Book Review: The Climb

The Climb by Chris Froome
The latest book from the production line of British cycling autobiographies featuring cyclists that are still mid-career but red hot given the Chris Froome vs. Bradley Wiggins stories and unlike the books by Wiggins and Mark Cavendish, this is Froome’s first book.

The rivalry and gossip over team leadership have grabbed the headlines but there’s more, an alternative title could have been “Out of Africa”. For many readers though the big question is whether it explains how Froome burst from caterpillar to yellow butterfly.

Pet Python
Much of the opening third of the book is about childhood in Kenya. Cycling arrives like it does for most, a means for the child to have fun and explore the world. Only Froome’s world is different, while he grew up in Karen, a genteel suburb of Nairobi there’s no escaping the surroundings. He has two pet pythons and tells how he caught rats to feed to them, even heating them in the oven in a bid to make them more appetising and when the snakes grew too big for rats, he starts rustling rabbits for the reptiles.

Career Path
School is different too, he might be thousands of miles from Europe and its cycling culture but he ends up in a South African boarding school that has a cycling club. It’s no Harry Potter tale, he starts in one school that’s so strict he ends up moving to the other with its cycling club and even where staff are keen cyclists. I bet Alberto Contador and Vincenzo Nibali didn’t have cycling clubs at school. But there’s a rift-valley gulf between Froome’s progress to the elite ranks and almost everyone else’s. Not for him the Olympic plan and British lottery money, nor the traditional network of clubs and the pyramid structure that sends talent up from the base in countries like France, Italy and Belgium. Instead it’s David Kinjah and the dirt roads of Kenya. Some of the stories are known, for example how Froome “hacked” the email of the Kenyan federation to send himself to the UCI World Championships in Salzburg – scene of his infamous crash with a marshal – but the book explains more in detail, for example how he managed to get into the email in the first place.

L’Equipe often remark at Froome’s politeness in their reports but this book has its moments of rudeness. The ancient Greeks had parrhesia which means “to speak of everything”, to speak the truth even if it upsets. The modern anglo-saxon means calling a spade a spade. He clearly never clicked with Greg Henderson and the Kiwi rider is advised to steer clear of this book. As laudable as parrhesia maybe some things are better left unsaid? Meanwhile Claudio Corti doesn’t come out looking good. Now manager of Team Colombia he was the Barloworld team boss but “at Barloworld nobody had ever really called” but this careless management was instructive to the way the team worked rather than a mean jab. There’s a respect for Alberto Contador on the bike but a touch of suspicion off it: a scene where he tries contract negotiations in a Madrid nightclub with Bjarne Riis does mention the doping past of Riis and Contador. It’s not a devastating critique of Contador’s past years at Discovery but there is a finger being pointed in their direction.

The Hot Topics
Many readers will want to know if the book deals with the two pachyderms in the parlour, namely how Froome rose from obscurity to grand tour winner and the relationship with Wiggins. The book covers both.

“My training files belonged to a guy who should have been on the podium at the Tour de France, whereas my race results belong to a guy who should have been on the couch watching the Tour de France.”

On Froome’s improvement the subject isn’t always approached directly, it’s more the gradual tale of improvement. When Bobby Julich starts coaching Froome the American admits to googling his new rider because he was off the radar. Meanwhile Froome sees results like 9th place in the TT stage of the Vuelta Castilla y Léon as significant when not many others noticed it; even Dave Brailsford is texting Froome’s agent:

“What has Chris done all year? He’s done nothing”

This is a book review rather than a synopsis so I won’t list all the points and explainers but it’s more a story than a line-by-line rebuttal to the critics.

As for Wiggins, he is mentioned a lot. How much? Well a search reveals “Brad” appears 377 times, although one is a schoolboy in SA and another is a “labrador”. That’s almost once every page, a feat considering Wiggins wasn’t in Kenya during the childhood days. Qualitatively Wiggins is mentioned more than everyone else and the result is rarely flattering. Froome acknowledges the shared introversion meaning chat doesn’t come easy, the starting point for divergence but the suggestion is that the problem is more than rivalry, here was a team built around Wiggins but others struggle with him at times, Peter Kennaugh finds the dinner table conversations awkward. Later you’re left with the impression of office politics on a grand scale but also two boys unable to sit down over a beer – or a recovery shake – and talk through things, instead camping on contractual agreements and communicating via managers instead of together.

