Should Chris Froome, a man who has won four Tour de France and two Vuelta a Espana titles and one Giro d’Italia, be considered an underdog?
That’s the curious assessment made by Kjell Carlström, who is the general manager of Froome’s new squad Israel Startup Nation. “We’re underdogs and that’s fine,” he said during an interview with the Cyclingnews podcast.
Chris Froome, an underdog in next year’s Tour de France? A long shot, dark-horse, second tier, maybe-just-possibly a contender? The only rider since Bernard Hinault in 1983 to hold all three grand tour jerseys at once? You’re joking me, mate.
Okay, we get what Carlström is saying. There’s some context to be appreciated. His formation isn’t at the same race-crushing strength as Froome’s old Sky/Ineos team. Nor does Israel Startup Nation has the same firepower as Jumbo-Visma. And there’s no question that their kit design is a bit bland.
There’s also the small matter of Froome’s difficult and time-consuming recovery from his devastating crash at the 2019 Critérium du Dauphiné. It’s been a long, hard road back. Along with his buddy Geraint Thomas, Froome was left off this year’s Tour roster due to lack of form. He then rode the Vuelta in support of Richard Carapaz but didn’t exactly set the race on fire. There were glimmers, yes, but he’s still struggling to regain all his powers.
Nor should anyone forget the dramatic changing of the guard in pro cycling. A 22 year old kid named Tadej Pogačar won the Tour de France. Ineos’ fall-back option three, Tao Geoghegan Hart won the Giro d’Italia at 25 years of age and let’s not forget wunderkind Egan Bernal is just 23. The kids have arrived and man are they ambitious and fast. Froome will be 36 when he tackles the 2021 Tour de France. His odometer does not inspire confidence and the engine makes a funny noise.
Yet all that said, are you just a little shocked by reading the the words “underdog” and “Froome” in the same sentence?
It seems to us that Kjell Carlström wants his team to fly under the radar. As Tour race strategy, that’s fine and dandy. Let Ineos Grenadiers and Jumbo-Visma beat the crap out of each other up while Froome follows the wheels until he’s ready to rip legs off.
And let’s not forget that Israel Startup Nation is hardly a start-up in terms of talent. Dan Martin gives them a one-two punch and final-mountain climb support for Froome. They also signed Michael Woods away from EF Pro Cycling to put another speedy mountain goat in the front group with Froome. Throw in new recruits Patrick Bevin and Sep Vanmarcke and you’ve got a strong roster to deal with every tactical situation from the crosswinds to the hors categorie climbs.
Personally, I’m not feeling this whole underdog vibe.
Finally, who would bet against a man determined to join the Legends Club? Froome wants his place at the table with the four men who have won the Tour de France five times. He’s so close to joining Jacques Anquetil, Bernard Hinault, Miguel Indurain and Eddy Merckx, it must be driving him crazy.
He’s already a hyper competitive and driven but this extra motivation — as his time window begins to close — will inspire him to train like never before. That’s a scary thought for Pogačar, Roglič, Bernal and everyone else.
This ain’t no underdog.