Book Review: Va Va Froome

Wednesday, 24 July 2013


With his win in the Tour de France Chris Froome is the man of the moment but how much do you know about him?

Put the Tour win aside for a moment because Froome is one of the more unique characters in the bunch thanks to his start in Kenya and the long path to a pro contract via South Africa and Italy. All this provides rich material and this biography sets out explain the route Froome has taken. But can it describe what the journey was like?


Va Va Froome by David Sharp
The book takes a chronological approach through Froome’s life from childhood to the 2013 Tour de Romandie when presumably it went to print in time for the Tour de France. Nobody floats to the top of a tough sport by accident but this is a different story as it begins in Kenya.

Along the way there are interviews with those who have encountered Chris Froome and it’s via these encounters that we learn the most. For example Kenyan David Kinjah explains Froome’s early rides in the bush and how he had a bike that was too small, apparently this explains his strange position on the bike today. An old school teacher in South Africa explains Froome was given time to ride his bike despite the cult of rugby and cricket: Froome is portrayed as the outsider but not the loner as he’s sociable and perhaps an early leader too with prefect status in school. Later Michael Barry, a room mate on some races, gives his view on Froome’s chaotic style and lack of racecraft.

Long list
But often the personal touch is lacking and gets replaced but a long list of race results. At times it’s like reading an extended version of Froome’s page on Cycling Quotient with each race accompanied by text. For example Froome rides Paris-Roubaix in 2008 and three of the race’s nicknames are cited but he doesn’t finish the race. When Froome finishes 121st in the Tour of Flanders you are told of the Kemmelberg, the day’s winner and so on. Knowing Froome finished “a solid 23rd” in the Trofeo Laigueglia doesn’t add much either. So it goes on and the middle section has the feel of a surveillance log with a dry list of events recorded as Froome is observed from a distance.

“It made me realise that nothing comes easy; nothing is given to you. In Africa I realised you have to make things happen for yourself.”

Some anecdotes that stand out. Amusingly we learn how Froome and Kinjah used a fake hotmail account to fake an email from the Kenyan cycling federation so he can ride the 2006 world U-23 championships in Salzburg. When he gets to Austria he rides in a downpour to attend the team manager’s meeting and walks into the room dripping in his cycling gear to be told it’s not for riders, only to reply he is the Kenyan rider, manager, mechanic and more. All this before his infamous crash in the time trial.

But be patient and you get the picture of a rider struggling to find their place in the sport. It’s when context is added that we learn more. For example Claudio Corti, the Barloworld manager who today runs Team Colombia, is painted as old school with retro ideas about diet, as if he’s unable to uncover Froome’s apparent buried talent. Froome himself gets lost on training rides and if his geography is imprecise, the implication is his training methods are just as haphazard.

Sky Fail
Even with Team Sky things don’t work out. He joins the squad on the launch of 2010 but by the time his contract is up for the end of 2011 he’s being managed out of the squad thanks to a relatively low value contract offer (it’s not in the book but he was close to signing with Slipstream). But as the bilharzia parasite is diagnosed Sky coach Bobby Julich has noticed his power output was so good he has to double-check Froome’s SRM unit to make sure it’s calibrated right. Then, in part because Stephen Cummings has signed with BMC and so gets dropped from the Vuelta team, he gets a spot on the team for the Vuelta. Again it’s a lucky break. From here the career chrysalis ends and Froome flies up the climbs. Soon contracts with phone-number salaries start coming in and Froome signed his three year deal with Sky. The book continues in the same way with Froome’s racing catalogued all the way until the Tour de Romandie when the book went to print and the rest is history.

Private Life
Froome’s lack of cooperation with the book need not be a problem, see Richard Moore’s “In Search of Robert Millar” or Daniel Friebe’s “The Cannibal” for examples of biographies that paint very colourful pictures with little if zero input from the subject themselves. Va Va Froome has contributions from others but it’s often brief and you’re left with little idea about the personality of Chris Froome, just a determination to succeed that’s often thwarted by inexperience but you don’t get too much more. Apparently he dated a model called Andrea whilst living in Italy and would sometimes train listening to DJ Tiësto but apparently doesn’t listen to that at home. Now he rides a bike for a living and this doesn’t give anyone the right to know about what music he likes, his preferred meal or other private trivia but still, this book makes you feel like an employer reading a CV of a talented candidate. It’s impressive but you really need to interview him; or really go for a spin or a beer with Froome to chat more.

Summary
Va Va Froome collates results and interviews over the years to map out Chris Froome’s cycling career, binding it all into one book. It’s handy if you’re hungry to learn more about the Tour de France winner, for example if Barloworld means nothing. But it’s not a great piece of storytelling, there are anecdotes and insight but too often it reads like a CV when you really want to interview Froome instead.

Disclaimer: this book was sent free for review.

