Book Review: Va Va Froome

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.

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.

60 thoughts on “Book Review: Va Va Froome”

  1. 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!

  2. 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?

    • 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.

      • 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.)

  3. 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?

  4. “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?

      • 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.

        • 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

          • 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.

          • 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.

          • 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!

          • 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!

    • 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.

  5. 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

    • 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.

      • 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?

        • 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.

        • 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.

        • 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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…)

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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?

  11. 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

    • 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.

    • 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.

  12. 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.

    • 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.

    • 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.

    • 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?

  13. 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.

      • 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.

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

    • 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.

  15. 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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