Haunted by the Ghost?
The book is ghostwritten by Irish sportswriter David Walsh and a couple of times you wonder if the voice is Froome’s light African lilt or Walsh’s Irish tone. For example there’s full description of the history of Paris-Roubaix and the recounting of how many times Bernard Hinault won it, I suspect this history matters more to Walsh than Froome who rode the race but probably hasn’t boned up on the history that much. But this doesn’t detract from the story, you get some candid views from Froome for example the poignant moment of his mother’s cremation in Kenya. As for the writing style, it’s that simple autobiographical prose in the first person, “I felt this, I then did that” but the short sentences keep the pages turning and there’s the occasional flourish, Garmin-Sharp’s Stage 9 rampage in last year’s Tour is described a “jihad”. It’s a long book with recent events getting told in expansive detail, some stages of the 2013 Tour de France are told from start to finish but on top there’s breakfast and what happened in the hotel in the evening. There are several typos (the city of “Tarbres”, Chris Anker “Sørenson”, “Cadal” Evans and Juan-José Cobo is listed as riding for Saxo Bank instead of Geox-TMC etc). There are many on here too but I and a helpful reader or two can correct and amend while it’s harder in a book.

I know people who feel they are from Yorkshire and Britain; from Merseyside and Britain; from the Isle of Man and Britain; and so on… We lived in Karen which was a little piece of England. We ate Sunday roasts with Yorkshire puddings. We had pythons not ferrets; scorpions not corgis

Froome’s nationality is explored. The book helps to explain things, he grew up as a son of British colonialism – Kenya is many things today but it was once a political construct of colonial rule. It’s not just a sense of belonging but also one of escape, he also opts to ride with a British licence as a way to distance himself from a seemingly rotten Kenyan federation.

It’s not all issues, rivalries and power struggles. There are many tales in the book from a salute to David Moncoutié to the tale of Barloworld Froome travelling around Europe with a beansprout kit in his suitcase as a counter to the Italian love of pasta. A typical day on Tenerife is explained as is the warm-up routine before a time trial in case you want to copy it. It’s amusing and informative but the tale of his Kenyan team mate riding the Tour of Egypt is astonishing: not to spoil it when a rider drops out of a race it’s said they abandon but here the race abandoned the rider.

The DNA of ghostwritten sports autobiography underpins the book and if it’s no rock and roll tale it is very readable as the pages fly by. The wider public might want the gossip but it’s the “out of Africa” tale that stands out, Froome’s privileged upbringing means it’s not a tale from a mudhut to Monaco but it’s almost equidistant and there’s plenty to tell about the journey. Even if he’d never gone further than the Barloworld team and contract renewals with Pro Conti teams it’d be worth reading. But a Tour winner? The Climb is career path that resembles a maze, there are countless occasions where luck steers him to serendipity, so many times he gets a break when otherwise a dead end was waiting. One false turn and you sense he could easily be guiding MTB adventure holidays in the Ngong Hills of Kenya.

If you’re wondering why Bradley Wiggins isn’t riding the Tour de France the answer is in the book: it’s not just that they don’t get along, it’s because the antagonism is destructive. This book can be seen as instrumental in recent news but read it to see how there’s little more stirring anyone could do. Sky’s management don’t need to buy the book to discover the problem; after all we’ve had this saga a year before too.

The title of “The Climb” does beg question of whether there’s a descent ahead. Inside Froome has a fragile side, the confident racing masks some tactical risk taking and rivals might even like to buy a copy or task a manager or coach to pour over the book; for example he hates being attacked on the flat.

This adds to the Ventoux-sized pile of British cyclists who issue autobiographies mid-career. You almost want to see the books published in ring binders so you can slot in the next chapters. Froome has more chapters to add so this is Froome’s account of where he’s come from rather than where’s he going next. For that there’s the Dauphiné and the Tour and beyond.

