Froome comeback bid to gather pace at UAE Tour

PARIS (AFP) – Chris Froome will be part of a top-drawer line-up as the four-time Tour de France winner gets his second injury comeback rolling when cycling’s first major race of the season, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Tour, starts this week.

The reigning Tour de France champion Tadej Pogacar, Quick Step’s rising star Joao Almeida and the winner of the UAE race last year, Adam Yates, should feature strongly in what is likely to be a tight struggle in the seven-stage event.

This race was cut short last year by a COVID-19 outbreak among the teams, making it one of the first international sports events to feel the effects of the pandemic.

Twelve months on, stringent measures are in place to prevent a recurrence, with staff and riders accommodated in different hotels.

Froome’s quest to get back to the top has seen him leave Ineos and join Israel Start-Up Nation after he failed to make the cut at the British team for the Tour de France last season.

The Israeli team allowed 35-year-old Froome to undergo intense rehabilitation work away from the rest of the squad at a specialised athletic performance centre in Santa Monica, California.

“The hard-yards of my rehab are behind me but I’ll be continuing it for the remainder of my career,” said Froome, who has been doing four two-hour sessions most weeks for the past two months.

Froome seemed fully focussed on Saturday, mentioning the Tour de France several times.

“I’m not at all the favourite here. This is my first race with ISN and I’m here to start my progression towards the Tour de France,” he told a pre-race press conference. “This is the beginning of my campaign to be ready for the Tour de France.”

At just 22 the Slovenian all-rounder Pogacar, who produced an outstanding rookie performance to seize victory in France last year, will be a watched man with his UAE Emirates Team under pressure to deliver on home soil.

Pogacar is a star in the UAE with his image emblazoned on the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.