JEREZ DE LA FRONTERA, Spain (VN) — There was a deep thumping coming from inside the Team Sky bus. 50 Cent was blaring on the sound system. A few minutes later, Chris Froome bounded down the steps, posed for a few pictures, said hi to former-pro-turned-agent Baden Cooke, and calmly slipped onto his bike for a pre-stage warm-up.
Froome, who would soon race for the first time since his bitter departure from the Tour de France, certainly looked the poster boy for what Team Sky has been saying all week: no pressure.
After three consecutive pressure-cooker years at Team Sky, when it won back-to-back yellow jerseys only to lose a top-form Froome to an early crash in 2014, riding into this Vuelta without too much pressure is just what he and the team need.
Team boss Dave Brailsford was on hand Saturday to make sure the message got through.
“Chris is going to give 100 percent of what he’s got. That might mean it’s 80 percent of what he had before his crash at the Tour,” Brailsford told VeloNews.
“He’s consistent. He’ll fight with what he’s got. There is no pressure on him. Why not try to enjoy it, have some fun?”
Team Sky got through Saturday’s team time trial with a sense of mission accomplished. It was far from their best effort — 11th at 27 seconds slower than stage-winner Movistar — but they avoided mishap in a very fast and technical stage laid with traps.
Froome had already crashed during training this week, and Sky was more interested in averting another disaster than with taking unnecessary risks to shave 10 or 20 seconds off their time.
For Froome, getting a full grand tour in his legs with an eye toward the 2015 Tour de France is just as important as challenging for the Vuelta.
“Given his early exit from the Tour, there is still a long season to go. I think Chris has a great opportunity to get a grand tour in his legs. We’ll take each day day by day,” Brailsford said, refusing to guess whether Froome has the fitness to challenge for the overall.
“Everyone wants to speculate, but no one’s got a crystal ball,” he said. “It’s about the process, not the outcome. We need to think about getting him through today. It’s a bit of a cliché, but that’s the important thing.”
Froome also downplayed his chances, calling Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha) the favorites.
The Sky captain hasn’t raced since crashing out of the first week of the Tour, so he will be one of the major question marks of this Vuelta.
But if he’s anywhere close to the Froome of the past three years, he will undoubtedly be a factor.
Even more important for Froome is simply getting back into the rhythm of racing again, said Brailsford.
“You have to move on pretty quickly in this game. Of course, there is always a period of disappointment, and that takes a little bit of time to get over it, but the great thing about this sport is you get another opportunity,” he said. “The goalposts will move, it’s going to happen. The issue is how you deal with it, because it will happen.”
When asked about Froome’s recent spate of crashes, Brailsford refused to buy into the notion that his star pupil is somehow snake-bit.
“No, no, no. I think every professional cyclist has crashes in their career. You don’t when you’re going to get them,” he said. “We rarely finish a grand tour with nine riders, so it’s a one-in-nine chance, it’s going to be a leader every now and then. It’s all about how you deal with it. You have to move on quickly, and you cannot dwell on it, and then look for the next opportunity.”
Froome’s decision to race the Vuelta also meant that Sky’s two U.S. riders — Ian Boswell and Joe Dombrowski — missed out on a chance to make their respective WorldTour debuts.
“With Chris coming, the team was selected with that in mind, but I am sure their time will come,” Brailsford.
Boswell has one more year remaining on his contract, while Dombrowski’s is up at the end of this season.
“Ian has a three-year deal, Joe not yet. We’ll see how that one goes,” he said. “America is a huge market, and it’s important to everyone, so we all keep a close watch on the American talent. There are quite a few of them right now, coming through the system, so it’s always good to have a mix of riders on the team.”