Review of Chris Froome – The Climb.
Last week I received a copy of Chris Froome – The Climb for my birthday, and have spent the past two weeks reading it. I have enjoyed the book, and have read at quite a quick pace. It is an unusual and quite intriguing cycling story. Gangly Kenyan born Brit learns to ride mountain bike with local Kenyan cyclists and despite multiple crashes, having to impersonate officials and coping with tropical diseases, manages to work his way into the European pro cycling scene.
Even if it stopped there, it would be quite an interesting story – a triumph of will and determination over adversity and an unlikely background for a pro cyclist. Of course, it doesn’t stop at just getting into a pro team, Froome has gone on to win the Tour de France twice, Olympic bronze and has come very close in the Vuelta twice. If all that wasn’t enough drama for a wannabe cyclist, Froome was fated to be the first winner of the Tour de France, since the very public expose of the greatest doping scandals in cycling (if not sport).
There was a time when cyclists were heroes, and any awkward questions were swept under the carpet. But, post-Lance – and anyone who has the temerity to win a race, is subject to the latent suspicion and, at times, hostility of those who are fed up with the unending doping scandals that have blighted the sport in recent decades. What might have been celebrated as a romantic story – “The guy who went from the African bush to the Champs Elysees podium” – has – to an extent – been overshadowed by questions of where did this guy come from? If he was this talented, why wasn’t he winning bigger and earlier?
A strong theme in the book is that Chris gets to tell his side of the story. How he started, how he became a better cyclist, how he missed out, why race performances often didn’t match training data. A cynic might say, it is a long attempt at self-justification, but I didn’t feel that. Everyone tells their story in a way to portray themselves in the best light. Especially given the sub-plots circulating around pro cycling, I wouldn’t have expected anything else.
In many ways the early chapters are amongst the strongest in the book. It is just a very different life – brought up feeding pet rabbits to your pet python, the only white boy training with Kenyan locals and learning to ply his trade on a mountain bike bought from a supermarket. This is boys own stuff, and makes the Otley CC Sunday run through Yorkshire Dales look like a walk in the park.
The one thing that stands out in these early chapters, is that Chris really had a remarkable perseverance, determination and willingness to train. To squeeze a cliché into the review, anything less than 100% effort from his background, and he probably would have ended up an accountant like his brothers. There was certainly no conveyor belt of British Cycling Talent Team to help the process.
In fact, the book is a bit of an eye-opener into the huge divergence in sporting resources between developing countries like Kenya and western nations, like the UK. The story about the Kenyan cyclist who nearly died in the Tour of Egypt because their support car went on a tourist trip rather than support the race was genuinely shocking.
Froome vs Brad
A big chapter of the book is the relationship between Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins and the difficulties of the 2012 Tour de France. Of course, it’s understandable Froome wants to explain things from his point of view. But, it’s one of those things you wish could have been resolved in a different way. Whose fault was it? not really that interested.
I think it’s best summed up by the fact Team Sky in 2013 had Mark Cavendish win 3 stages. Bradley Wiggins 1st British winner of the Tour de France ever. Chris Froome 2nd in Tour de France (only previous finish in T de Fr 83rd – 2008)
In just about any other circumstance, any cyclist would have died for any of those three remarkable achievements. Yet, you get the feeling all three didn’t particularly enjoy the Tour. A paradox of achievement, yet unhappiness at the same time.
Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0
Fortunately, the story doesn’t end there. The Olympic time trial was a memorable day – something both Wiggins and Froome could be rightly proud of; and 2013, after a few initial hiccups, was Froome’s chance to shine and become the winner of the 100th edition of the Tour de France. The book ends there, leaving you with a feeling there is another one to come. 2014, 2015 have all been eventful years, and you imagine that, for someone with a relatively dour image, there will be lots more to come in 2016 and beyond.
What to think of Mr Froome?
Firstly, if you had to identify with a pro cyclist, I would tend to immediately choose Chris Froome, as we share certain genetic characteristics.
Thin, light, good climber, best at long distance climbing. I know that’s only part of the story… Froome needs to lose some weight if he wants to catch up with me.
Yet, even as Froome himself points out, in a popularity contest, the multi flawed Bradley Wiggins somehow has a certain je ne sais quoi that makes him the people’s favourite. When Bradley Wiggins won the Tour he was also the run away winner of the BBC Sports Personality. When Froome won the Tour de France, the gangly Brit born Kenyan just didn’t capture the imagination in the same way.
I’m no fan of BBC Sports personality type contests, but I have been generally impressed how Chris Froome has handled himself in really trying circumstances of the past few years – relentless insinuations, urine thrown on him, journalists making accusations of doping e.t.c. Yet, he retains a calm and dignity which is rare in the world of pampered sportsmen. No one is perfect, but someone had to win the Tour de France post-lance – we could have done a lot worse than Chris Froome.
Back to the book and you can make you’re own mind up. If you follow procycling, it is certainly important to get the chance to read Froome in his own words (well ghost written by David Walsh, but that helps create a readable book).
The book is written by David Walsh who spent time with Team Sky and getting to know Chris Froome
9/10. I’m not sure why I didn’t read this earlier. But, it was a good fascinating read.
Chris Froome’s Test Data
It is good timing to post this today, as Chris Froome has released data from a physiological testing, showing what we already really knew – he has a big engine and naturally gifted athlete. Cycling Weekly