Froome was out on a coaching trip at one of many foremost Tour warmup occasions, the Criterium du Dauphine, when the freak accident occurred final month.
It left the 34-year-old Briton within the intensive care unit of Saint-Etienne hospital with a damaged femur, elbow and ribs and with hopes of a record-equaling fifth Tour win in ruins.
In keeping with his Staff Ineos boss Dave Brailsford, Froome had been within the type of his life and was a heat favourite for this 12 months’s Grand Boucle, which begins within the Belgium capital of Brussels on Saturday.
Final 12 months it was Welshman Geraint Thomas who donned yellow for Staff Sky on the end in Paris, with Froome, nonetheless drained from Herculean efforts to win the Giro d’Italia just a few weeks beforehand, in third place.
Froome skipped the Giro this 12 months to particularly goal the Tour de France, however his unlucky absence has thrown the 106th version of biking’s most well-known race broad open, with any variety of intriguing potentialities, together with an elusive house victory.
Not since 1985, Bernard Hinault’s fifth and ultimate triumph, has a Frenchman received their nation’s foremost occasion and it clearly hurts.
A headline within the revered sports activities paper L’Equipe steered it was this 12 months or by no means, hardly a notice of optimism for the way forward for French biking and inserting enormous pressures on their foremost hopes, Romain Bardet and Thibaut Pinot, who’ve each occupied podium spots in latest Excursions, with out successful the last word prize.
Bardet, who rides for the French AG2R-La Mondiale crew, is a famend climbing specialist, at house within the excessive mountains of the Alps and Pyrenees, however much less assured on the time trial phases on flat or rolling roads, the place the likes of Froome and Thomas have beforehand constructed up a giant time benefits over him.
With solely 55 kilometers in complete of one of these racing on this 12 months’s route, Bardet will certainly most likely by no means have a greater likelihood of creating historical past when the race finishes in Paris on July 28th after 21 phases and with three,680 kilometers accomplished.
Groupama FDJ crew chief Pinot is best towards the clock and has proven encouraging indicators of returning to his 2014 kind when he completed third within the Tour behind Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali, who briefly broke Staff Sky’s latest dominance and will probably be wanting to take action once more this 12 months, driving for Bahrain-Merida.
A lot may rely on how each the Frenchman’s groups address the tough crew time trial on the second day of the Tour in Belgium, the place time misplaced to stronger outfits corresponding to Staff Ineos may show tough to make up.
Froome could certainly be lacking, however Staff Ineos nonetheless has a formidable line-up and in 22-year-old Egan Bernal the rising star of the peloton and the hope of biking loopy Colombia to ship its first-ever winner of the Tour de France.
Like so lots of the Colombian riders, Bernal had the benefit of being being born and creating his expertise within the altitude (2,640m) of Bogota, not dissimilar to the benefit loved by Kenyan lengthy distance runners from the Rift Valley.
“This 12 months is an efficient 12 months for Colombians who’re from excessive altitude, the born climbers,” mentioned Rigoberto Uran, a compatriot of Bernal and one other with an opportunity of victory having completed runner-up within the 2017 Tour to Froome.
Bernal impressed in final 12 months’s Tour in help of Thomas and Froome, however this 12 months has been successful high races in his personal proper, most just lately the Tour of Switzerland the place teammate Thomas crashed closely and needed to pull out, adversely affecting his preparations for a profitable protection of the title he received to such acclaim, significantly in his native Wales.
Earlier this 12 months, in March, Bernal additionally took high honors within the prestigious Paris-Good stage and has received plaudits from Tour de France organiser Christian Prudhomme, who informed AFP: “It made one suppose what may come sooner or later, and now the long run is coming, it is this July,” he mentioned.
It was becoming and maybe an omen that Bernal was offered along with his yellow jersey for successful Paris-Good by the legendary Belgian Eddy Merckx, a five-time winner of the Tour de France.
The Tour’s Grand Depart in Belgium is particularly to have a good time the 50th anniversary of Merckx’s first Tour win in 1969 and his different unbelievable achievements, earlier than it strikes into France on day three.
Forward of the riders will probably be one of many hardest routes in latest Tour historical past, with 5 mountain high summit finishes and a number of different testing climbs and hair-raising descents the place the smallest error of judgment can result in catastrophe.
Nearly each meter of each main climb will probably be densely populated with followers, many donning the nationwide flag and colours of their favourite rider or wearing loopy costumes.
Laborious core followers camp out for a number of days upfront to assert the prized viewing spots from the place to cheer on the heroes of the peloton, among the estimated 20 million individuals viewing the Tour from the roadside.
