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Ride like the pros: Chris Froome

BikesEtc
16 Jun 2016

The double Tour de France champ is adept in everything from mountains to TTs. Here’s what we can learn from him…

Believe it or not, Chris Froome’s first appearance at the Tour de France was way back in 2008. Having only just turned pro aged 22, he rode for the Barloworld team alongside fellow young Brit Geraint Thomas, who was 21. But Froome had already caught the eye of Sir Dave Brailsford when racing for South Africa at the Commonwealth Games in 2006, and the astute British Cycling boss was keen to sign him up when putting together his first Team Sky squad in 2010.

It wasn’t until 2011, though, when riding as a domestique for Brad Wiggins in the Vuelta that Froome really came to public attention, memorably winning stage 17 in an epic mountain-top tussle with Spain’s Juan-Jose Cobo, before going on to help Wiggo take overall Tour victory in 2012 and then winning the coveted Maillot Jaune twice himself. Here’s why he’s again one of the favourites in France this year…

Mental fortitude

What? Froome has at times suffered awful treatment from spectators, with abuse and urine hurled at him in the past, all while having to remain focused on his own riding – and his rivals. ‘A lot of the time your body’s screaming at you, telling you "You’ve got to slow down, you can’t carry on at this speed,"’ he’s since revealed. ‘You’ve got to learn to ignore those signals and push on through that pain barrier and remain focussed on what you’re trying to achieve.’

How? Through meditation, visualisation and positive self talk, it’s possible to overcome these mental barriers. For many sport stars, a strong mental outlook enables them to push their body beyond its limits. It also helps them focus in times of volatility. British Cycling’s motivational guru Dr Peter Hall says, ‘It’s so much easier to perform when your emotions are on board and actually working for you.’

Ride with friends

What? Froomey is always quick to praise cycling pal Richie Porte. ‘Richie is a close mate, he’s been a massive part of my successes over the last few years,’ Froome explained. ‘Our friendship has just grown over the years and it really does help when you’re in a situation on the road, under pressure. Richie and I will know exactly what we’re thinking.’ This level of connection has helped Froome win two Grand Tours in three years. 

How? A study by researchers at the University of Alberta in Canada in 2007, found that a person’s confidence in their own abilities tracks closely with how happy and how satisfied they are with their friendships. Simply put, the more you ride with mates, the more confident you’ll become on a bike. Solo rides are still good, but riding with pals now and again will both give you a good laugh and see your confidence in the saddle bloom.  

Climb like a king

What? Chris Froome’s name has become synonymous with climbing. Both of his Tour de France victories have come down to his prowess in the mountains. In fact, last year he became the first man since Eddy Merckx in 1970 to win both the yellow jersey of the overall classification and the polka dot jersey as King of the Mountains. Team Sky big dog Sir Dave Brailsford knows that you have to be able to push yourself if you want the results. ‘Climbing is a painful thing to do and it’s all about taking your body to the limit of exertion and suffering,’ he said. 

How? Froomey is the epitome of dedication. Staying away from the cakes, the 1.86m (6ft 1in) Froome has brought himself down to the minuscule size of 67.5kg (10st 9lb). ‘Being at the right body weight is key. If you’re carrying an extra five kilos, that’s massive. If you can drop a kilo, you’ll feel a huge difference,’ he recently revealed. Dieting is no fun but like the man said, if you can drop a kilo, your muscles will thank you for it when pushing you up that mammoth climb. 

Cadence

What? Froome is the master of high-cadence climbing. By taking a lower gear and spinning faster, the Brit is able to ride faster for longer up the big mountains. Team GB track star Ed Clancy explains, ‘If you are pedalling quickly you learn how to release power throughout the full 360 degrees. It’s like the revs of a car – if you want to go faster, you have to rev your engine.’

How? You can use a cadence sensor to teach yourself to pedal faster – a good standard to aim for is 90 rotations per minute (rpm). Interval training helps – try one minute at 90rpm then one minute at 110rpm. Alternate this 10 times, rest, then do it again, increasing the rpm. Once you’re comfortable, you can move through the gears and build your pedalling strength. 

Posture

What? To many, Chris Froome’s posture on a bike isn’t the pinnacle of form when it comes to riding. However his ‘praying mantis’ style works well for him – after all he’s won five stages on his way to his two Tour de France crowns. Although we don’t recommend bending your back and flailing your elbows out, Froome has found something that lets him get the most out of his body. ‘I’ve a very rounded upper back and I find my neck gets tired. I find it’s easier for me to breathe, I can get more oxygen when my head is lower down,’ he revealed. 

How? Froome’s posture is not something to be replicated – although it works for him with great effect, that doesn’t necessarily mean it would work for everyone. Instead of copying Froome, book yourself a bike fit so you can get into a proper shape on your bike. This will allow a natural and healthy posture. You can also work on your form and posture by taking up yoga to increase your airflow and core strength. Yoga expert Nikita Akilapa told BikesEtc that yoga teaching ‘focuses on intelligent alignment, breath work and mindful body awareness’, strengthening your airways and getting that all important oxygen to your muscles.

Chris Froome

Get the power

What? While Sir Chris Hoy relies on his huge thighs to generate short, intense bursts of very high power to win a sprint, the light-as-a-feather Froome is all about sustained effort. After last year’s Tour, an independent physiology test revealed that Froome has a peak power of 525 watts, with a functional threshold of 419 watts. This puts him up there with the likes of Wiggo, who registered 482 watts on his way to winning gold in the 2012 Olympic time-trial. This ability to maintain a high power level for so long is why Froome is able perform so well in both mountains and time trials.

How? By taking part in a Functional Threshold Power test (FTP) you can see what your maximum power output is over a sustained period. You can do this using either your own power meter, if you have one, or by signing up to a Sufferfest class (see thesufferfest.com). Once you know this, you can build training sessions designed to improve it. The best way is to train using your sweet-spot threshold. This is when you work at 80 to 90% of your maximum output. Do 3 x 8 minute efforts at this level with four minute of easy spinning between to get started.