Chris Froome On Course For Tour de France Defence

by St├ęphanie PERTUISET

NEUCHATEL, Switzerland, May 04, 2014 (AFP) – Tour de France champion Chris
Froome said he was bang on track to defend his Grand Boucle crown after
retaining his Tour of Romandie title by winning Sunday’s final stage

Froome began the 18.5km individual time-trial around Neuchatel just one
second behind yellow jersey wearer Simon Spilak but the Team Sky rider
finished the course 29sec ahead of the Slovenian.

“It’s an important race for me, it was a very different Tour of Romandie
from last year,” said Froome, who led almost from start to finish a year ago.
“But I’m really happy with my condition and this is a really crucial time
building up to the Tour de France.

“I wouldn’t go so far as to say whoever wins the Tour de Romandie will win
the Tour de France, but it’s definitely a good sign and a sign that I’m on
track for the Tour de France.”

It was a welcome return to form for Froome who was only sixth in the Tour
of Catalunya, his previous race in late March, having suffered from a back
injury and illness over the past two months.

In mid-March he had to pull out of the Tirreno-Adriatico stage race, won by
main Tour de France rival Alberto Contador, due to his back problem, whilst
illness kept him out of last Sunday’s Liege-Bastogne-Lieg.

Victory in Romandie was the Briton’s second stage race win of the year
having triumphed at the Tour of Oman in February, where he was also the
reigning champion.
Katusha’s Spilak finished second overall with world champion Rui Costa of
Portugal third, mirroring exactly last year’s podium.

World time-trial champion Tony Martin was second on the stage, which
included a tough climb, by just one second with New Zealand’s Jesse Sergent
third at 8sec.

In each of the last three years, the Tour de Romandie winner has gone on to
claim success at the Tour de France.

Before Froome achieving that double last year, Bradley Wiggins did so in
2012 and Australian Cadel Evans did likewise in 2011.

And in an ominous message to his rivals, Froome said that despite not
winning as much as he had done at this stage last year, when he had also won
the Criterium International and finished second at Tirreno-Adriatico, he feels
he is in better shape.

“I think this block (of training) now will be really important before the
Criterium du Dauphine (in June),” he added.

“We’re just under two months now from the start of the Tour. I feel like
I’m in really good condition already but I still do have quite a lot of work
to do before the Dauphine.

“I think I’m on track, I’m where I need to be, if anything I think I’m
ahead of where I was this time last year, which is a really good feeling
especially after all the setbacks and difficulties this season.

“I’m just really happy with where I am and I’m hoping in this next block —
I’ll be going back to Tenerife for altitude training for two weeks — that I
can improve on my condition there.”