Saitama, Japan: Four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome successfully completed his first competitive ride since his horror crash in June on Sunday before hot-tailing his way across Tokyo to watch the Rugby World Cup semifinal.
The 34-year-old took part in a team time trial run round a single lap at the Saitama Criterium meet with 2019 Tour de France winner Egan Bernal and Ineos teammate Jonathan Castroviejo playing bodyguard.
The time trial was on the undercard for main event, the Saitama Criterium, and Japanese ace Yukiya Arashiro soaked up local adulation after winning.
In the time trial, Froome led the trio out to enthusiastic applause from a Saitama public that the Briton had worked hard to win over this week with visits to schools and social events.
The PR exercise ended with Ineos rolling home second last as local cycling team Saitama Project won the time trial in 4min 20sec.
It was clear Froome's right-leg was a long way off fitness, with surgery to remove a plate on his hip set for December.
The Briton is still in recovery after sustaining dreadful injuries in June when he hit a brick wall at high speed, fracturing ribs, a femur, and an elbow after taking his hands off the handlebars to blow his nose.
Froome left quickly at the end of the race without talking to the media in order to get to Yokohama around 60 kilometres away in time for the kick-off of the Rugby World Cup semi-final between Wales and South Africa.
The Kenyan-born Froome went to school and university in South Africa while his wife is a South African of Welsh origin, although he was coy about who he was supporting.
- 'We made it' -
After that game kicked off, Froome tweeted two photographs, under the caption "We made it."
One showed him grinning with South African rider Daryl Impey and the other showed the stadium with the teams on the pitch. Froome said the "loser buys the beer".
After South Africa won the match 19-16, to set up a meeting with England in the final next Saturday, Froome tweeted "Beers on me" with a photo of the two cyclists raising beers.
In the criterium, Arashiro won a gala-style race run over 17 3.5km fan-packed laps of tight city streets, Bernal was second and world No.1 Primoz Roglic third, a metre or so adrift.
"I'm the first Japanese rider to win so maybe they'll talk about me in 20-years. So happy. Really special," said the seven-time Tour de France competitor.
Bernal said he was looking forward to visiting more of Japan with his entourage.
"We've seen Tokyo and we'll be moving on to Kyoto for three days now," Bernal told AFP.
The 22-year-old Colombian said he had no space in his already bulging luggage for the large bags of local rice being given out as part of the prizes.
- Next stop Olympics -
Also present at the race was Tour de France king of the mountains Romain Bardet, and his polka-dot jersey raised a cheer over the early laps as he made a point of charging ahead on the one notable incline.
"We had fun," said Bardet.
"We fly home tonight but I hope to be back for the Olympics in July."
"I rode the final part of the Olympic route, it's a good technical descent and we're looking forwards to it. There will be five of us on the French team."
Winner of the green sprint jersey here, Italian puncher Matteo Trentin is still smarting after settling for silver at the recent world championships in Yorkshire.
"I'm just about getting over the disappointment," he told AFP.
"The rain there was ridiculous, I'm only just warming up," he said with a straight face.