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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (CT) — Eight months after the crash that cut his 2019 campaign short, Chris Froome (Ineos) made his long-awaited return to racing on stage 1 of the UAE Tour, which kicked off in Dubai on Sunday. And three and a half hours after rolling off the start line, the 34-year-old Briton was all smiles as he gave his first post-race interview of the year.
“It felt good to have a race number on and have the elbows out again, fighting for position in the bunch,” Froome said after completing the stage. “It feels good to be a bike racer again.”
At the end of 148 kilometers of racing in and around Dubai, Froome finished the day safely in the peloton, on the same time as stage 1 winner Pascal Ackermann. All things considered, it was a more meaningful result than your average 115th place finish.
Last June, the four-time Tour de France winner broke several bones in a serious crash while reconning the time trial stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné. His injuries forced him to miss that year’s Tour and the rest of the season. Only after surgery and a lengthy recovery period was he able to get back onto the bike.
With that in mind, it’s hardly a surprise that Froome was visibly thrilled to finish with the pack on Sunday afternoon.
“It almost felt like being a neo-pro again, coming to my first race again,” he said, also noting that he received a warm welcome from his colleagues in the pro peloton.
“Great feeling to be back in the bunch,” he said. “So many riders coming up to me and saying good to have me back and to see that it was possible to come back after such a big crash.”
With his first race day since last June now under his belt, Froome reiterated a notion he shared in the pre-race press conference, that he was nowhere near being in form to actually contend for the overall win at the UAE Tour. He is still walking with a slight limp, and has not had a typical offseason of training.
Just the same, making it to the start line and then hanging with a peloton full of WorldTour talents both marked major milestones along his recovery path as he continues to work his way back into shape. Froome is hoping to be back to his best in time to contend at this year’s Tour, where he will be hunting for a record-tying fifth career overall win. Whether he can pull that off remains to be seen, with the Tour still months out – but his first day back at the races went about as well as he could have hoped.
“It was two, three months ago I could barely walk. I was walking with a big limp,” Froome said. “To be in a bike race, racing at the proTour level, that’s a huge victory in and of itself.”