Chris Froome is looking to secure a record-equaling fifth yellow jersey at the Tour de France this year. The Kenyan-born cyclist has indisputably been the most successful grand tour rider of his generation, winning the Tour four times, the Vuelta a España twice and the Giro d’Italia once. One of the most popular figures in the pro peloton, Froome’s amicability and humility has combined with these extraordinary results to gain him a global following.
With the 2020 racing season starting this week with the Tour Down Under, Froome has made it clear that his only ambition for the year is to fight for what would be a monumental fifth yellow jersey in July. Only four men have achieved this feat in the past and if Froome is successful he would be the first to do so since 1995. Whilst Chris has clearly stated this as his primary goal, many are already labelling it as impossible following his horror crash in June 2018. On reconnaissance at the Tour de Dauphine, Froome crashed into a wall whilst descending at sixty kilometres an hour, sustaining injuries including a fractured right femur, a fractured elbow and fractured ribs. Whilst cycling fans around the world reeled in shock to learn that he wouldn’t be participating in the 2018 Tour de France, it quickly became apparent that Froome would not be able to race his bike in the foreseeable future, if at all.
The horrifying crash had a sad irony as, after moving from Africa to Europe at the start of his career, Froome was notorious for his poor handling skills and was nicknamed ‘Crash Froome’. A troubling video taken soon before the crash in 2018 shows Froome changing jackets whilst riding, with team staff telling him “you don’t have to take risks”. Wout Pouls, a close friend and teammate who was the only one riding with Froome at the time of the crash, reported that he’d taken his hands off the handlebars again to blow his nose when a sharp gust of wind blew his front wheel out from under him.
Since the accident, Froome has made an impressive recovery, to the point where he was training in Mallorca with his teammates, riding at altitude for up to 5 hours a day, only seven months after the accident. Froome has shown inspirational resolve in his recovery, working for hours on physio every day before he could even get back on the bike to start regaining any fitness. Videos were posted on social media only a month after the accident showing Froome riding on the indoor trainer with one leg, exemplifying the same extraordinary determination demonstrated throughout his life and career. However, there is little doubt that Froome’s chances at the Tour this year are significantly reduced. If he was successful in building up enough fitness, he would still have to be stronger than the two other INEOS leaders; the experienced 2018 Tour winner Geraint Thomas and the incredible talented 2019 winner Egan Bernal, who stunned the world last year with his convincing win at the age of only 22.
Yet despite the odds, many of Froome’s closest fans remain faithful in his recovery with astounding faithfulness. For many, it is his inspiring journey from the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya to four-time victory on the Champs-Élysées that commands so much attention and support. His route into the sport was tough, starting with day-long rides through the Ngong hills of the Rift Valley and beyond with his first team, the Safari Simbas, of which he was the only white member. Starting from the age of 12, Froome was extremely ambitious despite his age and physical qualities, often exerting himself to the point of fainting. He spent all his holidays training and woke up at 4am most mornings at school to ride. Froome spent days simulating the difficulty of alpine passes on the flatter terrain of his local area through riding for hours whilst applying his brakes. This extreme ambition and talent then drove him through to the ranks of the professional peloton, first to selection with Barloworld and eventually Team Sky in 2010.
Chris remains connected to his roots, staying in contact with his Kenyan mentor and Safari Simbas leader, David Kinjah, to whom he regularly donates kit. He has a close relationship with Eliud Kipchoge, the Kenyan runner who became the first person to run a sub-two hour marathon last year. Watching Froome’s racing, it is not difficult to see the grit and toughness that he cultivated on the long road from the Kikuyu to Europe. Throughout his career he has consistently succeeded through being able to suffer for longer than his competitors. For many this inspirational resolve is what keeps their faith in a fifth Tour victory so strong.