A list of other book reviews can be found here.

Dave July 24, 2013 at 8:30 pm

Err, 265grams – we guess the weight and you send us a copy, right? :-)

I love the photo of him side-swiping that guy clean off his feet; looks like a ‘still’ from a batman film!

mcatalan July 24, 2013 at 8:39 pm

Could you please tell the story about the “infamous” time-trial crash? What is so infamous about?
Thx

The Inner Ring July 24, 2013 at 8:49 pm

The picture says a 1,000 words. Froome starts the time trial but collides with an official. As you can see the man is sent flying. Apparently he was ok but with heavy bruising.

Dave July 24, 2013 at 8:57 pm

Or see it here:
http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=7DCe4QVO0PE&desktop_uri=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3D7DCe4QVO0PE
I should just add I hope the official was ok, looks like he landed with quite a bump in the video!

Al-Bo July 25, 2013 at 8:44 am

I’d read about the crash a few times, but that’s all. The photo is perfect. It’s like something out of a cartoon, with papers flying in the air and an airborne victim.

off the back July 24, 2013 at 8:43 pm

Also, WTF is it with pro cyclists and dolphins? I have seen pics of Frank, Andy, Thor Husvold, Contador, Paulo Bettini and now Chris Froome swimming with dolphins. Is there a ceremonial swimming with dolphin circuit that occurs after the criterium circuit?

The Inner Ring July 24, 2013 at 8:48 pm

It’s the Amstel criterium run at the end of the season. Cyclists are invited to the island of Curacao in the Caribbean and stay in a resort. As well as the race there are photo opps to give publicity to the place including these dolphin shots.

Martijn July 25, 2013 at 8:11 am

Of course there’s also lot’s of beer drinking, as the event is sponsored by Amstel and it’s the closer of the season. Apparently Sagan is infamous for the amount he consumes (not surprising considering his heritage.)

Foley July 26, 2013 at 4:28 am

Those mountain bikers do seem to like a tipple, don’t they?

off the back July 24, 2013 at 8:52 pm

Got it, very helpful. I have discovered that Nalini makes a road shoe by the name of Dolphin, perhaps in homage to the end of season association with Tursiops truncatus?

Larry T. July 24, 2013 at 10:52 pm

“Froome and Kinjah used a fake hotmail account to fake an email from the Kenyan cycling federation so he can ride the 2006 world U-23 championships in Salzburg.”
Wonderful…more of the “end justifies the means” mindset…and we’re supposed to believe this guy is the latest savior of pro cycling?

Wal July 25, 2013 at 1:11 am

He doesn’t come across as someone with much respect for the rules does he?

Tom July 25, 2013 at 2:06 am

You forgot to reference the ILLEGAL FEED at the Tour this year. And his drafting behind team cars to regain the peloton after a trip to the caravan.

Zac July 25, 2013 at 2:39 am

The feed was bad but they took a penalty for it and as for drafting behind team cars, everyone does that when they have a flat or mechanical or go back for bottles, etc. It is technically illegal but officials look the other way and everyone does it, not just Sky and Froome

Alex222 July 25, 2013 at 9:35 am

I do think you are all being a bit tunnel visioned on this point. My take on the fake e-mail is that Kenya weren’t sending anyone to the Worlds, Froome obviously had the talent to go, and they worked a way round so that he could. A lot of sportsmen with the talent never make it as they don’t take the opportunities when they arrive.
To tie this story into is he doping or not strikes me as a bit desperate.

The Inner Ring July 25, 2013 at 9:39 am

Exactly Alex222. The Kenyan federation seems to have a mystery and, for unknown reasons, appears not to like Froome and Kinjah. During the commonwealth games in Australia federation officials hide waterbottles and do other strange things.

Dave July 25, 2013 at 2:05 pm

To paraphrase Chris Froome, if he hadn’t sent that phoney email then he may have been back home watching the 2013 Tour on TV.
Good on him, I say. Shows a bit of initiative!

Dave July 25, 2013 at 2:06 pm

To paraphrase Chris Froome, if he hadn’t sent that phoney email then he may have been back home watching the 2013 Tour on TV.
Good on him, I say. Shows a bit of initiative!

Anonymous July 25, 2013 at 9:40 am

seriously? why be so negative? yes, it’s against the rules but it’s a funny anecdote, nothing more, nothing less. don’t over-analyse it.

