Advertisement

Sign up for our newsletter

Advertisement

Chris Froome - a baby, data & the Tour

Ellis Bacon
2 May 2016

Chris Froome isn’t like others - the Tour de France winner opens up about fatherhood, those doping allegations and his Olympic dream.

Chris Froome is suffering. His face gives nothing away, but neither Nairo Quintana, Alberto Contador or any of his other rivals are anywhere to be seen.

In fact, Froome isn’t even on a bike. He’s sitting on a comfy, padded chair in the members’ lounge of the RACV Healesville Country Club, an hour’s drive north-east of Melbourne, where Stage 1 of the Jayco Herald Sun Tour finished a little earlier in the day.

Despite that, his pain is very real.

‘It’s not easy,’ Froome tells Cyclist. ‘I’ve got to admit, it’s really not easy leaving home now.’

The 30-year-old British rider became a father in December last year, and coming to Australia to race at the Sun Tour means that this is the longest – and furthest – he’s been away from son Kellan so far, coming on the back of time away from him while at Sky’s training camp in Mallorca in early January.

Chris Froome

But it’s nevertheless a sacrifice Froome’s willing to make as he bids to win his third Tour de France title this summer. In any case, having a baby brings with it an added motivation.

‘I was talking to Pete Kennaugh about it yesterday, as he also became a father towards the end of last year, about how when we’re away from home now we really want to make it count more than ever,’ he says, revealing his discussion with his Sky teammate. (As it turns out, both Froome and Kennaugh will go on to make it count at this year’s Sun Tour, with the pair taking first and second places).

‘It’s an amazing feeling being a father – absolutely amazing,’ adds Froome, who calls Monaco home during the racing season. ‘And thankfully I’ve got a fantastic wife, Michelle, who obviously understands what it takes for me to be at the top of my sport. Sleep really is such a big part of our performance, and you can really feel
it if you’ve had a bad night’s sleep, so luckily I’m not being woken up in the middle of the night, having to change nappies. Michelle’s been taking care of everything. I do change Kellan in the afternoons when I’m back from training, though – I’m more than happy to do that. I really do enjoy it when I get home from training and can spend time with him. It’s really special.’

Rivals for the Tour

While Kellan Froome’s name might be one to watch out for in the sport in two or three decades’ time, in the meantime Froome senior has a third Tour de France to win. And while the Sun Tour was Froome’s first race of the year, kicking off his season on 3rd February, thoughts of rivals for July such as Quintana and Contador weren’t far from his mind.

it’s yet to be seen if Alberto is going to retire after this year, but if he does I’ll certainly miss going head to head with him

Nairo Quintana – the Colombian climber who has twice finished second at the Tour, in 2013 and again last year – first pushed a pedal in anger this year on 18th January at the Tour de San Luis, in Argentina, which was won by his younger brother and Movistar teammate Dayer. However, it’s still the elder of the brothers who has put his hand up as the man most likely to have the best chance of deposing Froome from the Tour throne.

Nairo Quintana and Chris Froome at the finish of Stage 16, 2015 Tour de France

‘Going purely on results, that’s right,’ Froome agrees. ‘Nairo’s finished twice to me now in both the Tours that I’ve won. He’s still a young rider, and is surely only getting stronger and more confident in his own abilities. I imagine that he’s going to be right up there again this year.’

But while Quintana should be the biggest threat on paper, and is almost certain to again feature regularly in the high mountains, Spain’s Alberto Contador remains many fans’ favourite as the go-to guy for a bit of head-to-head action with Froome. People love a good two-pronged rivalry, and when it comes to cycling’s greatest pairings – think Coppi-Bartali, Anquetil-Poulidor, Hinault-LeMond – it seems fair to say that Contador has been Froome’s most persistent, if not necessarily consistent, rival at not only the Tour but also at shorter stage races throughout the past few seasons.

‘I’d agree with that,’ says Froome, and repeats, ‘I’d agree with that.’

He then seems genuinely surprised to hear that Contador wasn’t starting his season until 17th February at the Tour of the Algarve (where the Spaniard won a stage, but lost out to Froome’s Sky teammate Geraint Thomas in the overall classification), two weeks after the start of the Sun Tour.

Read more - Contador: Hero or villain?

