Bahrain-Merida has a shot at the maillot jaune with former winner Vincenzo Nibali, the only man to interrupt Ineos/Sky’s otherwise flawless run at the race since 2012.
Froome suffered fractures to his right femur, elbow and ribs when he crashed at 55km/h on a recon ride before Stage 4 of the Criterium du Dauphine, smashing into a wall.
He underwent a six-hour surgery this week to repair the injuries, with a record equally fifth Tour title attempt scrapped and the rest of his season in doubt.
Copeland sympathised with Froome’s “terribly sad” circumstance, which he believes will alter public perception when the race commences in Brussels, Belgium next month.
“Without the presence of a rider at the level of Chris, the race changes,” Copeland told Cycling Central.
“This is unfortunate for the general public watching the race, making it neither an advantage or a disadvantage to any of the other top GC riders.
“The general public will always have the impression that the 2019 TdF was won without the presence of Chris, and that is unfortunate.
“It is always terribly sad to see one of the top rivals in any Grand Tour injured in such a serious way. The first thought that comes to mind is that he is in good care and thoughts to his family,” Copeland continued.
“From a sporting point of view, it’s very unfortunate for the fans of cycling as everyone loves to see a battle between the world’s best riders on the road. This is what makes the race even more so exciting.”
The Zwift SBS Cycling Podcast is back for another week with Matt Keenan, David McKenzie and Philip Gomes in conversation to discuss the news of Chris Froome's catastrophic crash and a discussion about ASO's recalcitrance toward women's cycling and what can be done about it.
Froome has been a part of all of Ineos/Sky’s Tour winning teams since Bradley Wiggins scored his maiden victory in 2012. Until now, the 34 year old’s only other misfortune at the race was in 2014, the year Nibali triumphed, when he abandoned Stage 5 due to crash-related injury.
Nibali’s performance that year with Astana wasn’t discounted by the loss of Froome, whose team couldn’t reassemble and challenge for the podium with then second-in-charge Richie Porte. Nibali also wore the yellow jersey for almost the entire race save for two days Marcel Kittel and then Tony Gallopin had a brief turn.
The situation may play differently now, given Ineos has a defending champion (and not programmed second lieutenant) Geraint Thomas as well as young Colombian sensation Egan Bernal, who finished 15th overall on rookie pro debut last season.
Pundits have already speculated that the absence of Froome may change the processional style the race has been contested in for almost a decade, and also the mentality of rivals that could back themselves more to win now.
“I am sure Ineos will still have a very competitive team with the likes of Bernal and Thomas. Many other teams will come to the TdF with riders in top shape as well as we at Bahrain-Merida,” said Copeland.
Nibali, in an indication of form, finished second overall at the Giro d’Italia last month and has the full support of his squad again ahead of the Grand Depart in Brussels, Belgium.
Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) has shown himself to Tour rivals at the Dauphine, which he currently leads. Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) is reportedly personally concerned about a knee complaint but has been consistent at the Dauphine, as has Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo). Thomas is due to start the Tour de Suisse on Saturday.
“[We] are looking forward to some exciting racing in the coming months as Vincenzo recovers from the Giro and starts getting ready for a great 2019 TdF. In the meantime, on behalf of Team Bahrain-Merida, I wish Chris a speedy and healthy recovery. We all look forward to seeing him back at the races soon,” said Copeland.