The rise and fall of Chris Froome: One of the sports most accomplished cyclists

By: Toby Martin-Kohls

Background and early life

In the world of professional cycling, few cyclists have reached the highs of Froome’s career and subsequently plummeted so quickly.

Christopher Clive Froome was born in Nairobi, Kenya in 1985. His parents were British, and he grew up mainly in Kenya and South Africa. His parents continued British customs and culture while living in South Africa. This culminated in his want to represent Great Britain in the world of cycling.

He first participated in his first organized race at 13, a charity race, which he won. It was there that he connected with David Kinjah who became a mentor and training partner for Froome.

After finishing primary school in Kenya, Froome attended St. Andrew’s School and St. John’s College in Johannesburg. He was the school’s cycling captain and kept in contact with David Kinjah. This is where he started to focus on road cycling.

He didn’t turn professional until he was 22, in 2007. He started road racing in South Africa, specializing as a climber, for now-defunct Team Konica Minolta. His strong performances in 2007 caught the attention of a British cycling coach, Rod Ellingsworth. Although Froome was racing for Kenya at the time, he made it clear to Ellingsworth that he felt British and wanted to race under the British flag.

In 2008 he signed a two-year deal with a British-based, South African-backed team, Barloworld. His first professional win came in March 2009 with the second stage of the Giro del Capo in Durbanville, South Africa.

Grand Tours and takeoff of his pro career

He then participated in his first Grand Tour, the Giro d’Italia. There are three Grand Tours in road cycling, they are the hardest, longest, and most prestigious races. They are all three weeks long and tackle everything from flats to cobbles, to hills, to mountains. They are held every year in three separate countries, one in spring, one in the summer, and one in the fall.

The first Grand Tour of the year is the Giro d’Italia, also known as the Giro or the Tour of Italy. It is arguably the second most prestigious race behind the Tour de France. The Giro is usually held during May and sometimes into early June. Like the other Grand Tours, the modern editions of the Giro d’Italia normally consist of 21 stages over a 23 or 24-day period that includes two or three rest days.

The second Grand Tour of the year is the Tour de France. This is the biggest and most prestigious race on the cycling calendar. It is usually held in July of each year, except for the 2020 version which was held in September due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is primarily held in France but sometimes starts in other countries. It is the oldest Grand Tour, being started in 1903.

The last Grand Tour of the calendar year is the Vuelta a España which is held in Spain. Inspired by the success of the Giro and the Tour, the Vuelta was founded in 1935. While the route changes each year, the format of the race stays the same, with the appearance of at least two time trials, the passage through the mountain chain of the Pyrenees, and the finish in the Spanish capital Madrid.

Starting in 2011, it didn’t take long for Froome to make a name for himself on the international stage. He had remarkable stamina and unparalleled climbing skills. From 2012 to 2018, he dominated the road cycling world.

Froome won 4 Tour de France from 2013 to 2017, with the lone exception of the 2014 edition, in which he crashed out. This placed him second all-time in Tour de France victories. He fell just short of the very exclusive 5-time winner group.

In 2012 he was on the same team as the eventual winner, Bradley Wiggins. Most fans feel that Froome was the stronger man that year and that he was held back by his team in order to support team leader Wiggins. He finished 2nd overall, 3min and 21sec back from his teammate.

In 2018, he attempted the famed Giro-Tour double. He won the 2018 Giro and aimed for his 5th Tour de France victory that July. He came into the race as the team leader and favorite, having won the previous three years. He was simply outridden by his teammate and eventual winner, Geraint Thomas. He came very close to joining the all-time greats and possibly becoming the first person ever to win 6 editions of the Tour.

Downfall and controversy

Despite his great success, there was a shadow over his career achievements. There were allegations of ethical misconduct and doping, though never proven. In 2018, Froome faced an investigation into the use of the drug salbutamol, which is used to treat asthma. The drug itself is not banned, but there is a limit on how much athletes can use. Many riders in the pro peloton have asthma as a result of cycling. Ultimately, the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) dismissed the case before the start of the 2018 Tour de France, allowing him to race and no suspension was given.

The 2019 Tour was seen as one of Froome’s last opportunities to capture an elusive 5th title. At age 34, it was likely it would have been his last good year in terms of Grand Tour form. Most professional road cyclists peak around ages 26-33, however currently there is more of a youth revolution.

In June 2019, disaster struck. While on a race recon ride for the Critérium du Dauphiné, which is considered the most important prep race for the Tour de France, Froome crashed into a brick wall at 37mph after losing control in high winds trying to blow his nose.

He went into intensive care via airlift after breaking a leg, ribs and an elbow. He then missed the rest of the 2020 season recovering.

He returned to professional cycling in 2021, this time with a new team. He departed the powerhouse Team Sky/Ineos Grenadiers and signed a five-year deal with Israel Start-Up Nation for a reported 15 million euros. However, he was a former shell of himself, finishing in 133rd place in the 2021 Tour de France.

In 2022, he managed his best result since his horrific crash with an 11th place at the Mercan Tour Classic Alpes-Maritimes. On Stage 12 of the 2022 Tour de France he bridged a gap up to the eventual stage winner Tom Pidcock to finish 3rd on Alpe d’Huez, one of the most prestigious and famous climbs of the Tour. It was the first time he finished top 3 in a stage of the Tour since  2018. Unfortunately, he tested positive for COVID after stage 18 and was forced to abandon.

It was unfortunate for a legend to go out in the way that he did, but Froome certainly made the most out of his career. He still races today, for Israel-Premier Tech. He is currently a resident of Monaco.

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