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68 thoughts on “Book Review: The Climb”

    • Seems like a guy that will do anything to reach his goals. Hack an email to get into the commonwealth games, fight a teammate for control of the tour team…..what else. He does turn into an E.T. every July and wins nothing else all year. Last guy to do that was L.A…….

      • There’s others I’d rather see win the Tour than Froome but since his emergence as the rider he is now, however plausible or not you may view that, he doesn’t win nothing but the Tour. He seems to win most stage races he enters, though still of course a total non-entity in one-day racing.

  1. From the extracts I’ve read this comes off as Its Not About The Bike mkII.
    There seems to be a lack of respect and an air of arrogance when talking about others – Basso, Contador, Quintana..

    Some snipes at Wiggins too, this from a page talking about Greg Henderson leaving Sky..
    “He just didn’t tick all the boxes for Dave and the guys, even though that year I think he was out most successful rider. If only he could have played guitar.”

      • He implies Quintana is quick to take advantage of others’ misfortune, such as Stage 16 (after the Contador/Froome crash on descent) and Stage 18 of last year’s tour. A comment that may be particularly relevant after the Stelvio stage of the recent Giro.

        It’s an interesting debate as to whether Quintana’s approach in these situations is contrary to the spirit of the contest, or just smart bike racing. Froome seems to think it’s the former.

    • Good blog but I think you are wrong in believing Brailsford can pull it round. Sky, as a British team is a thing of the past and I see no chance of them gaining back the popular support.

      • I wasn’t considering Sky becoming more of a British team, I think those days are gone now, but Brailsford losing the shackles & becoming a better manager of an international team once he learns from his mistakes.

    • Interesting blog post. It does seem that Sky could not win unless they have more watts than the next guy.

      Froome was in pretty good shape during last year’s LBL, probably the strongest watt-wise, yet he doesn’t even feature in the finish. Wiggins probably has to overcome the same problem if he ever wants to win Paris-Roubaix.

      • It’s probably a good thing from a fans perspective, there’s a chance that a team like Sky has started to evolve into something else. Hopefully they’ll start to get as smart on the tactics as they are on the watts, get a feeling Movistar are one step ahead on this pretty obvious combination of where to pin your resources & budget.

  2. I am really worried that a guy who considers himself English or British doesn’t know that the Isle of Man is not part of Britain. He’s probably upsets Cavendish more than a Wiggins.

    • But that’s not what the quote says. It says that people that he knows from those places also consider themselves British. i.e. if it’s good enough for a non-Brit like Cav, then surely it’s good enough for other sons of the colonial empire. In other words, “stop questioning my bona fides….because Yorkshire pudding.”

      • Well, Yorkshire Pudding is certainly one of the finer points of British Cuisine. Well if there every was such thing as a “British Cuisine”.

    • You do know that Britain is just the island that contains Eng/Wal/Sco don’t you? Though many don’t and include the UK and its associated islands under it. i.e. the Olympics team.

      • Froome makes a good point. When WW2 was on the colonial sons were considered British enough whether they were Kenyan, Indian or from the Caribbean!

    • The Isle of Man has been construed as being part of the UK for nationality purposes since a law was passed making it so in 1981. People born on the Isle of Man since then are British.

        • This was one of the reasons given for using the name “GB” rather than “UK”, as the Isle of Man and the Channel Isles are British, but not part of the UK. People from the Isle of Man are British citizens but, unlike British citizens from the UK, not EU citizens.

          UK = England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland
          Great Britain = England, Wales, Scotland
          British Islands = England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Isle of Man, Jersey, Guernsey

          • “The British Isles” is often taken to include the island of Ireland, though there’s some debate about that, while I’m not sure Jersey and Guernsey would generally be taken to be included in “British Isles”. They are UK crown protectorates though.

          • Indeed. Hence the use of “British Islands”, not “British Isles. It’s not often used, but it’s the term that covers the UK and the other British crown bits nearby.

