We might gain a bit more insight into the enigmatic Chris Froome tomorrow night as ITV4's Sports Life Stories series turns its attention to the Kenyan-born Tour de France winner. Froome talks to Ned Boulting and there are contributions from Team Sky boss Dave Brailsford, journalist David Walsh, team-mates and friends as the show tells Froome's story.
The programme follows Froome on training rides, relaxing at home in Johannesburg, and on a visit to his old school to trace his journey from Nairobi to the Tour de France podium.
Froome began cycling in Kenya but took it up more seriously after starting boarding school in South Africa. He recalls setting up an ‘import business’ while at school to pay for his race fees.
"Occasionally I'd stop by the liquor store and pick up a few bottles of something or some cigarettes and keep the guys happy.”
His upbringing in Africa gave him a unique worldview, says Brailsford.
“It’s quite interesting to try and put yourself in Chris Froome’s shoes and stop and see the world through his eyes, as it is out of the ordinary really. He quite often would sit down and tell stories about being chased by rhinos and all these crazy things most of us find hard to relate to, unless you’ve been down to Chester Zoo.”
Froome came to the cycling world's attention for all the wrong reasons when he crashed spectacularly into a race official while competing for Kenya in the Under-23 World Championships in 2006.
He turned professional and joined the Barloworld team, but in 2008, his world fell apart after his mother died from cancer, while he was riding in a week-long race in Spain.
He says: “I got a call from from [my brother] Jeremy saying that she had had a heart attack and passed away that morning. It felt as if my world had come tumbling down hearing that news and I felt as if I was just a million miles away riding a bicycle. I hadn't even been home for over a year, I hadn't been back to see her and I just felt terrible. She was definitely my biggest supporter and I wish she could have been around a bit longer to see how things have gone since then.”
He rode in his first Tour de France just two weeks after his mother's death, where he recorded a top 100 finish, a performance which led him to be signed by Team Sky. After an early struggle with the tropical blood disease bilharzia, his performances dramatically improved, most notably at the 2011 Vuelta a Espana.
Riding in support of team leader Bradley Wiggins, Chris outperformed his teammate and finished second to Spaniard Juan Jose Cobo. But many, like David Walsh, felt he should have won the race, and that his team failed to back him until it was too late.
Walsh says: "The team’s inability to see that Chris was the man in the 2011 Vuelta robbed the team and Chris of a Grand Tour. He should have certainly won that race."
Froome also talks about the incident in the 2012 Tour de France where he attacked team leader Bradley Wiggins. Having lost time on the first stage to a puncture he hoped to regain lost time on the eleventh stage as the race went through the Alps. He rode away and isolated Wiggins, before being called back on the team radio.
He says: "I attacked. But only ten seconds later to have [Team Sky sporting director] Sean Yates come onto the radio. I think he was going, ‘Froomey, Froomey, I hope you got permission from Brad to do that!’ A second later I heard Brad on the radio also going, ‘No, no, no, no.’ And at that point I just thought, ‘Okay, whoa.’ … It just wasn't a nice feeling in the team. And I think everyone just wanted to get the job done and get to Paris."
Froome's second place in that Tour led to speculation about who would lead the team at the next Tour that continued into 2013. In May 2013, Bradley Wiggins pulled out with a knee injury and Froome, the undisputed team leader, went on to win the Tour by more than four minutes.
He describes his feelings now: “I wake up in the morning, I blink a few times and I think hang on, I managed to win the Tour de France. There's nothing to say I'll ever win the Tour de France again."
Froome crashed out of the 2014 Tour, but plans to ride again this year.
He says: “I would like people to remember me as the cyclist who raced with heart. I started off on a mountain bike down the Rift Valley just outside Nairobi and to have gone from there to winning the Tour de France in such a short period of time, I’d like to think that it could serve to inspire a lot of youngsters to do the same.”
Sports Life Stories: Chris Froome screens at 10.00pm tomorrow, Tuesday February 25.
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