Briton Chris Froome is “optimistic” about a place in the Tour de France despite his lag behind his Team Ineos teammate Egan Bernal.
Froome has been far from Bernal, 23, Colombian, winner of the 2019 Tour, in recent warm-ups as he tries to rediscover his form.
Ineos has a choice of three former Tour champions for this year’s delayed showpiece, starting August 29.
“Obviously I always find the pace of the race,” said Froome, 35.
Four-time Tour winner Froome and 2018 British champion Geraint Thomas, 34, all compete in the Criterium de Dauphine – the final warm-up event, which will help their team decide who to select for the biggest cycling race.
Ineos’ policy is that whoever is the best rider for the last week of a Grand Tour will be supported by the whole team, and it is unlikely that he will want to take three riders on the Tour who would be considered team leaders.
Froome signed a multi-year agreement with Israel Start-Up Nation starting in 2021, after Ineos has decided not to renew his contract.
He lost more time against Bernal during the brutal mountainous second stage of the Dauphine on Thursday, with the Briton nearly 14 minutes behind.
“It’s amazing to be back in the field,” Froome said afterwards. “But keeping in mind that I’ve only had a few days of racing in over a year now, I just feel better and better as I do more days of racing.
“I am optimistic for the Tour. “
Bernal won the Route d’Occitanie, nearly 10 minutes ahead of Froome, on August 4 and finished 26 minutes ahead of last week’s Tour de l’Ain.
“Egan did very well in Occitanie and at the Tour de l’Ain. We had a win and a second place, so the whole team [at the Dauphine] try to take care of Egan and try to put him in the best place to get the win, ”Froome added.
“Every day is a test and every day is about improving the condition. I’m really happy with the progress I’ve made so far – it’s really encouraging. “
Meanwhile, Froome’s future teammate Dan Martin withdrew from Israel’s Start-Up Nation team at La Dauphine after discovering a small fracture in his lower back following a accident during the second stage.
“I am recovering quickly and I have reason to remain optimistic, I will be ready for the Tour,” said the 33-year-old Ireland.
Matt Warwick de BBC Sport
Froome’s form being a long way from Bernal and Thomas as he recovers from terrible injuries suffered in an accident at La Dauphine last year, it seems more and more likely that he is the pilot to miss.
It would be a real indignation for a man with such seriousness in the sport.
But Froome can still reduce his losses and offer to play “super-domestic” to Bernal on the Tour in order to be there, rather than completely missing out.
He can then continue to rediscover his form at the highest level and benefit from it if something happens to the defending champion during the race.