Chris Froome: Is it really necessary to have time trial bikes, gravel in road cycling?

The four-time Tour de France winner opens a debate over safety concerns in road racing.

Photo: Photo by ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/AFP via Getty Images

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Four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome (Israel-Premier Tech) has questioned the inclusion of both gravel and time trials in professional road racing.

The British rider believes that while both can add excitement and different dimensions to stage racing, they run the risk of increasing the chances of crashes and major injuries.

Froome’s opinions were shared in a video he posted on his YouTube channel Saturday in which he was reacting to recent events.

Last week, Matteo Trentin openly called for gravel sections to be removed from road races, while Froome’s former teammate Egan Bernal suffered a life-threatening crash while time trial training a few weeks ago.

Froome suffered his own major time trial crash when he was blown into a wall at high speed during recon of the time trial at the 2019 Critérium du Dauphiné. The crash left him in hospital for weeks, and with multiple injuries. The all-rounder has yet to return to his grand tour-winning form since the incident.

“I find it interesting that the UCI have done things to make the sport safer, like limiting the positions you can use while being on the bike, but something like this, which I think would be pretty easy to introduce, would have a far greater impact on the safety of professional cyclists,” he said in relation to cutting time trialing from road races.

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For Froome, time trialing is a skill and an art, and during the video he readily admits that most of his major success was built on his prowess in time trials at races such as the Tour de France. However, he also believes that time trialing has safety issues when it comes to both training on opening roads, and even in racing.

“Most of my big victories have had time trials in them, and I love time trialing. It’s an art and a skill,” he explains.

“It really does add an interesting element to the race but being out on my time trial bike this morning, and in light of recent events, time trial bikes are not really meant to be ridden on the roads in the way that they need to be when it comes to being ready for racing them. If there’s an hour-long time trial in the Tour de France you need to be ready and to get out there on your time trial bike to simulate that.”

“How many roads do you know, near you, where you can literally ride for an hour in almost closed road conditions? Those conditions don’t really exist in the real world. When you’re on your skis you don’t have any brakes, so you’ve got to sit up, and it’s not really that safe. It’s one thing when you’re racing, and you’ve got closed roads, but even then, you’ve got some horrendous accidents.

“The point I’m trying to make and the question I’m trying to ask is, is it really necessary to have time trial bikes in road cycling? Given the dangers involved in both training and racing, and the discrepancy with time trial bikes, would it not be a lot more uniform to have time trials done on road bikes? It would make a level playing field, and it would be more about the skill of the rider and not so much about the R&D, and time in the wind tunnel.”

Gravel in road racing: ‘Rolling the dice in terms of the whole risk and reward’

Froome’s opinions on gravel in road racing match his concerns around time trialing.

The four-time Tour winner is well aware that races like Paris-Roubaix or Strade Bianche shouldn’t be altered, and that one-day events having a more “roll of the dice” experience to them. However, he questions the validity of including gravel and major sectors of cobbles in grand tours, when sections of gnarly surfaces can have major impacts on the overall complexion of the race.

”It’s a tricky one and the same goes for cobbles or a Paris-Roubaix stage of the Tour de France or a grand tour. It’s a tricky one because it does give excitement to the race but it does create such a big risk as well,” Froome says.

“You think about what it takes to be ready to go into a race for the general classification, it’s months of dedication. It can literally be for nothing if you get into a cobbles section or a gravel section and there’s a touch of wheels when fighting for position. ‘Bang,’ your whole race can be over. I see the excitement side of it but it really is rolling the dice in terms of the whole risk and reward for the GC guys. I think if you lose some of the GC riders, it can make the rest of the race less exciting.”

Froome has yet to make his 2022 season debut due to an injury but he is back in training and preparing to kick-start his campaign in March. It’s not clear where he will race first, but the ultimate goal is to try and peak for the Tour de France.

“My race program has yet to be decided but I’ll most likely start racing at some point in March. I’ll decide on that closer to the time and see how the numbers are looking as I get to through the next training camp. The big goal for the year is to be in peak condition for the Tour de France but keeping a very flexible approach to the season,” he said.

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.