21 Sep, 2015

Running on yellow

As leader of Team Sky’s 2015 Tour de France team, it was important for Chris Froome to ride conservatively during the first few stages of the race. Photograph by Gruber Images.
Chris Froome (in yellow) with other riders from Team Sky participating in the 2015 Tour de France. Photograph by Gruber Images.
During his Team Barloworld days, Chris won very few races. Photograph via Johan Spies (seated in front).

With three Tour de France victories in four years, and a host of Olympic medals, anyone would swear that British cycling is riding a crest of a wave of successes at the moment. Central to that success is Chris Froome, a cyclist with deep African, and South African, roots.

During the 2012 Tour de France, he helped Bradley Wiggins through a couple of stages, ensuring that the sideburn-adorned rider would eventually keep the yellow jersey all the way to Paris.

In 2013, Chris went out and won le Tour outright.

Unfortunately for both the Kenyan-born rider and Team Sky, he crashed out of the 2014 le Tour de France. This performance was probably the icing on the cake for Chris as the rest of the season was pretty dismal.

But, like a true champion, Chris bounced back. And what a victory his 2015 le Tour de France was. In spite of cups of urine thrown at him and, perhaps even worse, a barrage of doping-related questions hurled in his direction at every press conference during the three week event, he won the event with 12 minutes to spare.

A former team mate on the UJ Cycling Team describes Chris as “a walking cycling text book”, he had amazing attention to detail and did what it took at all times, including training and eating.

“He would do his trainer hours in the evening because ‘they had to be done’ and would often encourage and help other riders during training rides, which helped a lot,” the former professional rider, who doesn’t want to be identified, said.

After his victory in 2013, the University of Johannesburg released a statement:

“In 2005, Froome enrolled at UJ for a BCom Entrepreneural degree at the Department of Business Management in the Faculty of Management and now serves as a special inspiration for the UJ squad,” said UJ cycling manager Karel Mouton, who remembered Chris as a very modest, mild-mannered and shy student.

“He was also very determined and followed advice and training suggestions to the letter.”

“During his student years, there was seldom an occasion when I found him at home when I called. He spent a lot of time on his bike in areas such as Hekpoort, Randfontein, Hartbeespoort Dam or Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve” said Mouton.

Never one for “conventional”, Chris has had an interesting life. His cycling career seemed to gain momentum when his parents decided that his educational needs needed a relocation so he moved to South Africa in 1999.

After 18 months as a boarder in St Andrew's in Bloemfontein, Chris was sent north to the Highveld and the city of Johannesburg, where he attended St John's College.

During his time at boarding school in South Africa - and on holidays home to Kenya - Chris continued to ride his bike, alone at St Andrew's and St John's (often indoors on a home-trainer), or with Kinjah's club back in Kenya during frequent trips to that country at the time.

Aged 17, Chris inherited his first road bike from one of his brothers. He also had his first encounter with the Tour de France, watching the 2002 race on TV.

"It was on TV in the boarding house at St John's. I was 17 and I was transfixed by it. I was in awe of the ambience of the crowd and the mountains. I had that 'Wow, I'd love to do that one day' feeling. That was the pipe dream, but I never really, until recently, thought it'd come true,” Chris told a British newspaper soon after the 2013 Tour de France.

In 2005, he turned up for his first official race as rider with the Hi-Q Super Cycling Academy. In 20 starts in South African races over the rest of that year, Chris didn’t win a race until the Tour de Maurice, a six-day race on the island of Mauritius.

The following year, 2006, Chris represented Kenya - alongside David Kinjah and four others - at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, where they raced on their own bikes, the Kenyan federation's budget (or interest) not stretching to providing their riders with kit.

Soon after that, Chris went to Switzerland for a couple of stints in the UCI world cycling centre (WCC) in Aigle, and eventually found his way into Team Sky in time for the 2012 Tour de France.

Raymond Travers

Raymond Travers

Modern Cyclist Editor |