Chris Froome removed his hands briefly from the handlebars of his Parrinello bike during a recon ride at the Criterium du Dauphine last summer. It was only for a split second, but he would smash heavily into a wall at 40 miles per hour. A gust of wind catching his front wheel and sending him high into the wall.
It was a horrific way to bring the curtain down on his season, especially with it being just three-and-half weeks away from the Tour de France, and the Briton vying for a record-equalling fifth title.
Later that night at the hospital in St Etienne, Froome’s injuries included a femur fracture, broken hip, elbow and ribs. A long recovery lay ahead.
Not only was the chance of matching a fifth win at the Tour out of the question, but many also worried the crash would be career-ending. At 34, you could argue, what else did he have to prove after securing Grand Tour victories?
Remarkably, the Monaco resident was back on the bike 14 weeks later. Cycling around the hills of Southern France and into Italy. Although there were setbacks along his journey to full fitness, he remained determined to fight back to his stellar best.
Now, seven months on from the crash, Froome will make his return to racing at the UAE Tour next month, the first stage on his path to a potential fifth Tour de France.
The various high-cadence climbs on offer around the Emirates will suit his attributes, and coupled with the soaring climbs at Jebel Hafeet and the Hajar Mountains, should steer him in the right direction and add confidence and more valuable miles to his legs.
It’s the perfect place for him to make his long-awaited return. Backed by some gruelling training camps in Gran Canaria, nothing beats competition, especially when you have the likes of 2018 world champion Alejandro Valverde and Giro d’Italia king of the mountains Giulio Ciccone to test your progress against.
Froome will be 35 when the Tour sets off from Nice in June. With three other Grand Tour winners on the Team Ineos roster for 2020, he knows the size of the challenge ahead, not least building up his broken body from zero again to the machine-like qualities necessary to negotiate the mountains.
The competition in the UAE will continue to build his racing sharpness and belief, but the reality is he is against the clock to improve his body strength in order to tackle the 29 categorised ascents, six mountain-top finishes and a mountain time-trial at this year’s Tour.
Before the accident, Froome made no secret of his ambition to equal the five Tours de Frances won by Eddy Merckx, Jacques Anquetil, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain, but is now focused just on starting another one.
You only need to look as far as names on the Team Ineos roster to understand the sheer talent at David Brailsford’s disposal.
With defending Tour de France champion Egan Bernal in fine fettle, 2018 winner Geraint Thomas in prime shape, and the recent capture of 2019 Giro d’Italia winner Richard Carapaz, Ineos are stacked with an arsenal of class.
It certainly won’t be an easy glide back into the team.
Time will tell though whether Froome will be able to return to the same high levels he was operating at prior to the crash, but one thing for sure, is that he possesses mental strength and experience that is unrivalled.
As the months move on, Team Ineos will once again hand the leadership responsibilities to whoever is the strongest rider in their squad come July, and no matter what happens, Froome’s status as one of the greatest racers of all time is firmly assured.