The first British Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins has backed Chris Froome to make a full comeback from his horror crash and claim a record-equalling fifth Tour title.
After crashing during the 2019 Critérium du Dauphiné, the Ineos rider is back on his bike just 10 weeks later, albeit only on the track, but says his goal is to fully recover in time for the 2020 Tour.
Speaking on his Eurosport podcast, Wiggins said of Froome’s hopeful return to racing: “I wouldn’t put anything past him, I think he’ll win another Tour. I wouldn’t say it’s a positive thing that happened, but this will probably be the driving force, the motivation he needs to come back.”
With Froome having turned 34 in May, Wiggins compared the Brit’s current plight to that of Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) a couple of years ago, the Spaniard breaking his knee cap in the stage one time trial at the 2017 Tour de France.
“I mean look at Valverde two years ago, he had a smashed knee and just over a year later he’s world champion,” said Wiggins. “We thought that was the end of his career, and the way riders come back nowadays…we were talking about Luke Rowe earlier, his injury was potentially career-ending, but riders seem to come back from these things now.”
Lotto-Soudal’s Adam Blythe, who appeared on the podcast alongside Wiggins, added praise for Ineos and how successful they are in rehabilitating injured riders.
“The thing about Luke [Rowe] is if he was in another team he wouldn’t be where he is now I don’t think, because Ineos are so good at finding the best of everything you need and that’s why they are the best in the world,” Blythe said.
“It’s not about aero socks and all that, that’s not a marginal gain. The marginal gain is saying to a rider ‘right, you’ve crashed, let’s fix you. Doesn’t matter if it’s eight months or takes two, we’ll fix you, we’ll sort you out.'”
Wiggins drew on his own personal experience of the Ineos set-up from his time with the team when they were sponsored by Sky.
“I remember in my last few years at Sky, Ben Swift, who’s got glass shoulders, he had that horrendous crash, I watched this guy for two, three weeks at Mallorca at the training camp, sitting on the turbo trainer for three hours in the morning and three hours in the afternoon because he couldn’t go out on the road.
“But the nature of Ineos, it’s not just like ‘get on it’, they’ll send two blokes with you for company and we’re going to do this together. He’s got that support, it’s like a family.”
With the signing of Giro d’Italia winner Richard Carapaz finally announced, Ineos will go into the 2020 season brimming with WorldTour winners. Alongside Carapaz and Froome, the British squad also boast the previous two Tour winners in Egan Bernal and Geraint Thomas.
The question of whether Froome will have to prove himself to be preferred ahead of his team-mates in the pecking order when it comes to Tour leadership is sure to be a talking point for the entirety of the early 2020 season. Wiggins said he thinks Froome has done enough in his career to have “earned the right” to be given a certain amount of leadership, but that at Ineos it’s always a case of if you can post competitive numbers.
“I don’t know [if Froome will be leader at the 2020 Tour], is the truth,” said Wiggins. “When I was there it was just whoever is up to the task can do the job. And I think there was some doubt about Geraint coming into the Tour this year but Geraint got stronger throughout the Tour and could have won the Tour.
“You’d like to think that Froome has done enough for that team to earn the right to be given a certain amount of leadership but he will have to prove himself,” Wiggins continued. “They’ll know from his training numbers whether he’s going to be good enough. It will all boil down to that.”
Should Froome not be given leadership at any Grand Tour, Wiggins and Blythe said they thought it unlikely Froome would race in support of another rider, posing the question of Froome switching teams and going up against former team-mates Thomas and Bernal, in what would be a match-up many fans would love to see.
” I don’t know what his long-term goals are,” said Wiggins, “probably just concentrate on getting back to full health after the horrific crash. He will now find out in the next few months whether he’ll be able to get back to the same level.
“We can’t look too far ahead and say he’ll be back at the Tour de France next year and in contention of winning but in the modern day of cycling I wouldn’t put anything past anyone.”