Words: David Evans | Photography: Graham Watson | Date:
Team Sky’s reigning Tour de France champion, Chris Froome, recently visited the Rapha Cycle Club London to promote his new autobiography, The Climb. He took the time to talk to us about mentors, strange rituals, and the inner pain of being a professional cyclist.
For a lot of fans, your first memorable result was on Stage 14 of the 2009 Giro d’Italia, you were one of the last survivors of the breakaway scrambling up the climb to Santuario di San Luca next to riders like Simon Gerrans. What was it like in the pro peloton for you back then?
That was my second year at Barloworld, and I was still settling in to a new home in Italy and the life of a European pro. The team were great, but I did a lot of my own organisation. I was on my own mission, so I’d go out and find new routes and just ride.
I was so excited about getting to ride the Giro, only my second Grand Tour. I remember training too hard, up in the north of Italy, near Chiari, in the Brescia province. I would ride out to Lake Iseo and enjoy the countryside.
When I compare that to how I’m riding at Sky, it’s so different, so structured. We get a lot of feedback, which means a chance to talk about what I’ve been doing and what I should do next. I can see and feel the difference that it makes.
Do you have any rituals before a race?
One of the few strange things that I do is stretching whilst I brush my teeth. I stretch my glutes by lifting my foot on to the lip of the sink and pressing forwards, then I stretch the hip flexors by bringing my foot up behind my back. That’s pretty much the strangest thing I do as a bike racer.
When you’re in the peloton do you ever have a chat with the guys around you? I can imagine that a six-hour stage might give you a few opportunities to chew the cud.
It’s hard when the whole team is at the front and you’re riding in a train all day, but when we’re in the group it’s nice to have a bit of a chat and take your mind off counting the kilometres.
What do you talk about?
We talk about anything and everything. The race, obviously. There’s always politics and rivalries to catch up on. The latest gossip in the peloton is fun, if you find the right rider.
You’re known as the archetypal gentleman off the bike, but road racing requires a focus and attitude that doesn’t leave a lot of room for niceties. How do you make the switch?
For me, it’s quite natural. When I’m on the bike, ready to race, that’s work. That’s business. That’s where you’ve got to be ruthless. You spend a huge amount of time training, getting in to an optimum condition, that in a race you don’t give an inch unless you really have to.
There is a gentlemanly side to cycling, there are unwritten rules that I believe should be adhered to. For instance, I believe that if one of your biggest rivals crashes or punctures at a key moment, you shouldn’t take advantage of the situation and instead just keep the race under control.
I’m a big supporter of things like that, but when it comes to actual racing: game on.
Who have you learned from most in life?
David Kinjah, who was captain of the Kenyan cycling team. I learned a lot from Kinjah, he taught me to love the sport. When I was a teenager, he’d take me out on these really long rides and I’d almost have to hold on to his jersey to get home. I look up to him as a mentor and someone I can still learn from.
A famous story from your early career is that you hacked in to the Kenyan federation’s email account so you could confirm your participation in the World Championships. I’ve always wanted to ask: what was the password? How did you guess?
Ah, right. I can’t really remember now.
One of the key qualities needed to win the Tour is the ability to suffer, and it strikes me that someone who can suffer that much must know themselves very well – I mean, you must interrogate yourself when you put yourself through so much suffering. What’s going through your mind at these times?
As a professional cyclist, you get to know that pain very well. You go to that ‘place’ so often in training and racing that it just becomes a part of you. It’s not something completely new or foreign, it’s more… I feel the pain, I acknowledge it, but I have trained myself to push on. There’s a methodical side to it, a familiarity. You adapt to the pain.