  3. I will wait a few more years before purchasing the whole story. I am not keen on career books which are only partial.

    The Wiggins – Froome saga and what could be its final outcome should come as little surprise to anyone. It certainly would not be in SKY’s best interest to chance four weeks of potential rumbling conflict and the resultant team disunity. Lets not forget that Froome is not the only potential tour rider who has had problems with Wiggins. One has to wonder what the famous team management has been doing, or not, for the past two years ? Wiggins has a poor track record of being a team helper on the road. Before Cavendish’s world championship ride there were serious questions about his commitment, although on the day he rode superbly. This lack of apparent commitment means that the team would be taking a huge risk if it had selected him for the TdF. I personally hope another team offers him a decent contract and he leaves SKY, freeing up some much needed finance and giving the potential for a more unified team.

    It looks as though losing the Adam’s brothers to a ‘down under’ team could be just the start !

    • Yates brothers. Just because Adam has been popping up near the top of results lists recently doesn’t mean we should forget about Simon (who I’m sure would be right there too if not for the broken collarbone)

      • Ben. Thanks for the correction. Yates brothers it is. Yes, both appear to have plenty of potential and in addition made the wise choice to avoid the SKY disposable burnout programme.

  4. Thanks for the review – just confirms my giving this one a miss, same as the Manx Missile’s book. As you described, these are incomplete works, kind of written snapshots rather than complete stories. Only when the racing career is completed can hindsight go back and describe it all, with or without a ghost-writer. One might say there’s a dearth of English-language cycling books out there, but too many of these things seem to be quick and dirty money grabs to take advantage of the situation rather than thoughtful contributions to a genre. But I’m glad YOU are reading ’em all!

  5. Larry T. Not trying to step on INRNGs toes – he has in all probability reviewed it anyway. If you are looking for an excellent English language cycling book, with just a little more than present day bike racing I can recommend Fallen Angel – The Passion of Fausto Coppi. It is more than just bikes, it reflects historical Italian unification, society and attitudes during and after the second world war. Author William Fotheringham.

  6. I find these types of books quite distasteful. Having read extracts of it, it fits in with the trend of poorly written texts that are largely supplemented with hyperbole by ghostwiters. I find it gives the impression of pure profiteering.

    It reminds me of when all those England footballers released their autobiographies around 2006.

    • I think the profits are probably reserved for the British publishing industry. Froome’s salary today isn’t in the book but it’ll be large multiples of any income from the book. I’ve commented on here before about the volume of autobiographies. The Climb isn’t poorly written or hyped, it’d suffer if it was “Froome Dog, My Tale of the 2012 Tour de France” but the African background is a good tale. Still, it is of the “I did this, then I felt that so I went and did something” sports autobiog genre and clearly there’s explanation bordering on justification when it comes to explaining what happened in the 2012 Tour and the incidents before and after.

    • Well you dobn’t have to buy it , mate! I’m looking forward to reading this book and finding out a bit more about a fabulously talented rider who comes across as thoughtful and insightfully measured in most of his interviews.

      Wiggo -great cyclist and wonderful achievements, but a bit of a dick-head on occaisons.

      • I have no intention whatsoever in buying it. I also cast no aspersions on Froome, nor Wiggins’s, character.
        But nice non sequator anyway.

  7. Looks mildly interesting, but just because the guy is very interesting and, in a weird way, quite likeable. But I don’t see the point of this kind of book right in the middle of the rider’s career. it should come out in 15 years time at least. Otherwise it seems only to be there for commercial, PR, and politicking purposes.
    By the way, I just finished Cyrille Guimard’s autobiography, quite informative and fun to read (although I don’t really like him), and with some very strong points about contemporary cycling versus old-fashioned cycling. I don’t think I have seen it reviewed here, am I wrong?

    • I haven’t reviewed Guimard’s book as I thought it’d be too much of a niche interest given it’s in French and he’s not a famous name. But it’s a good read and he always has plenty to say. I like him too.

      • If the Inner Ring blog isn’t the place where obscure non-english cycling books can be reviewed for the benefit of english (only) speaking cycling fanatics, then where is?

        More such reviews would be much appreciated if you have the time. The quality of the content here is uniformly outstanding, I’ve no reason to expect another obscure book review wouldn’t also be of interest. I found the post on the Moncoutie book fascinating, and not something that I’d ever find elsewhere

        • Point taken 😉

          I think he’s great, it’s just he’s not a household name in the way Hinault or Poulidor might be. But he’s charismatic and knows cycling well even if he’s more on the outside looking in these days.

