CYCLING NEWS - Far from the Tour de France, Chris Froome's struggles to return to full race fitness continued on the Italian roads of the Tirreno-Adriatico with the British rider just inside the top 100 in his final stage race before his bid for a third Vuelta a Espana title next month.
The four-time Tour de France winner insisted he had "several years of cycling" ahead of him after his recovery from last year's career-threatening Criterium du Dauphine accident.
But the 35-year-old slipped to 91st position in the "Race between two seas" which finished on Monday, over an hour behind winner Simon Yates, with Froome's Ineos teammate Geraint Thomas in second.
Ineos dropped Froome and Thomas, who won the Tour in 2018, from this year's race, opting for defending champion Egan Bernal, who is now effectively out of the overall standings in the final week.
Froome, who moves to Israel Start-Up Nation in 2021, believes he "could have played a role" in the Tour, but understood the decision.
"I think it made a lot more sense for me to not be under that amount of pressure right now, obviously with where I am at trying to get back to my old level," Froome told Eurosport.
A little over a year after a serious fall in France left him with multiple fractures - neck, femur, hip, elbow, ribs - Froome had already struggled in August on the Tour de l'Ain (41st) and the Dauphine (71st).
He came to Italy to find his legs in the eight-stage warm-up for the Vuelta a Espana, which he won in 2011 and 2017, starting on October 20.
Thomas will target the Giro d'Italia in early October.
Froome saw the Tirreno-Adriatico as the "ideal race" with a mix of flat, mountain stages and a final time-trial.
But three days from the finish and coming out of the mountain stages which could have allowed him to stand out, he fell out of the top 100.
On Friday, the day of the highest mountain stage, with a summit finish, he crossed the line among the last, in 150th place. On the final day he clocked 80th best in the time-trial.
"Obviously having had the time off from the Dauphine last year and through the corona situation this year, I’ve been very light on racing," he said.
Froome has said he will skip the world championships but may compete in the one-day classic Liege-Bastogne-Liege on October 4 before the Vuelta.
But with such performances, it remains to be seen whether Ineos will maintain its choice of having Froome as their team leader in Spain.
"What is most important is that I get to the end of this season knowing that I have made the progression that I’ve needed to get back to my old self again, so that I can start next season really with a clear slate and get straight back into it," said Froome.
"The Vuelta is definitely a key part of that but I don’t think the Vuelta is necessarily the be-all and end-all either."
His ambition remains a fifth Tour de France in his new team’s colours next year when he will be 36.
"I've obviously got a massive will to be back there next year and certainly with a new team a bit of a new challenge in that sense," he said.
"Hoping I’ll be back to my best next year."
His new team, contacted by AFP, refused to comment on his current performance: "Chris Froome is an Ineos runner until January 1," a spokesperson said.
Froome, meanwhile, who would be the oldest ever winner since Firmin Lambot in 1922 if he does win next year, dismissed talk he was finished: "I am firmly convinced otherwise."