PARIS — The Tour de France just won’t be the same without four-time champion Chris Froome in the field, race director Christian Prudhomme told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
Froome was injured last week in a crash in France that left him with multiple fractures. He let go of his handlebars to blow his nose and hit a wall at speed.
"Clearly, it changes things," Prudhomme said. "The Tour de France with Chris Froome and without is not the same thing. He has been the central character since, we’ll say, 2013.
"So other scenarios are going to open up."
Defending champion Geraint Thomas was also hurt in a crash this week at the Tour de Suisse. The 33-year-old Welshman required stitches above his eye but he is still expecting to defend his title.
"Luckily I’m all ok," Thomas wrote on Twitter on Wednesday. "It just means I’ll need some big training rides next week now."
The setback cast further uncertainty over Team INEOS, formerly known as Team Sky, which has won six of the last seven Tours. Bradley Wiggins won in 2012, while Froome took the title 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017, and Thomas last year.
But with Froome out and Thomas recovering, that could open the door for 22-year-old teammate Egan Bernal.
"Of course, Dave Brailsford’s team will weigh on the Tour de France, as in previous years. But will it do so to such an extent and in the same way?" Prudhomme asked. "I imagine that he, Dave Brailsford, is asking himself lots of questions, too.
"Who will be the leader? The evidence, logic, dictates it will be Geraint Thomas, of course," Prudhomme said. "But will that still be the case after his crash? There are lots of question marks. But we know that Egan Bernal is ready, it seems to me."
After an impressive win at the Paris-Nice race in March, the Colombian then also crashed in training in May. He broke his collarbone, ruling him out of the Giro d’Italia. But he is racing at the Tour de Suisse and Prudhomme expects that the mountainous terrain of the Tour will play to Bernal’s climbing strengths. This year’s Tour will be the first with three stages that finish on summits above 2,000 metres (6,500 feet), where the thin air will sap riders.
"We’re going very high this year," Prudhomme said. "But nearly all of us believe that the Colombians won’t be less strong at 2,000 metres and Bernal, obviously, is Colombian.
"At first glance, on paper, it cannot be unfavourable for Bernal," he added. "He is super-talented in the mountains. He can attack from far out."