Three years on from the horror crash that threatened to derail his entire career, and almost cost him his life, Chris Froome climbed to third on stage 12 of the Tour de France, his best result since the 2018 version.
He might not have had the legs to match Tom Pidcock and Louis Meintjes on Alpe d'Huez, but the Israel-Premier Tech rider showed glimpses of his old self, the one that won four Tours de France in just five editions.
Froome was clearly exhausted at the finish, with a cough interrupting interviews at the stage finish in the scrum for his attention. He might not have had the legs in recent years, but he has remained popular with fans.
"I have no regrets today," the 37-year-old said. "Naturally I would have loved to have put my hands up and I tried to win the stage. I gave it everything today. I don’t have any regrets. Where I’ve come from over the last three years, battling back from my accident to finish third on one of the hardest stages in the Tour, I can be really happy with that.
"I’m going to keep pushing. I don’t know what my limits are, I’ll keep trying to improve and hopefully get back to them again."
Froome crashed while on a recon ride of a time-trial at the Critérium du Dauphiné in June 2019. Since then, he has moved from Ineos to Israel-Premier Tech, but his old form has so far proved elusive.
His highest finish in the interim was 11th at the Mercan Tour Classic Alpes-Maritimes back in May. He also 22nd on a flat stage of the UAE Tour in 2021, and he finished 23rd overall at the Tour de Slovaquie last year too.
The last time Froome finished on the podium of a stage at the Tour was in 2018, when he finished second on the stage 20 time trial on his way to third overall. The same year he finished fourth on that year's Alpe d'Huez stage, which was won by his then teammate Geraint Thomas.
"I’ve been feeling better and better and have been wanting to target a stage like today," he explained. "I tried my luck in the breakaway and I gave it everything that I had. I have regrets, I had no more to give on that final climb. Tom [Pidcock] and Louis [Meintjes] had more in their engines than me. Congrats to them for the stage today. Thanks to my team and my teammates for allowing me the chance to get up the road today."
Pidcock, the man 15 years his junior, put his breakaway companions under pressure on the descent from the Croix de Fer before attacking decisively on the Alpe.
"It was all still unknown," Froome said. "To me personally, Tom seemed like the strongest in the group. The way he bridged the gap to me on the first climb. He was flying on the descents today. His mountain biking came in handy today. There were a few points where I backed off because he was pushing the limits."
He may not have won, but Froome will want this result to be the start of something new, not a valedictory statement. His best result for four years is certainly the genus of something.
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