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SAITAMA, Japan (AFP) – Still limping heavily, Chris Froome is fighting back from less than zero, he told AFP on Saturday. The four-time Tour de France champion intended to start the Saitama Criterium on Sunday but abandoned that plan in favour of an exhibition team time trial event with Ineos teammates Jonathan Castroviejo and Egan Bernal.
“My recovery is not at the point yet where I can be back racing,” he said.
On Friday, he also rode part of July’s Tokyo Games road race route. In Saitama, he spoke of his recovery.
“The accident has certainly changed me, given me a new start,” said a determined looking Froome. “It’s like starting from zero again, below zero if you like, that’s what it feels like,” he said, his voice wavering slightly.
“But it’s completely changed my motivation, given me a challenge I’ve never had before. This could be perceived as an incredibly difficult and negative situation, but I’ve tried to turn that around to try and achieve something unprecedented.”
Froome will be 35 years old when the Tour embarks from Nice next June. With three other Grand Tour winners on the Ineos roster, he knows the size of the challenge ahead, not least building up the strength in his injured leg.
“I’ve got to get the legs back to 50-50 (instead of 65-35 strength balance),” says the Africa-born Briton, clearly dragging his right leg as he walks.
“I’ve still got more surgery (in December) to remove a big metal plate and about six screws. It’s quite tender, the muscle and soft tissue that’s being impacted by this metal plate on my hip,” he says.
‘Get back where I left off’
Before the accident, Froome made no secret of his ambition to equal the five Tours de France won by Eddy Merckx, Jacques Anquetil, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain, but is now focussed just on starting another one.
“The Tour de France is the driving force, the big prize for me is to try and get back to the Tour de France, it’s still too early to say if it’s doable. I’m going to do everything I can to get back to where I left off,” he says.
Froome says the unusual 2020 Tour de France route is double motivation.
“It’s a Tour de France we haven’t seen for decades,” he says of the constantly mountainous 21-day race which has more steep climbs than usual.
“It’s a much more punchy, much more explosive Tour route than usual,” Froome says, analysing a route he admits he has pored over. “It’s a route that looks a lot more like a Vuelta a Espana.
“It’s not a typical parcours where we only see three or four ‘GC’ days, there’s at least half a dozen there,” he says of the demanding stages where those fighting for the general classification can make decisive moves.
“It gives a lot of opportunities to the main rivals to really slug it out. That’s what all fans want to see.”
Dave Brailsford, Froome’s boss and the mastermind of seven Tour de France wins, has said Ineos will pick a team which emphasises strength in depth. Froome says they will need it.
“Certainly there’ll be strength in depth, with four Grand Tour winners on the books.
“But if you look at that course on paper we’ll need very versatile riders to be in that selection of eight. Guys who can do everything.”
When asked if the current champion, 22-year-old Colombian Egan Bernal fits the bill, Froome smiled.
“Egan has handled himself very well and obviously had the Tour de France win to show for it this year.
“He’s no slouch.”
While in Japan, Froome has done a recon on the Tokyo 2020 Olympic road race, going up Mount Fuji in a car before tackling the final part of the route on a bike.
“I’ve never won a one-day race,” Froome said. “But the Olympic route we saw yesterday is fantastic. I can’t wait to get stuck into it, to analyse it and figure out what it’s going to take to win a race like that.”