Chris Froome broke so many bones in a 40mph crash that his skeleton was rearranged like the skittles in a ten-pin bowling alley strike.
And when he was caught in a pile-up on his return to the Tour de France 12 months ago, Va Va Froome amazed doctors by riding 2,000 miles to Paris with more bruises than a diva’s ego. If Britain’s four-time Yellow Jersey winner is not our greatest sporting champion this century, he’s definitely the hardest.
But as he signs on for his 10th ride on Le Tour on Friday, 37-year-old Froome will dispel any thoughts about retirement and warned: “I would like to rise to the occasion again.”
That’s not a mission statement that he is going to win a fifth maillot jaune – the glory years of Team Sky are sadly behind him – but a welcome bulletin that he is pain-free. All the bolts and screws which held him together after a terrifying smash at the Criterium du Dauphine in 2019 left him in intensive care are now gone, and he is ready to get stuck in again.
Now riding for Team Israel Premier-Tech, he is a grand duke of the peloton and he admitted: “It was certainly a huge achievement to get to Paris last year, coming back from where I was three years ago and that nasty crash. It’s only been in the last few months that I’ve felt pain-free, no niggles or issues holding me back, and I’ve overcome quite a few hurdles.
“To be honest, my form is a bit unknown and I’m not sure where I am currently because I haven’t had a chance to test myself in a racing environment. But I’m looking forward to making the most of any opportunity that comes my way and seeing where my legs will get me over the next three weeks.
“I would like to rise to the occasion again – but we can only take the race one stage at a time and I don’t know exactly where we are going to be when we hit the big mountains. There are no plans on retiring just yet, especially with the progression I’ve been seeing in recent months, which has given me a lot of hope.
“There’s been no evidence that I’ve reached a plateau, so I’m going to keep building on those good feelings and momentum. I’ve come back from a horrendous crash, and that wasn’t the way I wanted to end my career. I want to get back to being involved in the ‘pointy’ end of the sport – that’s the driving force for me.
“That’s what gets me out of bed, on an my bike, every day: for me, it’s not about winning the tour de France right now, but I still dream about it and I’m going to keep chasing that dream.”
Like all Grand Tours, the first week – when the peloton is jumpy, and there are more crashes than a stock car demolition derby – holds the most fears. But the most northern Grand Depart in the race’s 109 editions – an 8.2 mile time trial past Copenhagen’s major tourist attractions – should have the feel of a festival, not a pile-up.
Froome – who crashed out in the first week as defending champion in 2014 – admitted: “The first week is notorious, more so than the Giro and the Vuelta – before we reach the mountains, everyone in the general classification is fighting for position. The potential for crosswinds in the first three days and then the cobbles on stage five only adds to those tensions. You have to break it down moment by moment, stage by stage, and with a great group of guys around you it becomes a lot more manageable.”
Just 36 hours before Jeremy Lecroq is first rider down the ramp, Danish police searched the Team Bahrain Victorious team hotel rooms, vehicles and luggage in a dead-of-night raid.
They are not believed to have found any incriminating evidence of anything nefarious, but somehow it wouldn’t be the Tour de France without a blue-light drama.
And if it wasn’t related to doping, why would the cops execute a search warrant in the early hours – because the carpets and curtains didn’t match?
Eight Brits in the peloton
CHRIS FROOME: Four-times winner approaching sunset of his career at 37 with Team Israel Premier-Tech, but one of the all-time greats.
GERAINT THOMAS: Le Tour 2018 champion and 2019 runner-up, Ineos Grenadiers big-hitter still going 15 years after his first appearance in the race.
LUKE ROWE: Trusted road captain for Ineos, broke his leg jumping into shallow water when white-water rafting at his brother’s stag party in Prague – and recovered to help Thomas win the maillot jaune 10 months later.
CHRISTOPHE PETIT TESSON/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)
ADAM YATES: Twin brother of Simon, who won general classification at the Vuelta e Espana in 2018, he was in the Yellow Jersey for four stages in 2020.
TOM PIDCOCK: Team GB mountain bike gold medallist in Tokyo 12 months ago, an exciting addition to the Ineos roster and long-term potential to be a contender on Le Tour.
CONNOR SWIFT: Now riding for Team Arkea-Samsic, the 26-year-old Yorkshireman won the British national road race title back in 2018.
FRED WRIGHT: Age 23, he shares a house with British team pursuit rising star Ethan Hayter and he is part of the Team Bahrain Victorious squad.
OWAIN DOULL: A member of Team GB’s Rio 2016 team pursuit gold medal quartet who brought the curtain down on Sir Bradley Wiggins’ career in triumph. Rides for EF Education-EasyPost.
Le Tour by numbers
176 – riders from 22 teams
21 – Stages (6 flat, 7 bumpy, 6 mountain stages [5 summit finishes], 2 individual time trials)
4 – Countries on the 2022 route (Denmark, Belgium, Switzerland, France)
2,081 – miles from Copenhagen to Paris
12 – miles of cobbles on stage five
500,000 – Euros to the winner