As they wait for his or her heroes to trip previous, there’s additionally the added attraction of the Tour caravan, a parade of autos, plugging varied sponsors and giving out free items and promotional materials to the onlooking watchers.
Cities and villages en route make a degree of placing out the bunting to point out off the most effective they will provide for the in depth protection on French and worldwide tv.
The TV commentary typically makes a degree of highlighting the gastronomic delights the actual area has to supply, to not point out the number of wine it’s well-known for, serving to little question to spice up tourism and native economies.
When the Tour began in 1903 it was for the unique goal of boosting the circulation of the newspaper L’Auto, a forerunner to L’Equipe, and was an nearly fully all-French affair, which shortly grew right into a nationwide obsession.
The host nation has supplied the winner on a document 36 events, with Belgium, boosted by Merckx’s efforts subsequent finest on 18, however riders from exterior conventional European biking nations have more and more develop into a significant component in more moderen Excursions.
The success of British riders, with these six latest wins in Staff Sky colours, has proved onerous to abdomen for a lot of French sports activities fan and its media, therefore the strain on Bardet and Pinot to interrupt that cycle this 12 months.
The opposite dominant British bike owner has been Mark Cavendish, a specialist in successful the flat phases, which end in daredevil bunch dash at speeds of roughly 70 kph (43mph).
Cavendish has received 30 phases, 4 wanting the document held by Merckx, however has been surprisingly omitted of the Dimension Information squad for this 12 months’s Tour, leaving him “heartbroken” however vowing to return sooner or later.
Cavendish and the opposite sprinters corresponding to Peter Sagan don’t have any likelihood of successful the general yellow jersey, however compete as a substitute for the inexperienced jersey of factors winner, based mostly on placings on each stage and sprints at intermediate factors on every stage.
Slovakian Sagan has received it seven occasions and few would wager towards him, however there are a clutch of different younger hungry dash specialists like Dutchman Dylan Groenewegen (Jumbo-Visma) who will probably be in search of Tour de France stage glory.
Groenewegen will discover help from the waves of Orange-clad Dutch followers who make the pilgrimage to the Tour every year, upset little question by the absence of final 12 months’s general runner-up Tom Dumoulin, who like Froome is sitting out the race as a result of after results of an harm sustained in a crash.
The opposite main class is for the polka dot jersey of finest mountain climber, with factors awarded for placings on the high of summits.
One other Frenchman, Julian Alaphilipe, who rides for the biking’s most dominant crew by way of race wins, Deceunicnck-QuickStep, is defending his King of the Mountains title this 12 months and can seemingly problem for victories on a variety of phases.
Bastille Day showdown
Search for him specifically on Bastille Day, July 14, the place a hilly leg finishes in Brioude, the house city of Bardet, who will even be eager to make an impression.
Whether or not Bardet, or one other house rider, can break the general stranglehold of the Staff Ineos squad is one other query, however that is to not rule out a clutch of different hopefuls, together with Dane Jakob Fuglsang, who received the Criterium du Dauphine after Froome’s premature departure.
Bernal’s extra skilled fellow Colombian Nairo Quintana, a part of a strong Movistar squad which incorporates Mikel Landa and reigning world champion Alejandro Valverde of Spain, is a perennial contender, whereas British hopes exterior of Thomas, relaxation with Adam Yates (Michelton-Scott), who was fourth in 2016.
“Something can occur with out Froome racing,” 29-year-old Quintana informed a press convention Thursday. “It is a bit particular, extra open, it will be a a lot completely different Tour than regular.
“And Yates can launch his sudden assaults, however there are a great deal of guys who will fancy their possibilities with out Froome round,” added Quintana.
A complete of 176 riders, in 22 groups of eight, will start their quest for glory on Saturday, every with a selected activity within the fast-moving and consistently altering peloton, which speeds round France at a mean pace of over 40 kph (25 mph) for hour after hour, with simply two relaxation days in over three weeks.
They may encounter extremes of climate from blistering warmth to torrential rain, significantly within the excessive mountains at over 2,000 meters the place the decisive battle for general honors and the yellow jersey is about to be determined.
Regardless of the struggling and the sacrifice, the riders know that simply collaborating is a privilege afforded to an elite few and simply ending, whether or not within the Maillot Jaune or because the Lanterne Rouge, the last-placed rider, is an achievement to savor for his or her remainder of their lives.
The subsequent three weeks will see legends born, reputations enhanced or diminished, however like each earlier Tour de France is assured to be memorable.