Gowers July 26, 2013 at 12:55 am

Exactly. +1

Zac July 25, 2013 at 2:38 am

Unfortunately it sounds like this book doesn’t really tell anyone anything that they really want to know. With all the doping questions abound and Team Sky releasing only the numbers from 2011 on, it seems funny that Bobby Julich (later fired for his past with doping) suddenly sees Froome’s power numbers are great when no one else could see this? Seems pretty suspicious and doesn’t really help improve perceptions about Froome doping

Robin July 25, 2013 at 4:10 am

It’s called confirmation bias. Some think/believe that Froome is a doper, so they tend to see and focus only on things that they feel confirms their suspicions. There is no objectivity involved.

mouse July 25, 2013 at 5:53 am

…and good god, it’s getting pretty boring.
There’s a bit of angry mob happening at the moment (and as illustrated here, angry mobs aren’t known for thier incisive wit…)
http://youtu.be/sglyFwTjfDU
“Buuuurn the witch!!!”

bobw July 25, 2013 at 10:09 am

Yay for amateur psychoanalysis and hand-waving! Is confirmation bias only in play on the ‘probably dirty’ side of the argument, or does it also explain why some people are adamant that Froome is clean?

Dave H July 25, 2013 at 2:33 pm

bobw

To be fair the “he must be clean” crowd are pretty thin on the ground and tend to have arguments no more sophisticated than “he’s never failed a drugs test”. The two sides I see on here and other forums are the “he’s got to doping” side as epitomised by the comments above regarding his faking a letter to ride the Worlds, and the “we just don’t know so we won’t jump to conclusions” group who see the arrant nonsense about times up climbs and suspicious jumps in form for the speculative unscientific nonsense it is.

Do I think Froome is clean? I have some doubts but I just don’t know. That seems to me the only sensible view based on what we know.

Robin July 26, 2013 at 12:57 pm

It may to some, but there’s certainly no conclusive evidence he’s doping. I guess that also there’s no conclusive evidence he’s not doping. I’m not committing to any side without real evidence. I prefer a more objective measure and consider the hand wringing over what no one knows–except Chris Froome–to be a waste of time and just another effective way to keep the bike community polarized and angry.

Eric July 25, 2013 at 3:20 pm

The same could be said of people who think he us not doping. That sword (confirmation bias) cuts both ways.

Robin July 26, 2013 at 1:05 pm

Yup. In both cases, it’s a stupid thing to get in a lather over as no one in these arguments actually knows anything substantive, outside of the fact that to date, Froome hasn’t tested positive.

mouse July 25, 2013 at 5:59 am

Ah, this is a better illustration of what I was getting at. Better demonstration of the logic that is used to prove that Chris Froome is definitely a doper.
http://youtu.be/zrzMhU_4m-g

toe strap July 25, 2013 at 10:36 am

…..and the photo proves he floats! Burn him, burn him! A witch, a witch!

Anonymous July 25, 2013 at 11:54 am

Internet forums are nothing more than bar room banter. Everyone tries to speak with the greatest authority. Christ, people are almost making a career out of it.

noel July 25, 2013 at 11:55 am

I heard he cheated once during a game of conkers when he was a kid.
Brailsford has failed to clear this up – why has this not got more focus???…clear cut proof he’s a doper (etc etc ad nauseum…)

Anonymous July 25, 2013 at 12:22 pm

I heard the conker rumour, so i passed it on to 5 others……

Kieran July 25, 2013 at 12:31 pm

A bit like bayesian analysis where the prior belief can play a part in interpreting data. With the added complexity of what each side considers to be data. Anyway given the lack of a positive test or confession and the impossibility of proving a negative (like the religious asking the atheist to prove god does not exist) we should be assigning probablitities to whether Chris dopes or not rather than stating he is or isn’t.

Robin July 26, 2013 at 1:08 pm

There’s be nothing credible about the assigned probabilities.

Alpen July 25, 2013 at 1:05 pm

From down to earth to sheltered megastar in less than a year and a half.

Was emailing back and forth with him during the Tour de Romandie last year when he was finishing in the groupetto each day, sufferring from a relapse of his bilharzia. He was amazingly down to earth and personable.

Now? Most likely another sheltered star being steered by the Murdoch empire. I bet he hates that part of it.

Graham July 25, 2013 at 1:20 pm

Agree with the review. I read it and it gets boring with so many irrelevant race results coming one after the other. I got halfway and dropped it, did I miss much?

The Inner Ring July 25, 2013 at 2:04 pm

I read on for the review and it gets better, you’ll find more on his illness, the contracts with Sky and the availability of media to quote widen. But it continues with a lot of race results and brief descriptions.

lucky July 26, 2013 at 3:50 am

Does it expand on why he needs to keep going back for treatment and check-ups despite everything I’ve seen suggesting that it is cured with one course of treatment?

The Inner Ring July 26, 2013 at 9:19 am

A little, yes but it’s all taken from interviews with other sources.

Maddave July 25, 2013 at 2:10 pm

Based on what I have seen and read I have the “probability” he is using illegal “help” rather low. The “probablility” he is using yet to be listed as illegal or not yet tested for “help” extremely high.

