Chris Froome said he was riding with a “20 per cent deficit” in one of his quadriceps muscles last season without realising it. He also said he was in discomfort at the Vuelta a España due to a metal screw above a knee which was piercing the bone.
The seven-time grand tour winner, who has moved to Israel Start-Up Nation after a decade with Ineos, said the discovery that his body was still “imbalanced” following his career-threatening crash in 2019 gave him hope that he can make it back to the top level of cycling. Froome’s stated aim is to win a record-equalling fifth Tour de France title.
“I think the biggest learnings towards the end of last year was actually going and doing some isokinetic testing once I got through the season,” Froome said on a video call from California, where he is training.
“Figuring out that I was still sitting with about a 20 per cent deficit in quad strength on the right hand side. That was probably the biggest revelation; that the rehab process wasn’t actually 100 per cent completed, and that I still had work to do.
“That’s obviously driven a lot of my planning and thinking into this winter period.”
Froome, who was a long way off the pace of the leaders in Spain, has been doing rehab at the Red Bull High Performance Centre in Santa Monica.
“Two-hour sessions, three or four times a week,” he said. “Focusing on really building muscle mass and strength. We’re trying to regain muscle mass on the leg that was injured. And I feel that’s going really well. I feel as if the delta has certainly been narrowed quite substantially since the end of last season.”
Froome added that the removal of two metal screws from just above his kneecap after the Vuelta was also significant. “I could feel something sort of in the belly of my quad,” he said. “A pain quite deep in my quad that didn’t make sense. I went to have some scans done straight after the Vuelta and we found that one of the screws was actually piercing through the bone and potentially causing a bit of a grating sensation on the muscle as I was cycling.”
Froome is working with a new coach, Canadian physiologist Paulo Saldanha, after many years with the Australian Tim Kerrison. He said he was still on friendly terms with his former team-mates but had made a clean break coaching-wise.
“That’s been going really well so far,” he said. “It’s quite a different sort of technique and training to what I’m used to. It certainly isn’t copying and pasting what I’ve done previously.
“But I think that that’s probably quite good for me at this moment, having a bit of different mental stimulation. It feels like something quite fresh and especially joining the team, it feels like a new start.”
Froome will be 36 in May, the same age as Firmin Lambot when the Belgian set the record for oldest Tour winner in 1922. Froome said he still believed he could win cycling’s biggest race.
“Naturally as an athlete you’re constantly questioning yourself,” he said.
“And there are no guarantees. But I don’t see any reason why physically I shouldn’t be able to get there. Hopefully once the racing starts, I’ll have a much clearer idea of where I’m at and what the build-up to the Tour de France looks like.
“I see this as the biggest challenge of my career. Not only am I coming back from the injury but also I spent two years away from the Tour de France. I’m coming back this year, up against a lot of new faces who I haven’t got experience racing against. Guys like [2020 champion Tadej] Pogacar, guys like my former team-mates who I haven’t got experience racing against.
“So it’s going to be a whole new experience but something I’m really, really looking forward to as well. I think we’ve got a fantastic group that Israel Start-Up nation have put together for this season. And it’s exciting to be part of a new young project that wants to get up on to that top tier.”