But, rather than jump on the who's-starting-their-season-when-and-where bandwagon, Froome bats away any perceived importance attached to the dates. ‘I don’t think there’s any great rush,’ he says. ‘Especially with the season being so long these days. So each to their own – I’ve got no doubt that Alberto will be back to his best by July.’ Or even better. There’s a strong possibility that 2016 will be Contador’s final season, which could give him added motivation, although he’s recently made noises about starting – and riding for – his own team for 2017, as his current Tinkoff team looks set to fold at the end of the year. Would Froome miss him if he retired?

‘I would in a strange way,’ he says with a laugh. ‘As you say, it’s yet to be seen if Alberto is going to retire after this year, but if he does I think he’s had a great innings, and I’ll certainly miss going head to head with him.’

Chris Froome

Froome also names his former Sky teammate Richie Porte as someone he’s going to have to watch closely at this year’s Tour. Yet rather than being annoyed that Porte’s move to the BMC team for 2016 means he has lost one of the key lieutenants who might have helped him bring home a third Tour crown, Froome is borderline supportive of his friend’s designs on claiming a Tour title for himself.

‘It’ll be interesting to see what Richie can do, given his freedom and his own chance,’ says Froome. ‘He knows how to get himself ready for a Grand Tour, and I’ve got no doubt that he’ll be up there this year.’

Was he surprised to see Porte leave?

‘No – I expected it. He had a great offer from BMC, and he fully deserves his own chance.’

But surely teaching the Australian the ropes at Sky and then letting him loose at a rival team is going to count against Froome?

‘Certainly – he’s got first-hand knowledge of being in the team. He knows how we’re going to ride. He knows how I think!’ Froome laughs. ‘I’m sure that will give him an advantage, yeah.’

Froome smiles, and is happy to leave it there – to let the riders do the talking come July. Besides, Froome believes that Sky have got an excellent replacement for Porte in Geraint Thomas.

Richie Porte with Chris Froome at the 2015 Tour de France

‘I’d expect Geraint to be right up there this year in the Tour as my right-hand man,’ says Froome. ‘He was already right up there last year, and up in the top five until the last few days. So I think he’s very capable of doing that job, and I think this year he’s going to focus even more on stage racing as opposed to the Classics campaign earlier in the season, so he could be even better this year [at the Tour]. I definitely don’t feel undermanned, even though we’ve lost a couple of guys.

From helper to leader 

When Bradley Wiggins won the 2012 Tour de France, few people knew much about his Sky teammate and fellow Briton, who finished as runner-up in Paris.

What they saw that year was a hungry rider keen to show the world what he was capable of, from Froome’s stage win at La Planche des Belles Filles on Stage 7 (ahead of Cadel Evans, Wiggins and Vincenzo Nibali), to his attack on the climb of La Toussuire on Stage 11 (when Wiggins was already in the yellow jersey), to Stage 17, when Froome seemed keen to prove who the best climber was at that year’s race, but ultimately waited – or was forced to wait – for his team leader. Neither Team Sky nor the British public were in any doubt that the 2012 Tour was meant for Wiggins.

Chris Froome

Froome was always going to be up against it when it came to comparing his ‘Britishness’ to the side-burned Paul Weller fan who had just become the first British winner of the Tour. Born in Kenya to British parents, it was there that Froome discovered bike racing in his early teens. He went on to represent Kenya at both the Commonwealth Games and the World Championships in 2006, before turning pro with the South African Konica-Minolta team the following year, and taking victory on a stage of the Tour of Japan, as well as the overall title at French stage race the Mi-Août Bretanne while riding for the UCI’s World Cycling Centre development team.

In 2008, Froome joined the British-registered but South African-sponsored Barloworld team and rode his first Tour de France with them that year, finishing 83rd.

It wasn’t until he joined the fledgling Team Sky in 2010 that Froome really began to show what he was capable of, although his two-year contract might have simply run its course were it not for his stand-out performance at the Vuelta a Espana towards the end of the 2011 season.

There, he won a stage and wore the red leader’s jersey, but, in a foreshadowing of what was to come at the 2012 Tour, Team Sky were firmly backing Wiggins for the overall victory, and Froome was ordered to work for his team leader.

Both lost out: the race was won by Spain’s Juan José Cobo, a mere 13 seconds ahead of Froome, while Wiggins was third, almost a minute and a half behind his teammate.

