Chris Froome continued his meteoric rise in 2012 and emerged from the year as an established Grand Tour contender.
The Kenyan-born Brit maintained an upward trajectory that saw him claim a sensational second place at the Vuelta a Espana in 2011. And despite a stop-start early season, Froome was able to replicate that result on the grandest stage of them all – the Tour de France.
The 27-year-old was a pillar of strength in a towering team performance, standing alongside team-mate Bradley Wiggins on the Champs-Elysees podium on an historic day for British cycling.
A few days later Froome could also call himself an Olympic medallist, taking bronze in the London time trial.
The man himself can’t help but admit it’s been a season to favour: “I can’t believe everything that’s happened in the space of one year; the build up to the Tour, the Tour itself, the Olympics, and then the Vuelta,” he said.
“It’s been a pretty monumental 12 months - even longer if you take into account the 2011 Vuelta.”
That success did not come without its share of adversity, with Froome having to contend with added exposure, accidents and a battle with bilharzia.
“Last winter I was so busy trying to handle all the requests that were coming in but then I got sick during the early part of the season which meant I was really worried I wouldn’t be ready in time for the Tour,” Froome confirmed. “The big crash I had at a training camp in Tenerife didn’t help allay those worries either – so it’s been a rollercoaster ride for sure.
“In hindsight, everything turned out OK and I’ve had a great season. There’s plenty more I’d like to achieve in the future though. It’s no secret that one day I would like to try and win the Tour.”
2012 saw Froome re-affirm his three-week credentials, but it also saw him continue to string a highly impressive run of Grand Tour finishes.
Despite second at the Vuelta (2011), second at the Tour and a further fourth spot at the Vuelta, Froome insists he hasn’t read too much into his consistent run: “I honestly haven’t even considered that run and how it compares to riders that have come in the past, but hearing things like that is obviously very pleasing.
“I think I’ve confirmed to myself, and everyone else, that the 2011 Vuelta wasn’t a fluke. I replicated that at the Tour and then backed it up further with my fourth-place finish in Spain. I’m still learning a huge amount about myself in training, and how I prepare for the Grand Tours and this year has stood me in really good stead for next.”
An important step for Froome was the opportunity to lead the team at the Vuelta in August and September, an experience which allowed the rider to establish in his own mind what he needs to lead from the front.
“Having that opportunity to lead a team for the very first time at the 2012 Vuelta was a massive achievement for me and having 100% backing from the guys – even though it turned out after the first week I wasn’t in the running to win the race – was just amazing.
“It’s mind-blowing to think that I was only moderately happy with my fourth place after it because a year and a half ago if you’d have told me I’d be in that type of position, I’d be ecstatic.”
With his expectations now suitably adjusted, Froome has thrown himself into winter training, heading south of the equator to put in the kilometres.
Froome explains: “Over the winter I’ve been looking to do more core work which should improve my stability on the bike. I’ve headed back to altitude in Africa as well because I think that’s the perfect place to get a good, solid base in before the new season.
“This year I learnt a lot about how long I can hold onto good form through racing. I was in perfect condition going into the Tour – decent form out of the Tour and into the Olympics – and going into the Vuelta I was hanging on to it a little bit there. That’s given me a time-frame of how long that window of form is and how long I can hold onto it when I am going well.
“Day-by-day I also know myself much better now. If I do go as far as I had been going into the red then I know I’m going to be suffering for the next couple of days because of that. I’ve learnt a lot about my body and where my limits are in both senses.”
With the benefit of experience those limits also extend to the head, with Froome now able to re-assess his approach to the sharp end of a bike race.
“I think one of my biggest downfalls in the past has been my eagerness,” he admits. “I’m overly keen to be at the front of the race sometimes, to be attacking, and that means I push my body too far and pay the price immediately after. I’ve learnt to hold myself back and be patient – play my cards at the right time as opposed to trying to be at the front all the time.
“I also want to spend more time on my time trial bike as well because I think I can make a few changes to my position which will mean I become more aerodynamic. I’ve worked on it in the past, but really want to look at it extensively moving forwards which will hopefully yield better results in the future.”