Chris Froome says his preparation for the Tour de France means he can’t fight for victories at this point in the season.
The Team Sky leader has not been in contention for any of his races so far this year, causing speculation about his form as he builds up to his main goal.
But Froome’s approach differs to that of his rivals, with the Brit saying he is not concerned about his preparation.
“The important thing now is that I’m feeling good, especially in training,” he told Spanish newspaper El Mundo.
“There are cyclists who plan the year differently, but my priority is to reach my best level for the Tour and that’s why I can’t fight for victories now.”
Froome has only raced 13 days so far this season, riding in both the Tour Colombia in February and the Volta a Catalunya last month.
The 33-year-old helped support team-mate Ivan Sosa to a podium position in South America, finishing 94th overall himself.
Froome then pulled out of the UAE Tour because of the impact of training and racing at altitude in Colombia.
He then lost 14 minutes on the second day of Catalunya, taking him out of the general classification fight (although his team said the plan had always been for Froome to ride for Egan Bernal).
These early season performances have prompted some to question Froome’s form with Spanish media calling it his worst start to the season since 2012, the year he supported Sir Bradley Wiggins to Tour de France victory.
But Wiggins himself said the early-season will not phase Froome.
Froome’s early-season preparation has traditionally included more race days, often at the Vuelta a Andalucia, the Volta a Catalunya and the Tour of Oman.
In previous years, he has taken both stage and overall wins at the Tour of Oman, the Tour de Romandie, the Vuelta a Andalucia and the Herald Sun Tour.
However, in 2017 Froome won nothing until his overall victory at the Tour, which he followed up with two stages and the general classification of the Vuelta a España.
He told another Spanish newspaper, Marca: “The beginning [of the season] has been a bit hard because of the fatigue I experienced after doing the Tour Colombia.
“But with the passing weeks I feel motivated to face the rest of the season.
“My main objective is the Tour, I’m focused on it and I trust I will get the result we’re expecting.”
Froome’s schedule for 2019 now includes the Tour de Yorkshire, the Critérium du Dauphiné and the Tour de France.