Dubai: Sunday will feel like the first day of school all over again for road cycling legend Chris Froome, who marks his return to competitive action from a career-threatening accident with the UAE Tour that gets underway in the afternoon.
Some of the world’s top names in road cycling are in the UAE for the region’s only UCI World Tour event and Briton Froome was clearly the most sought after name at the pre-event press conference in Dubai last evening.
Eight riders were present, including riding greats Alejandro Valverde and Mark Cavendish and the up-and-coming Tadej Pogacar, but Froome’s return has been the talking point, it seems, of this second edition of the UAE Tour. It showed in the kind of media interest his presence drew with a peloton of media persons chasing him up and down the mixed zone for the spiel.
Froome crashed into a wall at 37 mph in the French town of Roanne during a practice ride for the Criterium du Dauphine in June last year, an incident that left him with multiple broken bones, including a fractured neck, a fractured right femur, a broken hip and fractured ribs. The event threatened to cut short a career in which he had won the Tour De France four times, the Giro d’Italia and two Vuelta a Espana titles.
But after eight months out, he is back on the road again and taking aim at what would be a record-equalling fifth Tour De France title and the test starts with Sunday’s first stage of the UAE Tour over 148km from The Pointe at Palm Jumeirah to Dubai Silicon Oasis.
“I am extremely happy and excited to be here after the crash which forced me to be away for eight months. Now it seems like the first day back at school again,” Froome, 34, said.
“I hope I am at the right level to get through the race and am looking forward to racing again.”
The Team Ineos rider underwent massive rehabilitation to get himself physically and mentally ready to tackle the rigours of a sport that appears the ultimate test of human conditioning and endurance.
Froome admits making a return has been a difficult process. “After eight months out, it’s a great feeling to be starting [today]. I’m really just taking it one week at a time at the moment,” Froome added.
“I’ve seen progressions all the time in terms of the strength and the power coming back - so it’s going to take me a while to get back to where I left off, but I’m extremely motivated. I feel fresh now after eight months off and there’s a lot to catch up with, but I’m really motivated for the season.
“I’m still a bit weaker on the right side where I broke my leg. It’s hard to say exactly how much weaker the leg is but when I’m pedalling it’s definitely not 50-50% left right. I’d say the left side is working a lot more than the right.
“It’s something I’m working on and going to be working on for the next few months, so just being back in the rhythm again with the team that’s the most important thing for me now. Anything else is a bonus.
“It feels amazing to be back and get this second chance to come back to the peloton... I’m really grateful for that. I’m not going to be winning this week, but I’ve got to start somewhere.”
Team Movistar rider Valverde, one of the senior riders in the event and runner-up in the inaugural edition last year, said he hopes to do better this year. “It’s been my ambition to do well. I started training early for this season but I am still to get into peak physical condition, so I’m going to enjoy the race as best as I can. It’s a great way to start the season.”
- The writer is a sports journalist in the UAE