How did Team Sky’s Chris Froome go from callow domestique to all-conquering champion? He didn’t have the easiest of starts, given his lack of racing at an early age, but everyone knew he had a big engine. In a new interview with Wired magazine, he reveals that his ‘eureka’ moment came when he stopped wasting so much energy early on in a stage.
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Wired went out to the south of France to speak to Froome and watch him train, creating a video filmed using GoPro’s Hero4 Silver. “In training I’d do these great efforts, I could see the power was very high, higher than a lot of my teammates, but then I’d get to the race, and because of the way I ride I wouldn’t be sat in a very good position,” Froome told Wired.
“I’d be moving around the bunch a lot, I’d be sometimes attacking at the beginning of the stage, just wasting energy. When it really came to the climbs, where it counts, where the race is won or lost, I just didn’t have it.”
When Froome turned professional in 2007 at the age of 22, he was tested in a sports lab in Switzerland and was told his VO2max was 80.2ml of oxygen per minute per kilo of bodyweight, and his threshold power was 420W. For comparison, Miguel Indurain has recorded a VO2max of 88ml/Kg/min, and a threshold power of 450W.
But while his numbers suggested he might be a future Tour winner, he discovered there is much more to winning than simply producing big efforts. “Learning how to ride in the bunch is a huge thing that’s underestimated,” he said.
“You think, ‘I can hold a certain power, put me in a bike race and I’ll win,’ but cycling is so much more dynamic, it’s about fighting for positions in the bunch, holding the good positions, not wasting energy throughout the stage, all these little things were just things I had to learn.”
More recently, he went into the GSK Human Performance Lab in London last summer, following intense scrutiny after he won the 2015 Tour de France, and Team Sky released the numbers a few months later.
Much to learn
Froome conceded that when he joined Team Sky in 2011, these things were already second nature to many of his teammates, who grew up racing bikes. But the turnaround was rapid.
“It was only towards the end of 2011 that I really started to understand how to ride my bike properly in the bunch, whereas now when I’m racing I think about every little piece of energy.”
Froome likens this to spending a bag of coins, riding as much as possible below his threshold and saving those pennies for when it really matters. “Throughout the day I’m thinking constantly, ‘I want to try and pedal as easily as possible until I have to really go – and then I put everything into it’.”
GoPro will be releasing more point-of-view footage from this year's Tour de France in the coming months – check out their YouTube channel.