought valiantly last year at the Tour but seemed more of an annoyance for Froome than a genuine threat. No one’s sure if Contador can find the form that saw him win two Tours de France; that sort of power has eluded the Spaniard since his return from a two-year ban due to a failed drug test at the 2010 Tour, which saw his third title stripped.
“Who knows? I think one thing we do know about Contador is that he also never gives up. So, I don’t think the fact that he didn’t win last year is gonna bother him. I think he’s just, if anything, even more motivated to come back this year and try again for the win,” Froome said.
Froome on doping
Froome has been staunchly anti-doping, and he’s often asked about it. Oman saw the same tone struck as last season. Asked why other riders weren’t as “outspoken” as himself, he didn’t know.
“Good question. Good question. It’s — I certainly feel that now is the time for change. I can only speak from my personal point of view, that I can say I know where I’m at, and if I’m, the fact that I’m able to get the results that I’m able to get tells me that cycling is in a very good place. I’m afraid I can’t speak for the other riders, but I’m confident in where the sport is at the moment, and I think it’s just going to take a bit more time for other people to have the same confidence,” he said.
Asked by VeloNews what it would realistically take for fans to truly believe, Froome said it was a matter of repetition.
“From a personal point of view, I’d like to think it’s going to take a few, a few, consecutive … Tour wins that aren’t ruined by doping cases. Personally that’s what I’d like to see, and the only way for me to guarantee that is for me to win. I’d love to see that,” he said. “I genuinely would.”