Does that make him a doper….yes and no

Hope I am wrong, “probably” won’t take 7 tours and 10 years to find out

Foley July 25, 2013 at 10:20 pm

If Froome is using a substance that is “yet to be listed,” would that make him a doper? Yes, with absolutely no qualification. If we’ve been seeing relatively clean racing for last last couple of years, it is because a lot of riders are perfectly clear about that. I share the concern about what we may learn about Sky in the future. There is a natural tendency to worry that they are exploiting some kind of loophole in the rules, but the anti-doping rules are clear enough and if they are violating those rules Sky’s justifications will be worthless. Given all this, the level of cynicism at Sky would have to be truly shocking, even by pro cycling standards, if they are using prohibited substances or methods. But unfortunately history and Froome’s dominance as a stage racer make it impossible for many of us to rule that out.

Patterson_hood July 26, 2013 at 2:47 pm

If you are referring to the Gas6 rumours or AICAR it is illegal.

There is a common misconception that people can use whatever they want if it isn’t listed in the WADA banned list but this is false.

The very first part of the WADA banned list is called “Non-approved substances” and states that the use of any pharmacological substance that is not approved by a regulatory health body for human therapeutic use is prohibited.

Add on top of this that any intravascular manipulation of blood or it’s components is banned, no matter how you do it.

The code is extremely well written. It’s why Yohan Blake served a ban for a compound that isn’t listed, the code states in almost every section that compounds of a similar structure or that produce a similar effect are also banned.

Is it possible Sky have managed to hit on some approved drug that gets round the WADA banned list? Yes, but the chances are vanishingly small.

If they are doping, it’s almost certainly illegal. If they have found a legal way, it isn’t doping.

Patterson_hood July 26, 2013 at 2:51 pm

above reply was to maddave, not foley.

Ken July 25, 2013 at 2:56 pm

Charles Barkley, the American basketball star, once remarked that sports figures shouldn’t be role models; fathers should be role models. I’ll take Froome and others as enjoyable athletes to watch, not as people to emulate. If, like LA, they later prove false, well, it was fun watching them.

Anonymous July 25, 2013 at 3:09 pm

^^this +1000

Gavin July 26, 2013 at 12:37 pm

Ken, I don’t expect them to be role models but I do expect them not to be cheats. If you’re happy to watch them until they are (hopefully) busted, your choice.

Noel July 26, 2013 at 4:17 pm

Ken, that’s fine if you treat elite athletes the same as, say, Hollywood actors, providing us with good quality entertainment – who cares how it gets there as long as it looks good.
The problem is that elite sports sit at the pinnacle of a large triangle, with everyone looking ( and some trying to move) up.
As a parents of the next generation of aspiring elite athletes I think we owe it to them to attempt to keep the competition honest (and frankly as safe as possible). Who wants to encourage their kids into a sport where, as soon as they show any promise, they have to enter a world of backstreet medicine to have an even shot at success.
Am I alone, in that every time cycling catches a drug cheat I cheer? I find the fact that sports like triathlon, rowing, swimming etc seem to have very few drug busts as a lot more worrying than the fact that cycling is currently making a genuine and to a degree successful attempt to keep a lid on things.

tj July 26, 2013 at 5:06 pm

hear hear!!

Freddie July 25, 2013 at 7:20 pm

Brilliant review!!

Doubter July 25, 2013 at 7:52 pm

Cool………this generation’s version of “It’s Not About the Bike”.
Did Sally Jennings ghost write it with him, as well?

Tom July 25, 2013 at 10:42 pm

If you read the article, you may note it says that Froome did not cooperate with the writer of this book.

Or are you suggesting that Lance had Sally Jennings write a book on Froome?

Alex July 25, 2013 at 8:18 pm

I would think his sudden jump in power output just as his contract was coming to an end would attract more attention than faking an email.

Mike July 25, 2013 at 10:43 pm

Being finally diagnosed as suffering from Bilharzia and being treated for it would produce an increase in your power output.

Holdermort July 26, 2013 at 1:23 am

Being finally diagnosed as suffering from chronic scepticism and being treated for it would produce an increase in faith in the sociological shift occurring within the contemporary peloton.

Him Up North July 26, 2013 at 8:03 pm

Sounds like a book for purists. Surely the “official” biography will be out for Christmas…?

JLC July 28, 2013 at 3:19 pm

Why write a biography when his story has only just begun? There are many sports books about current athletes but few offer much perspective.

The Inner Ring July 28, 2013 at 6:20 pm

Presumably there’s a big appetite to find out more about Chris Froome. This book succeeds because it’s the first to print and so offers some info but as you point out, it’s not got the perspective too look back from too far.

Froome's Thoughts August 17, 2013 at 11:19 pm

I very much agree with this review. The book seems to be written in a very basic style and lacks significant depth and insight. Sharp also seems to deviate a lot away from Froome’s adult personal life: Michelle Cound etc. Good book if you are writing something on Froome and need some facts. That’s about it.

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