Had Sky put all their eggs into Froome’s basket during that Vuelta, might the result have been different? Probably. And come the 2013 Tour de France, Froome was the undisputed leader of the team (Wiggins happened to be incapacitated with a knee injury that July), and he would make the race his own. Froome crashed out in 2014, but was back to win the 2015 edition, and will head into this year’s Tour as the big favourite to take win number three.

Read more - Tour de France 2015, stage by stage

The doping question

Froome has a reputation as a polite, mild-mannered man, and does absolutely nothing to dispel that impression during our interview, from his considered answers to our questions, to his willingness to pose for pictures for our photographer, to showing the utmost respect to all his rivals.

Indeed, while Eddy Merckx was known as ‘The Cannibal’, Froome seems more like the kind of bloke you might meet next to the buffet who insists, ‘No, after you.’

Chris Froome

On the bike, however, he’s as ravenous as any of the Tour winners who have come before him. He knows that claiming another Tour title will elevate him to the same status as three-time winners Philippe Thys, Louison Bobet and Greg LeMond, and put him another step closer to joining the five-time winners club: Anquetil, Merckx, Hinault and Indurain.

It won’t come easy – he knows that, too – and beyond the athletic side there are other aspects of the Tour journey to negotiate, not least weathering the storm of flying urine.

In August, just weeks after the Tour, Froome underwent a barrage of physiological tests at the GlaxoSmithKline Human Performance Lab in London to provide the public with the transparency so many were calling for when it came to his ‘numbers’, including his bodyfat percentage, peak power and VO2 max. In an effort to convince the doubters – such as the spectator who threw urine in his face on Stage 14 of last year’s race – the results were revealed late last year, and according to the test lab indicated extraordinary athleticism, but nothing that was deemed extraterrestrial.

Read more - Chris Froome's data, what does it mean?

‘Yeah, I feel as though that was received really well by the public, and showed that I’m open,’ Froome says, who instigated the testing himself, rather than doing it through Team Sky.

Although he hopes for a slightly easier ride this year off the back of that, he’s under no illusions that cycling’s doping question is going to disappear overnight.

Chris Froome retains the yellow jersey, Stage 10 of the 2015 Tour de France

‘There will always be – unfortunately, given where cycling is at the moment – that angle. But I’m an optimist,’ he says, ‘and I hope that the next few years are good years for the sport in general, and that we can move past a lot of that doubt and scrutiny. I mean, I think it’s healthy. I think questions always should be asked, especially given the deceit we’ve had in the past. But at the same time, I think there’s a line between questions being asked and outright, unfounded allegations. Basically, lack of respect for us as human beings – that urine incident, for example – should never happen in any sport.’

The Olympic dream

In this Olympic year, and just two short weeks after the Tour finishes in Paris, Froome is set to line up at the road race in Rio de Janeiro on a course that favours the climbers.

‘It’s an extremely tough road race course,’ he confirms, ‘and an opportunity like this probably only comes around once in a lifetime for a climber like me, so I’m definitely motivated for it and keen to see what I can do there.’

I’d love to win one of the Monuments – something like Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

He already has a bronze medal from the London Games in 2012, thanks to third place in the time-trial behind British teammate Bradley Wiggins and Germany’s Tony Martin. And while Froome was part of the five-man squad riding for Mark Cavendish at the road race in London, four years on he’s now got a great chance to go for gold himself.

Read more - Bradley Wiggins "Cav can have one of my medals"

So far, Froome has been measured by the number of Tour titles he can win, but just how much do other races and different-coloured jerseys – Olympic gold or a rainbow jersey at the World Championships – appeal?

Chris Froome

‘They appeal a lot, of course they do,’ he replies. ‘To win something like the Olympic road race would be absolutely unreal. That would be magic for me, but yeah, it’s a long way off and there’s a lot of work to do before then. But that’s the dream. I’ve got to dream big. Who knows if it’s possible?’

He then reveals that he also has one eye on some day winning a one-day Classic.

‘I’d love to win one of the Monuments – something like Liège-Bastogne-Liège. I’ll probably give it a go this year, but who knows? What I do know is that there are a lot of guys who are probably better suited to those kinds of races than me.’

It’s hard to imagine the likes of Eddy Merckx or Bernard Hinault ever saying something similar – affording their rivals so much reverential respect.

But Froome really is a different beast.