  8. Phil Gaimon’s ‘Pro Cycling on $10 a day’ is available as an ebook now on amazon. Very witty – he also uses it as a tool to get back at all those who have irked him over the years. Likewise to what you say of Froome’s story, the path could easily turn against his favour so many times. Very funny (if you don’t get bored of fart jokes) and well worth reading.

  9. I think its pretty disgraceful the way wiggo has been treated in the last couple of years. Of course he was nervous in 2012 but it had been years in the making. Froome benefited from all that stress in winning the first tour but ignores it. After following sky madly through those years I’m over it – to not choose wiggo as team captain is unbelievable and just plain mean, a weird revenge thing.

  10. Thanks Inrng, a insightful and balanced perspective, as ever.

    I must admit I’m fascinated by Froome, partly because I lived in Karen for a few years, probably at the same time as him – and am astonished that you can make it to the TdF from there – but also because he seems to put the lie to a lot we ate told about cycling. I mean, his position on the bike looks awful, he surely breaks all of ‘the rules’ and yet he is so, so strong.

    If he is completely genuine (and I really hope he is) does he prove that the best bike fit and pedalling technique will always be outgunned by pure lung/heart/leg power?

    I wonder what the specialised ‘body geometry’ people would make of him? If it’s for real, it’s incredibly impressive.

  11. I think it’s a step up from the other by-numbers autobiographies mentioned (Wiggo, Cav). The Africa stuff is great, the stories about his mum are genuinely moving, and it’s surprisingly funny.

  12. Am halfway through it and I must echo Mr Ring’s sentiments. At times Walsh certainly makes his presence known but its not too overbearing.

    At every opportunity mention is made of how Froome’s talent could have remained hidden for so long, whether it be his first TdF in 2008 being a late selection despite not having trained for 2 weeks after the death of his mother (with whom he was obviously very close), the Team GB mechanics laughing at the state of his old Barloworld TT bike, or the fact he now races at 66kg as opposed to 70.

    Am up to page 172 (he’s just joined Team Sky) and I think Wiggins has already been mentioned about 40 times

  13. Froomey’s book aside, this whole team nonsense really does make Wiggo seem more and more reasonable at every turn. Maybe Brailsford is the villain???

    • As spokedoke says in his blog, Brailsford lost the changing room a long time ago. Most of all this can be laid at his door, for extremely poor man management. Someone with some half decent man management skills and lacking Brailsford’s proneness to ducking the tough stuff if he can, would have knocked things on the head early on. He thinks its all like a Hoy-Kenny situation – merely a question of having 2 riders compete for a single place, and so being healthy. This was far far from a Hoy-Kenny situation.

      Poor stuff from Brailsford.

      • in terms of another team, I guess he’ll have to clearly define what he wants to do over the next 2-3yrs. Is it road, is it track… it’s a lot easier to manage jumping from one to the other within the British Cycling/Sky umberella than it would be for another trade team (see Cav and his efforts to ride more track not really fitting within OPQS’s wishes..)

        • It is. But its difficult to see him anything other than being done with Sky….though Matt Slater says there’s still a lot of love for him ‘in Manchester’ – Sky, not just the GB track side.

  14. “If you’re wondering why Bradley Wiggins isn’t riding the Tour de France the answer is in the book: it’s not just that they don’t get along, it’s because the antagonism is destructive”

    I think that’s it in a nutshell M. Ring. Chapeau.

  15. Thank you very much Inner Ring for yet another outstanding piece.

    “If you’re wondering why Bradley Wiggins isn’t riding the Tour de France the answer is in the book: it’s not just that they don’t get along, it’s because the antagonism is destructive. ”

    Referring to Wiggins some 375 times sounds rather obsessive. Perhaps indeed destructive antagonism, while, for want of better knowledge, would wonder if perhaps covert lust.

  16. I liked the bit when he admitted that he had always been a great big cheat but his cunning plans had been uncovered by the brilliant guys who post on the internet and then he had given back all his trophies and cash. Then I woke up.

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