NEUCHÂTEL, May 4- Tour de France champion Chris Froome said he was bang on track to defend his Grand Boucle crown after retaining his Tour of Romandie title by winning Sunday’s final stage time-trial.
Kenyan born Froome began the 18.5km individual time-trial around Neuchatel just one second behind yellow jersey wearer Simon Spilak but the Team Sky rider finished the course 29sec ahead of the Slovenian.
“It’s an important race for me, it was a very different Tour of Romandie from last year,” said Froome, who led almost from start to finish a year ago.
“But I’m really happy with my condition and this is a really crucial time building up to the Tour de France.
“I wouldn’t go so far as to say whoever wins the Tour de Romandie will win the Tour de France, but it’s definitely a good sign and a sign that I’m on track for the Tour de France.”
It was a welcome return to form for Froome who was only sixth in the Tour of Catalunya, his previous race in late March, having suffered from a back injury and illness over the past two months.
In mid-March he had to pull out of the Tirreno-Adriatico stage race, won by main Tour de France rival Alberto Contador, due to his back problem, whilst illness kept him out of last Sunday’s Liege-Bastogne-Lieg.
Victory in Romandie was the Briton’s second stage race win of the year having triumphed at the Tour of Oman in February, where he was also the reigning champion.
Katusha’s Spilak finished second overall with world champion Rui Costa of Portugal third, mirroring exactly last year’s podium.
World time-trial champion Tony Martin was second on the stage, which included a tough climb, by just one second with New Zealand’s Jesse Sergent third at 8sec.
In each of the last three years, the Tour de Romandie winner has gone on to claim success at the Tour de France.
Before Froome achieving that double last year, Bradley Wiggins did so in 2012 and Australian Cadel Evans did likewise in 2011.
And in an ominous message to his rivals, Froome said that despite not winning as much as he had done at this stage last year, when he had also won the Criterium International and finished second at Tirreno-Adriatico, he feels he is in better shape.
“I think this block (of training) now will be really important before the Criterium du Dauphine (in June),” he added.
“We’re just under two months now from the start of the Tour. I feel like I’m in really good condition already but I still do have quite a lot of work to do before the Dauphine.
“I think I’m on track, I’m where I need to be, if anything I think I’m ahead of where I was this time last year, which is a really good feeling especially after all the setbacks and difficulties this season.
“I’m just really happy with where I am and I’m hoping in this next block — I’ll be going back to Tenerife for altitude training for two weeks — that I can improve on my condition there.”