Sir Dave Brailsford has described his relationship with Chris Froome as “great”, despite his decision to omit the four-times Tour de France winner from his Ineos Grenadiers team selection for this year’s race, which starts in Nice on Saturday.
Froome had already agreed to join the Israel Start-Up Nation team for 2021 but Brailsford said: “We have just been talking today. We have a great working relationship. There’s a difference between personal and professional.”
The 35-year-old Froome, who will ride in the Vuelta a España starting on 20 October, is coming back from a career‑threatening crash in 2019 and Brailsford said of his recovery: “I think Chris has done unbelievably well. To get where he has is nothing short of a miracle. He’s on a journey and the Tour came a little too early.
“But not making the Tour team doesn’t stop the journey. He’s still on track, but there’s no point Chris Froome going to the Tour to be a water carrier. Let’s keep moving towards the Vuelta and keep working.”
Earlier, Sylvan Adams, the billionaire owner of the Israel Start‑Up Nation team, had supported Brailsford’s decision to leave Froome out of this year’s race. The Israeli‑Canadian said he was “not surprised or disappointed” that Froome was left out of Brailsford’s Ineos Grenadiers lineup.
“We are in very close communications with Chris,” Adams said. “He is well on his way back, but if you are missing the last 1% or 2% then that is the difference between being a champion and not having the fitness to challenge for the victory.”
However, Adams was unwavering in his support of Froome’s continuing Grand Tour ambitions with the Israeli team, voicing his belief that Froome could still win a fifth and even a sixth Tour. “His team is giving him a few more weeks to get ready for the Vuelta in Spain. I think it’s the right move. Hopefully he will show his true colours in the Vuelta.”
The omission of both Froome and the 2018 Tour winner, Geraint Thomas – who will take part in the Giro d’Italia starting on 3 October – raised eyebrows and led some to claim the era of British success in the Tour was over. Brailsford disagrees. “I’ve seen people saying we’re turning our back on British cycling but it’s the opposite actually,” he said. “I definitely think there’s a lot of British talent still around. It hasn’t disappeared. There are various riders dotted around and we’ve signed Adam Yates, which is important to us, so I think we’re turning back in again, looking for the next talent, the developing talent.”
However, Brailsford and his team suffered a far more dramatic loss to their team’s expertise and morale this year when their long-standing sports director, Nicolas Portal, died suddenly of a heart attack. “It was shocking,” Brailsford said. “The last public thing I did before lockdown was go to his funeral. Then we had that long period away from racing.
“When we went back into racing again, I found it very difficult. You can’t lose somebody like that and it not have an impact. It was more about losing him as a friend, somebody we were very close to. It has been incredibly hard to deal with if I’m honest.”
Portal had guided Froome to all four of his Tour wins and steered Egan Bernal to his first success last summer. Now that responsibility falls to Gabriel Rasch, the former Norwegian professional. Brailsford acknowledges he has big shoes to fill. “We haven’t asked Gabbo to try and replicate Nico’s role, like for like. He couldn’t do it – he hasn’t got the experience, he hasn’t got the same knowledge. Nobody had won that many Grand Tours in that space of time. It would be silly to ask him to fill Nico’s shoes. So, we will use a more collective approach rather than a like for like.”
As Covid-19 infection rates continue to rise in France, Brailsford said he was “very sympathetic of the Tour organisation and how hard they’re working”, adding: “It’s a very big challenge and we want to make sure everybody in society is safe.”
But Brailsford dismissed the suggestion, made by some within cycling, that stopping the Tour would prove a catastrophe for the sport. “If it gets to the point where there’s a second wave and that’s the right thing to do, then it’s the right thing to do. It wouldn’t be the end for cycling. People are resourceful and they know what’s going on: they’re not blind to it.”