Froome braced for 'aggressive' Tour de France in 2017
With the overall number of categorised climbs and summit finishes reduced – to 23 and three respectively – and an emphasis on steeper gradients, the three-time champion is expecting a battle of a different nature to the one his supremely strong Sky squad controlled – some would say stifled – this year.
“With only three summit finishes, I think that opens up the race to be very aggressive elsewhere. People won’t wait until summit finishes to make their moves. There are certainly tough mountain stages that don’t necessarily end uphill, so that’ll lead to aggressive racing,” Froome told a small group of reporters backstage at the Palais des Congres, where the route was presented.
“What racing on steeper climbs does lead to is being able to use your team a lot less. Drafting on 20 per cent climb isn’t going to help you. You can see quite big time losses on steep climbs, as we’ve seen in the Vuelta. It leads to very exciting racing.”
Froome did admit to being slightly disappointed by the lack of emphasis on time trialling, with a modest total of 36 kilometres against the clock. The race opens with a 13km time trial in Dusseldoorf and the fight for the yellow jersey will be settled on the 23km test in Marseille on the penultimate day.
Froome’s biggest time gains during his victorious campaign at this year’s Tour came in the time trials, and it’s an area where he holds a trump card over the climbers and almost all other GC contenders.
“There’s only one time trial at the end of 23 kilometres, and the prologue, so it’s very light on time trial kilometres, and that will certainly make it more challenging for me,” he said. “But that’s the nature of the game. I’m going to have to go away and see how to get myself ready for a big battle.”
Asked for a standout feature of the race, Froome, predictably pointed to the summit finish at La Planche des Belles Filles in the Vosges mountains on stage 5. As well as a chance to revisit the scene of his first ever Tour de France stage win in 2012, he welcomed the probability of a GC pattern being established early on.
“It’s obviously a nice surprise to see La Planche des Belles Filles in there,” he said. “And relatively early on, so hopefully the race will settle down and not be too dangerous too early on. Obviously for me La Planche des Belles Filles holds some pretty special memories, so I’m looking forward to that.”
The Tour remains the priority
Froome has toyed with the idea of the Giro d’Italia in recent years, and last month described himself as “open to anything”, explaining that he would examine the routes of the two races, unveiled a week apart, before making a call.
He will still hold off on setting his decision in stone until he sees the route for next year’s Giro, but he saw enough to his liking in the Palais des Congres on Tuesday to heavily underline the status of the Tour de France at the top of his priority list.
“At this point in my career the focus is going to be on the Tour de France. I know it’s the 100th edition of the Giro but the Tour remains the biggest objective of the season for me," said the 31-year-old.
“From what I’ve seen it does seem to be very hard to back up a Giro-Tour double attempt. And certainly in my experience, with the Tour and Vuelta being a lot closer, that might be the path again for next year. The Tour at this point takes priority.”