Chris Froome will be back to his best and can go for victory in any race in 2015, says teammate Mikel Nieve.
Nieve, who signed for Team Sky from the now defunct Euskaltel-Euskadi at the end of the 2013 season, has been one of Froome’s most reliable support riders over what was a turbulent season for the British rider.
Spaniard Nieve rode alongside Froome at both grand tours, and says that he has no doubt his team leader can find his form again in time for next year’s big races.
“I think he can return to that level [in 2013],” Nieve told Biciclismo.
“This year if he has not given his best it is because he has not had any luck; by falling, he was sick…
“I saw him training before the Tour and the truth is that it was very high quality. I think you can expect to see him target a win at any race.”
But if the Tour was a disaster for the team, particularly with Richie Porte suffering after taking on the team leadership from Froome, Nieve says the collective performance in his home grand tour was enough to make a good account of themselves for the season.
“In the Tour everything went pretty backwards, Chris’s crash, Porte got sick and I was also was sick certain days,” he said.
“In the Vuelta, Froome showed that if it were not for the time lost in the time trial, he would have been closer to Contador. “
Nieve himself has done no harm to his reputation as a mountain specialist since joining up with the British team. Having led the Basque Euskaltel team at the Tour in 2013, Nieve showed he could stick it out with the best when he finished third behind Froome and Nairo Quintana on the stage to the summit of Mont Ventoux.
He showed some of his best form at the Tour in a 124km long breakaway on stage 18, which finished on the summit of the Hautacam. Nieve took the award for most combative rider, but couldn’t hold off the power of the yellow jersey, as Vincenzo Nibali powered past the now solo Nieve with 8km to go, to win the stage. Nieve finished 12th in the general classification when the race reached Paris.
And while he’s still yet to take a stage win at the biggest race of them all, he has an eye on a Tour win to add to his Giro d’Italia and Vuelta stage victories, saying that “it’s the dream.”
“The Tour is the biggest race and it is very difficult to win there, but it is not a goal” he said. “I don’t obsess. If the opportunity comes, I will try to take advantage of it.
“My place is in the major tours and to assist in the mountains.” he added. “But the goal is also to improve and grow in all areas and try that. I have the feeling of progress and if I can win another race like this year [when he took a stage at the Critérium du Dauphiné], even better.”
The switch from his home team Euskaltel, who he’d been with for five seasons, to Sky was a big change for the man from Navarre, and says that while the training has been much tougher than before, he is pleased with his decision to make the switch.
“I’m very happy. I personally feel very safe. The team has confidence in me and my teammates are very open. Athletically, I tried to do the maximum. I think I’ve been pretty regular and have been able to offer a good level. The team gave me congratulations on the Tour and the Vuelta, but they do it with everyone; they highly value the effort of each rider, ” he said.
If 2014 was ultimately a disappointing year for Sky in comparison to the high standards they’ve set in the past few seasons, the man the team call ‘Frosty’ (Nieve translates as ‘snow’ in English) is confident that with the right pre-season preparation, the team will turn things around in 2015.
“It’s hard to stay focused and spend two weeks away from the world,” Nieve said on the team’s upcoming training camp, “but then you see the results.”
“There have already been more hours of bike training [than there was at Euskaltel],” he said.
“I think the sacrifice is worth making.”
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