PEZ Retro Talk: Chris Froome!
Rider Interview: Back in January 2009 Ed Hood interviewed a young guy called ‘Christopher Froome’ but at the time we were not sure if anyone would be interested in a boy from Africa. Now it is a different story and we thought you might like to see what a younger Mr. Froome had to say for himself six years ago. . .
At the start of the 2008 season I hadn’t heard of the Chris Froome, but all of a sudden his name was everywhere – including le Tour. We thought we’d better have a word with the man who has to go training at 5.00am to beat the Johannesburg traffic.
PEZ: You seemed to appear from nowhere, Chris!
Chris Froome: Yes, it did feel that way – I don’t think that many people in their first year as a professional get the chances that I did.
PEZ: You’re in Johannesburg just now, but you still spend a bit of time in Kenya over the winter?
I spend some time there yes, mainly over Christmas, it’s at high altitude and you can do good work on the mountain bike – but not the road bike because the surfaces are pretty bad. My father is in Johannesburg, where I am just now, but you have to go out training at 5.00am to beat the traffic; it takes about an hour to ride to quiet roads. You have to be careful, it’s not like Europe, the cars don’t respect you; they come straight at you.
PEZ: How did you get into cycling in Kenya?
That’s a good question! I’ve always loved riding my bike, I had a BMX, it was my transport and I explored on it. We used to go camping and take the bike to the Great Escarpment in South Africa for my birthdays where the scenery is just so beautiful. When I was 14, I went to school in South Africa and on weekends I’d ride little races, but my first race was actually in Kenya – it wasn’t a great experience, there’s just no organization there.
PEZ: You initially rode for the South African Konica team?
Yes, but before that I was offered a place with the UCI training school at Aigle – it was a great opportunity and a great program; it’s excellent for the smaller federations which don’t have the resources.
PEZ: Your breakthrough came in the Giro delle Regione, didn’t it?
It was my first tour in Europe and it just suited me – the longer races and the longer climbs. It all just fell into place; I was second on stage two and won a stage two days later – it was great to discover that I could compete at that level. It was a few months after that Barloworld approached me, but I’d also ridden well in the GP Tell in Switzerland, I got fourth and second on stages.
PEZ: Was your nationality change from Kenyan to British to do with the proposed GB Tour team?
It was a lot of things; it was great to ride for Kenya, but I’m not Kenyan – I can’t be, I’m white, my parents are British and I have British ancestry. The GB team approached me in 2007 and I could see that British Cycling is moving in the right direction, so I decided to apply for citizenship; I live in Europe for 10 months of the year, so it makes sense from that perspective too. The GB Tour team is definitely an option; it’s a 100% positive direction for the Federation to take.
PEZ: Did the press in Kenya take much notice of your Tour debut or change of nationality?
Not at all, cycling just isn’t followed by the press there, a few articles about me riding the Tour, but that was about it.
PEZ: Was the Tour your first experience of the really big climbs?
I hadn’t done climbs like that before, no – and I still have a long way to go before I can say that I’m a climber. The first week was the hardest, I’d been taking a break off the bike because I didn’t know I was riding the Tour; I only found out 10 days prior that I was riding – but it was a brilliant learning curve.
PEZ: The Duenas affair must have been stressful? (Barloworld’s Moises Duenas was ejected from the 2008 Tour, prior to the 11th Stage following testing positive for EPO, ed).
I look at it that it was part of the learning curve. You hear doping stories, but there it is, right on your doorstep. I felt it was a betrayal, happening right under our noses, I was thinking; “there must be a mistake, Moises isn’t a bad guy!” Barloworld were really good, their representative was supportive right through all of that and told us that they’d support us in 2009, so I didn’t feel pressure in that respect.
PEZ: What about the Worlds?
It was hard work and an eye opener. If I was preparing for it again, I’d have to take the training up a notch – you’re over 250 kilometers when a lot of your usual racing is around the 200 mark. The circuit didn’t really suit me, there was hardly an inch of flat on that course, but I’d have preferred longer climbs; it’s not as if you can ask for the design of the Worlds course to suit yourself, though!
PEZ: What’s your favorite thing about being a pro?
Everything rides on self motivation – what goes in is what comes out; if you work hard then you get the results. In a funny way, I like the lifestyle of discipline and self motivation.
PEZ: If you could change one thing about being a pro?
I’d like to have more security, knowing that you have a ride for several years, instead of one or two.
I can see that a sponsor wouldn’t want riders to get complacent but the one year contract situation can lead to selfish riding as the season comes to an end and guys are desperate to get a team. Riders without contracts for the following year will often ride for themselves, rather than help a team mate, even though he may be in with a chance of winning they’ll try and get a top ten finish to improve their value to a new employer.
PEZ: How’s the program for 2009?
Very interesting; all the races suit me and they are all geared towards building up for the Giro – five or six day tours. I much prefer stage races to single day events; for examples we have the Tour of the Med, the Tour of Turkey and Setimana Cycliste Internationale. I want to make the Giro team because I’d love to do another Grand Tour, the more you do, the more you learn and your strength builds.
PEZ: Goals for 2009?
It would be great to pick up some small wins and ride the Giro, where my aim would be to compete in the young rider classification. I’ve no massive hopes, I just want to continue to build for the future.
#And when it comes to that last sentence, the man hasn’t done too badly for himself. . . #
Not Chris Froome’s best moment riding for Kenya
It was November 2005 when Ed Hood first penned a piece for PEZ, on US legend Mike Neel. Since then he’s covered all of the Grand Tours and Monuments for PEZ and has an article count in excess of 1,100 in the archive. He was a Scottish champion cyclist himself – many years and kilograms ago – and still owns a Klein Attitude, Dura Ace carbon Giant and a Fixie. He and fellow Scot and PEZ contributor Martin Williamson run the Scottish site www.veloveritas.co.uk where more of his musings on our sport can be found.