Israel Start-Up Nation expect Chris Froome to return to some of the form of old next season, as the team plots a way to become the best of the rest.
The WorldTour team are preparing for their third year at cycling’s top-tier, picking up 19 wins outside of National Championships in that period. They were the 10th-best-ranked team during the 2021 season.
But the presence of seven-time Grand Tour champion Chris Froome, signed from Ineos Grenadiers on a five-year deal last winter, brought increased scrutiny to the outfit, observers eager to know if the Briton can fully recover from his horrendous 2019 crash injuries.
Speaking about the team’s ambitions, lead sports director Rik Verbrugghe told Cycling Weekly: “It’s our goal to win every type of bike race, but we are missing a real GC rider. It’s true that we have Chris Froome on our roster, but he’s not the Chris Froome from Team Sky.
“He is a building process, but it’s also true that the team wants to be present in all races: one-day Classics, one-week stage races, and in the Grand Tours we don’t have a leader to win or to podium, but we will look for stage wins.”
Two stage wins for the now-retired Dan Martin and one for Alex Dowsett represent the team’s only successes at Grand Tours thus far, and Verbrugghe admits that it is a hard sell encouraging proven general classification riders to join the team.
“We want to develop within, and we want to merge the Continental development team with the WorldTour team, but when there is an opportunity [to sign a rider], you have to try and take it,” he said.
“We were close to signing two young riders for this season who, in my eyes, are probably the future of Grand Tours and very decent stage winners. But one went to Bora-Hansgrohe, and the other went to Deceuninck-Quick-Step.
“It’s about the trust the team can give a young rider, for them to believe in the process, that we are a young team.
“The goal for next year is to try and get in the top-five rankings. It’s really ambitious because the top-four is guaranteed: Ineos, Jumbo-Visma, Quick-Step, UAE Team Emirates, but then there are 10 teams left who can be fifth. To get this goal we need to have results.”
One rider searching for, at the very least, some top-10 results is Froome. The 36-year-old has repeated his desire to win a fifth Tour de France, but Verbrugghe admits that the team need to see more from their most high-profile rider.
“The thing is we need and want to see results from Chris next year,” he said. “It could be in a small race, but hopefully it’s in a bigger race - even better, the biggest race of them all. But even a small race would be a beginning, a step in the right direction.
“I cannot explain the whole plan and strategy we have for him for next season, but it’s like a spider web program of short-term goals, and if he reaches one goal, it opens up to something else. But if he doesn’t reach that goal, it opens up to an alternative step.
“It’s not planned that he will go the Tour, except if he passes through all of the stages he needs to. If that happens, we have will a Chris who is competitive at the start of the Tour, but that’s not a guarantee.
“If it goes well, it’ll be a normal calendar before the Tour [ed - Paris-Nice, Tour de Romandie, Critérium du Dauphiné], but if it doesn’t go like this, we didn’t see the results we want to see, then he will go to a race program that is different, much lighter.
“We need to analyse what is competitive for Chris. It depends on his training, comparing his numbers, and sometimes you can overestimate what he will do based on his numbers. Depending on his evolution, he can get better, more ambitious in races.
“We saw some progression after the Tour once he got rid of the virus, but we didn’t have time to see it afterwards. Hopefully this year we will.”
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