“People say hang up your bike, you’re finished, you’re never going to get back and it just makes me laugh. I know I can get there. It’s going to take time and I’ve got a lot of work to do, but I’m prepared to do that work. That’s what drives me and that’s what gets me out of bed in the morning.”
Today, on the brutal slopes of Alpe d’Huez, Chris Froome taught us all a lesson. Three years on from a training crash which almost cost him his life – a broken pelvis, femur and four ribs, plus the loss of four pints of blood just a few of the injuries he sustained – he was fighting for the win in one of the biggest mountain stages of this year’s Tour de France. Honestly, I can admit that is a sentence I didn’t think I would be writing this year.
As Froome himself outlines in the quote above (taken from the YouTube video he published May 2021 titled ‘Chris hits back’) I wasn’t the only person who doubted the British rider’s ability to return to the highest level of professional cycling. Froome has been honest and vocal about the swathes of messages he receives from fans telling him that he should retire, that he will never be able to compete with the fresh, young generation that is taking over the modern racing scene.
It only took a glance on social media as Froome suffered around the Tour de France last year – finishing outside the top-100 riders in almost every stage – to see how heavily weighted the public opinion was against the 37-year-old. Many of us seemed to forget that this is a man who has won the Tour four times before, and results like that don’t come from nowhere. Form is fleeting and temporary and it can be brought back with training and hard work. The skill, raw talent and tactical astuteness that one needs to win bike races, on the other hand, is something that's hard to learn, and is rarely forgotten.
But the lesson that Froome taught us all today, is that it really only matters if one person believes: yourself. As he bridged across to the break with Ineos Grenadier rider and eventual stage winner Tom Pidcock, rode strongly on the Col de la Croix de Fer and then hung on to the leaders until there were just eight kilometres of the stage remaining, Froome reminded us all of his resilience, unwavering self-confidence and determination that make him a truly great cyclist. Traits about the Brit that might of slipped our minds, but ones that he utilised over the toughest period of his career. Regardless of the physical form he lost due to his crash, these are qualities that he will always have, and it's why we were mistaken to ever count him out.
Image by James Startt
After today's stage kudos should be given to his team, Israel-Premier Tech, too. They’ve dealt with scrutiny and public scorn in the past for their investment in older riders like Froome, with many believing that they should spend their budget on newer, emerging talent. Froome himself has thanked one of his team’s main backers, businessman and Israeli-Canadian billionaire, Sylvan Adams, for his steadfast trust in the Brit to come back to his former glory. While most of us counted Froome out, Israel-Premier Tech put money, resources and time into the four-time Tour winner’s recovery, and today was the beginning of them reaping the rewards for their risk.
It would be remiss not to mention that Chris Froome hasn’t always been the flavour of the month with cycling fans. When he had an adverse analytical finding for salbutamol in 2017, spectators dressed up as giant inhalers and ran alongside the British rider as he was on his way to winning the queen stage of the Giro d’Italia a year later. Froome’s sometimes blunt – perhaps even a little robotic – answers in interviews also didn’t help the public perception of him in his heyday, with many putting Froome’s performances down to Team Sky’s famous mountain train which was often seen to largely neutralise and detract from exciting racing in past Tour de France stages.
But regardless of your feelings about Froome, it was hard not to be happy to see his famous style back at the front of a bike race today. With his elbows akimbo, head tilted down towards his handlebars, and long, gangly limbs spinning in that trademark high cadence style, Froome inspired us all, showing a resilience that we can apply in all walks of life, one that transcends bike racing. It’s hard not to root for the comeback of a man who was once at the heights of greatness, was forced back down to the bottom with a sudden and literal bang, and has steadily worked his way up to the top of the sport with grit, focus and a very thick skin.
Of course, today wasn’t the fairytale ending to a perfect comeback story. Froome still finished third on the stage, a little over two minutes down on Pidcock and only just holding off the GC favourites that were approaching worryingly quickly behind him. But for Chris Froome to be in the breakaway of a Grand Tour is a sign that he is well and truly back in business.
The journey he has taken to get there is a sign to us all to never give up on those dreams. As long as Froome is racing, he’s fighting to win Grand Tour stages, because he never lost the grit and resoluteness that has won him so many races in the past. Based on his performances today, we could well see Froome’s return to the top step of the podium happen during this year’s Tour de France, and wouldn't that be a comeback for the ages.
Cover image by Getty Images