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Cycling: Softly spoken Froome maturing into team leader

Sky Procycling's Chris Froome of Britain cycles during the tenth stage of the Tour of Spain "La Vuelta" cycling race in Salamanca August 29,
Sky Procycling's Chris Froome of Britain cycles during the tenth stage of the Tour of Spain "La Vuelta" cycling race in Salamanca August 29,

By Julien Pretot

PORTO VECCHIO, France (Reuters) - After spending the 2012 season standing by Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome is learning to become a leader at Team Sky as the Briton gears up for the Tour de France, the ultimate goal of his season.

Last year, Tour champion Wiggins stressed that one of the hardest part of his path to road cycling glory was coping with the pressure of being a favorite for the world's greatest stage race.

"I'm really enjoying the role, it's not easy with all the extra commitments and things. I'm beginning to understand what Brad had to go through last year," Froome, runner-up to Wiggins in the Tour in 2012, told Reuters at the Criterium International in Porto Vecchio, Corsica, where the Tour will start in three months.

"But it's something that I am adapting to. I definitely feel some pressure but this is the position I wanted to be in and it's welcome pressure. I'm happy to be given this opportunity and I want to make the most of it."

With the Team Sky leadership role come the media attention and other time-consuming tasks as well as the criticism and skepticism.

"I don't have issues but definitely time management is a big thing," the softly spoken Froome said.

"Now I've got a lot more press, I've got a lot more commitment outside the team while before I only needed to worry about myself.

"Now I'm also thinking about my team mates and being always in the spotlight for the team when we go to the races. On the bike you've got to make decisions.

So far, it has been almost going according to plan.

He won the Tour of Oman ahead of Spain's Alberto Contador and Australian Cadel Evans but had to concede defeat against Italian Vincenzo Nibali at Tirreno Adriatico after a grueling stage.

"It has been the best results I have ever had in the early season because I actually had never won a professional stage race before so winning Oman was a first," said Froome.

"At Tirreno, I came second, which I'm happy with under the circumstances," he added referring to the terrible weather in Italy earlier this month.

STRAIGHTFORWARD STATEGY

Froome, however, said he should not be judged on his early season results as only the Tour will matter in 2013.

"All these races I've been doing now, it's not the objective to win. I'm going there to test myself, keeping in mind that the Tour is the ultimate goal for me," he said.

Whether they are riding for Wiggins, Froome, or even Australian Richie Porte at Paris-Nice earlier this month, Sky have a straightforward strategy: impose a fierce tempo from the bottom of the climbs to prevent attacks.

The strategy has come under fire from fans and rivals, but had been more or less proving efficient.

"I think we're developing our own tactics at the moment and a lot of people are criticizing us saying it's boring," Froome said.

"But I think it's quite exciting because other teams have to plan their own tactics against ours, it's not boring."

If Sky's tactic can arguably be dubbed boring by fans and media, the internal balance of power at Team Sky will certainly draw a lot of attention come the Tour.

Team Sky have not, yet, said that Froome would be the only leader on the Tour, although Wiggins may not be at his absolute best having first targeted the Giro d'Italia, with the double having last been achieved by the late Marco Pantani in 1998.

Asked who between Contador and Wiggins would be his main rival on the Tour, Froome replied: "Brad is my team mate, he's not a rival. I was not against Brad last year."

In 2012, Froome at times seemed capable of beating Wiggins in the mountains, yet, although some frustration was palpable, the Kenya-born rider remained faithful to his leader.

"I don't see it that way, I'd say Contador is my biggest rival," he said.

"I don't know what other people are thinking but to me Contador is the favorite. He's someone who takes the race on."

Froome, however, beat the Spaniard on the Tour of Oman and finished ahead of him at Tirreno.

"I possibly have a mental advantage I don't know," he said.

"Maybe I have a mental advantage. I enjoy racing against him, he's another rider who takes on the races and makes it exciting."

(Editing by John Mehaffey)

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