LOGRONO, Spain (VN) – Chris Froome (Sky) said it was never a question of waiting or not. The race was on, and pity anyone who misses the move.
Froome staunchly defended Team Sky’s tactics in Tuesday’s controversial finale, when race leader Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) crashed and lost the leader’s jersey after Team Sky massed at the front to force the pace with 30km to go.
Speaking to VeloNews at the start of Wednesday’s stage, Froome said it was nothing personal, just business.
“It was a race in the crosswinds. Once it kicks off, it kicks off. Crashes happen in the crosswinds. That’s just part of bike racing,” Froome said. “It’s unfortunate that (Valverde) was caught up in it and that he sees it as a personal attack, that we carried riding. It was never like that.”
Valverde was angry Tuesday in the aftermath of the crash. Movistar continues to insist that it was Team Sky who provoked the crash, when the team surged to the front, crossing tires with riders just behind, surging on the flats as howling crosswinds pelted the peloton.
On Wednesday morning, Valverde tried to play down the ensuing controversy, though he was still licking his wounds after losing the leader’s jersey and dropping to ninth overall.
“I have some teammates who are a lot worse off than me,” Valverde said. “I didn’t crash hard. I just had to step out of the pedals and I got knocked over. It just took me a long time to get going again, by then, everything was lost.”
Froome said it was unfair that Sky is getting all the blame. Other teams pitched in once the battle opened and no one else urged the peloton to slow down and wait when it was later apparently clear to everyone that it was Valverde who was the top rider who crashed.
“We had a tactic and we cannot stop the race,” Froome continued. “Once everything kicked off in the crosswinds, the race was on. If we would have stopped, then someone else would have taken it up, and we would have been on the back foot. I empathize with Alejandro falling like that. It’s not a nice way to lose the jersey. That’s bike racing.”
Froome, however, insists that he did not realize it was Valverde who crashed.
“I hadn’t realized,” he said. “I knew there was a crash, but I didn’t know it was him. I was just trying to concentrate on staying on the wheels.”
Froome was keen to put the controversy behind him. This Vuelta is going to be a bitter fight between him and Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) and he knows that he doesn’t need to waste energy on polemics when he will need everything he has to take on Contador in the longer mountain climbs.
“I am feeling good so far. I know the real mountains are still to come. So far, we are holding up alright,” he said. “I’ve got a fantastic group of riders around me. The Colombians and Richie are great on the climbs. Stannard, Danny and Flecha are fantastic on the flats and we have Swift for the sprints. It’s a really well-balanced team and we are working well together.”
After finishing second in last year’s Vuelta and second in the Tour, Froome wants to win. Yet at the same time, he acknowledges it will be a long, hard fight all the way to Madrid. And nothing is guaranteed, especially with Contador doubly motivated after coming off his controversial clenbuterol ban and racing on home roads.
“I’d love to win,” Froome put it plainly. “I know I’ve also had a long and eventful season so far. Coming here was really not the objective, I was peaking for the Tour, so anything here is really a bonus.”