Almost three years on from the horror crash that threatened to derail his entire career, Chris Froome finished 11th at the Mercan Tour Classic Alpes-Maritimes on Tuesday, his best result since the accident.
The four-time Tour de France winner 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 22nd on a flat stage of the UAE Tour in 2021, and he finished 23rd overall at the Tour de Slovaquie last year too.
At the one-day race in south-east France on Tuesday, Froome achieved his best result since June 2019, 1,089 days ago, an impressive achievement on such a hilly course.
It was a dream day for Israel-Premier Tech, as they also won the race through Jakob Fuglsang, his first win since 2020, and Michael Woods clinched second place. Froome came in 3-58 down on his teammate, but it's still a good result in a race that featured 4,739 metres of climbing.
The Briton finished ahead of riders like Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), Geoffrey Bouchard (AG2R Citroën) and Warren Barguil (Arkéa-Samsic).
Speaking just after crossing the line, Froome said: "I'm trying to get back to my old self again. I'm not there, but I'm definitely one step closer."
At the Tour of the Alps earlier this year, the 36-year-old told Cycling Weekly that he had "overcome a lot of hurdles" and that there was "nothing really holding me back now".
"I'm generally pretty happy with how things are going at the moment," Froome said. "I can take a lot of positives out of this I think. Positives from the start of this year, I can really see a lot of response from my body to the training loads, to everything. I feel as if my body is responding differently to how it was last year. I've overcome a lot of hurdles.
"Basically I've got the all clear now, I've got nothing really holding me back now. I can get fully engrossed in the training side of things now, I mean that's a side that I'm familiar with, I've been doing that for years. That's the side that I'm actually looking forward to now these next few months and see where I can get to."
On Tuesday the seven-time Grand Tour winner said: "I've seen a big progression these last couple of months, I've just come off a training camp now, the legs are feeling good. The next step will be the Critérium du Dauphiné. I'm just taking it one week at a time, focusing on building the feeling of momentum."
Israel-Premier Tech had a disappointing Giro d'Italia, only achieving one top-three finish on a stage. On top of a fallow start to the year - Tuesday's win was just the team's fifth this year - it has been a difficult time.
However, Fuglsang and Woods' results netted the squad over 200 UCI points, which could be crucial in the relegation battle.
"It's a super day for the team," Froome said. "Jakob won, with Woodsy in second place. We couldn't have asked for much more today. We had a plan coming into the race to make it hard, particularly on the three last climbs, and the guys did an amazing job with that.
"It's really nice to see the team bouncing back, we had a difficult start to the season with a lot of sickness, but the guys are in good health now, and finally starting to put some results on the scoreboard."
Froome will hope to keep impressing at the Dauphiné, which starts this weekend.
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