For the first time since 2012, Froome will go in to the Tour de France without having won a race earlier in the year. His last win was the time trial in the Vuelta a España on September 9, 2016, a race in which Nairo Quintana (Movistar) narrowly beat him to the overall win
In last week’s Critérium du Dauphiné, however, Froome showed moments of brilliance. He went on the attack one day, trying to drop Astana’s Jakob Fuglsang and Fabio Aru, and Richie Porte (BMC Racing). Fuglsang won the race overall.
“I think that Froome’s going to be strong like always,” Martinelli told Cycling Weekly.
“But what he showed in the Dauphiné is not Froome from last year or two years ago. That’s been the case over the last year. However, the man to beat at the Tour will still be Froome. It’ll be Froome because he has a strong team and knows how to win the Tour.”
Australian Richie Porte, Froome’s former helper at Team Sky, won the time trial and only lost the yellow jersey to Fuglsang by 10 seconds on the final stage.
Froome attacked Porte over the penultimate climb and at one point, held the virtual leader’s jersey. However he lacked the punch to resist Porte’s pursuit, saying that he may have spent too much energy earlier in the stage.
“No, I don’t think it’s Porte [who is the man to beat],” Martinelli added. “Someone who wins three Tours is able to win the fourth.
“But for sure, his adversaries have become stronger, more competitive. He’s going to need something extra compared to the other years.”
Watch: Tour de France contenders – Chris Froome
The turquoise Kazakh team head to the Tour de France with a spring in their step. Ahead of the Critérium du Dauphiné, the team only had one win in 2017, with star rider Fabio Aru in unknown form.
Aru crashed and injured his knee, forcing him to miss the 100th Giro d’Italia starting on his home island of Sardinia. However at the Critérium du Dauphiné, after three months without racing, he showed to be back on top.
The Sardinian attacked several times and helped Fuglsang to two stage wins and the overall title. The Dane had been appointed Tour leader since the beginning of the 2017 season, and his performance underlined his status
“We have two important riders instead of one,” Martinelli continued.
“What Jakob showed is that he is in condition to do well at the Tour. I think that we can start with Jakob as captain, who knows Fabio is at the start. Fabio can be competitive in the Tour like how he showed in the Dauphiné. It’s better to have two options rather than one.”
Aru has a Vuelta a España victory and a second place in the Giro d’Italia on his palmarès. Fuglsang’s best performance in a Grand Tour is seventh place in the 2013 Tour de France.
“I want to think about getting to the Tour and defining the roles there. In this moment, I want to be content with what we’ve done. To win the Dauphiné was a big thing,” added Martinelli.
“We needed that win to keep us relaxed and to know that we’ve worked well heading towards the Tour. The strategy of the race will be decided closer to the Tour, [General manager Alexandre] Vinokourov will have a hand in that
“It’s important to have two men who’ve shown at the Dauphiné to handle themselves against those who’ll be the best at the Tour. In the Dauphiné this year, the only person missing was Nairo Quintana. Other than him, everyone was there who will be contesting the Tour.”
Martinelli followed Aru training on the Italian championship course in Ivrea on Tuesday. It will be his only race before the Tour de France begins in Düsseldorf on July 1.
“The Dauphiné gave something extra, that Jakob merits the leadership in the Tour. Everyone is also thinking of Fabio, including us, but in this moment, it’s important that we have a bit of serenity back in the team. A little bit of faith. That’s important,” said Martinelli.
“I saw that Fabio was calm today, knowing that he worked well for the Tour. He’s on a good path and that’s going to make a difference.”