Thought we needed a separate thread and intro for Froome..
Even subsequent to clearing up the matter of why Sky were capable of performing to such high levels there is still the dilemma of Chris Froome. His rise to the top was not only unprecedented, but in fact it was completely out of the blue and many people would say that there was not even so much as the slightest indication of his talent prior to the 2011 Vuelta.
Logically this would be a clear and very blatant sign as to possible doping; the simple explanation for the ridiculous leap would be due to doping. It was the factor which gave him the ability to perform beyond what he was previously capable of and it has been the cause of his ascension to one of the most highly rated Grand Tour riders who are currently racing in the modern peloton.
But in my opinion and from what I have read and heard about the rider, it seems as if his startling rise to the very summit of Grand Tour racing may not have been all that surprising. Personally I believe that he was hindered by a variety of factors, but behind all his struggles he encountered there was in fact a very talented cyclists waiting for the opportunity to prove his talent.
Froome was born in Nairobi to English parents, without going into unnecessary detail it should be mentioned that he started off racing BMX bikes and was racing by the age of 13, he then moved to South Africa at the age of 14.
It was in fact only once he was living in South Africa that he started to turn his attention to road cycling, but the infrastructure was not ideal and it would prove to be costly. Prior to his arrival in South Africa he had never even ridden a road bike, only BMX and Mountain bikes.
He was coached by David Kinjah who had competed to a decent level himself, but Froome did not receive anywhere close to the training expertise and coaching techniques that many of his rivals would have at similar ages.
It was only then at the age of 22 that Froome became pro, once again considering his talent he should have become pro earlier but it was obvious that he had been restricted by the limited resources that were available to him
Froome's first team was Team Konica Minolta and they were a South African team with limited resources as expected. In his first season he did relatively well a win at the Tour of Japan was followed by a number of placings around the globe as his team charted unprecedented territory.It
was at the Giro delle Regioni where Froome really started to show potential and in retrospect his perfomances were quite remarkable for a rider who was competing with such a distinct disadvantage due to his lack of skills and professional training. He won the primary mountain stage ahead of riders who have now become household names, the likes of Tour de France stage winner Rui Costa and Bauke Mollema who came 4th at the Vuelta 2011 amonst others.
This has been Froome's first real crack at proper European racing and he had taken to it amazingly well considering his limiting circumstances. In fact Froome would have dominated the race if not for his chain braking in the closing meters of the other major stage.
Yet even considering the amazing perfomance Froome has put in, it was not enough. He had been racing for the WCC (World Cycling Centre Team) whilst in Europe and the coach of the team Michael Theze said of Froome that...
He's not a technical rider yet. He fell four time during the race. Two of his falls came in the third stage, costing him 1:20. When you see that in the final ranking he is only 1:25 behind the winner it isn't difficult to do the maths."
It is obvious to us in retrospect that Froome was still far behind the other riders when it came to the technical skills required to race at the highest level and this placed him at a significant disadvantage.
Then in 2008 Froome was eventually snapped up by Barloworld and was therefore under the direction of their Italian manager Claudio Corti, now the manager of Farnese Vini. As would be expected of any neo-pro - no matter their talent - who was only starting out in their career, the season was to be used merely as an eye opener for Froome and for him to truly adjust to the European style of racing.
Yet even so Froome was impressive he finished in the Top 10 in a number of minor races and he safely finished a number of high profile classics such as Liege Bastogne Liege and La Fleche Wallone. His most impressive result though was his 5th place finish in a TT at the Vuelta asturias where he managed to finish a mere 26 seconds behind Samuel Sanchez the soon to be Olympic champion.
Froome was certainly showing signs of his potential. He was then given the opportunity to ride his first Grand Tour - the Tour de France and he battled through it, and then managing to eventually finish 14th on the final stage which was a TT.
If there was ever a test of strength to determine whether Froome had the potential to become a future Grand Tour contender it was this. Without the proper training or techniques and not being used to the rigours of a 3 week race, Froome nevertheless posted what would be considered a magnificent result for any neo-pro. Indeed this had already been proven a few days earlier when he had been climbing with the lead group for the majority of the Alpe d'huez climb.
2009 was a year where Froome seemed not to have made much improvement.
He came 6th in a Giro stage amonst other decent yet not spectacular results.
This was not the progression of an extremely talented rider who would go on to dominate the world of cycling, but rather of a mediocre rider who would remain inconspicuous amongst the pro ranks.
2009 should have been the year when Froome started to excel, but instead it turned out to be a year where he displayed nothing of any true substance. This has resulted in many people believing that Froome does not have the natural talent as his Tour rivals and that therefore the logical explanation for his current status in the sport is down to drugs.
This was what his team manage Claudio Corti had to say at the time. Corti claimed that Froome whom he dubbed his “white Kenyan” would
Finish in the top 5 of the Tour de France, or do even better”
Clearly Corti had seen what Froome was capable of and believed that he was indeed innately capable. He just was not racing at the level he was capable of racing at, because of the reason stated above, that he was hindered by his lack of technical prowess.
Then Froome joined Sky and his career would be totally altered. Sky had just started up and it took time for him to adjust. The whole set up was new to Froome and from what I have seen and heard it seems to be that Froome was on the outskirts of this setup. The Sky team were not as methodical then with all their riders as they are now and considering how Froome was still considered to be a peripheral member of the squad and therefore not treated with the same respect as riders like Wiggins, his technical skills were still rather poor and this still hindered him. But even more than that the defining reason for his poor reasons in 2010, which were headlined by a Tour de Haut var 9th place, was due to the fact that on Holiday in Kenya he had contracted the disease of Bilharzia.
“Either in Kenya or South Africa, I got a water parasite, which is really difficult to get rid of.
"We found out that I had it last December, I had a full blood screening in Africa as they regularly check for it over there.
“It feeds on red blood cells so for an endurance athlete it’s a nightmare. It’s something I’m conscious of, in a three-week race you’re bound to have ups and downs.
Yet the Sky management team had in fact noticed his potential and had in fact described him as
a rough diamond, in need of shaping and polishing"
When Froome joined the team back in early 2010.
This is another indication of people who believed in Froome and that he was capable, but just had to improve his technical skills. And of course get over his Bilharzia.
Yet Bilharzia is an infection by parasites who lay eggs deep within the human body and therefore it is very difficult to get rid off.
Entering into the 2011 season Froome had two objectives if was to fulfil his potential. One was to get rid of the Bilharzia and the other was to increase his technical skills.
Luckily for him Bobby Julich had just arrived at Sky and he was assigned to Froome for the 2011 season. This was the first time that Froome had had the opportunity to work with a coach of Julich’s experience and calibre one to one and immediately Julich noted his riders potential.
We did some lab testing with him early in the year and it wasn’t making sense. I saw the numbers and said to Rod Ellingworth that the machines must be calibrated wrong, because these were the numbers of a guy who would finish on the Tour de France podium. Rod told me that, no, they were right. I was amazed.
Yet it soon became apparent to Julich as to the reason why Froome had underperformed so badly over the past 2 years..
But then when we started working together I realised straight away that Chris needed some work on organisation and structure. He was a real tinkerer- always changing his shoes, his training, his diet or whatever. He had also continued to train too much even when he was suffering with the parasite, which had knocked his confidence as well as his energy levels.
Beyond that it was all very basic stuff last year; Chris did not know how to race. I needed to teach him how to get the watts out at the right time. To do that we tried to hold him back in the first few stages in the Vuelta last year, get him to race steadily and this year we basically used the same tactic at Romandie, the Dauphine and the Tour”
I do not believe there is much better proof than that. It was obvious once again here that Froome had been hindered by his lack of education when it came to how to ride a bike.
Likewise Richard Moore commented on Froome’s website that:
After a difficult first season with Team Sky in 2010, he appears to have taken a big step forward this season, partly by working to reduce his upper body movement. Previously, by his own admission, Froome was "literally all over my bike".
"One of the things I want to do is calm my upper body down and become more stable," he explained.
Froome thus spent many hours doing core-strengthening Pilates
Once again the reference to the way in which Froome rode his bike as being “all over”, clearly highlights his deficiencies at the time.
And finally he was starting to get rid of the parasite disease which had bugged him so much. Indeed he was still adapting and learning with :Julich though and his performances were gradually improving as a result. He came 8th on a Romandie mountain stage. And top 10s at the Tour de Suisse and Tour of Luxembourg. It was not much granted, but it was clearly signs that he had finally managed to overcome his technical difficulties and was shaking off the effects of the Bilharzia. And of course the rest is very much a part of history.
In conclusion I believe it was always evident that Froome had the potential to become a future Tour de France podium finished.
Indeed his results in his 2007 season spoke volumes for his capabilities, yet when he turned pro it was obvious he could not continue to match those riders he had previously beaten unless he could improve his technical skills. Even if people do not believe his claim of having Bilharzia ,and I am in very little doubt myself at to its validity, it would still be safe to say that he was hindered by his lack of technical skills.
It is logical to assume that without those hindrances Chris Froome would have burst onto the scene much earlier than when he in fact did.
Coupled with his Bilharzia he was very much inhibited in his first year at Sky, but gradually once he learnt the tricks of the trade he became the rider he is today.