Paul Kimmage: Chris Froome in the eye of the storm - Part 1
Published 29/06/2014 | 16:30
In the first of his two-part interview with the current Tour de France champion Chris Froome, Paul Kimmage speaks to the cyclist about his upbringing, success, drug allegations and his so-called naivety.
A year ago, on the morning after the eighth stage of the Tour de France, I had an argument with my wife, Ann, about Chris Froome. We were staying at a beautiful campsite near Tarascon-sur-Ariege in the Pyrenees and had spent the day before watching Froome pulverise his rival and take the race lead at the summit finish in Ax 3 Domaines.
It was a brilliant performance, but like all brilliant performances since the demise of Lance Armstrong there were questions. One, at the press conference, was from a journalist from the Associated Press.
"Chris, I had flashbacks today of US Postal days because it's the first day in the mountains and you've killed it from the beginning. Can you tell us please that everything we've seen today is totally bona fide and that we're not going to be regretting this day in 20 years' time."
Froome didn't blink.
"One hundred per cent," he replied. "It's normal that people ask questions given the history of the sport, that's the unfortunate position we find ourselves in at the moment, that eyebrows are going to be raised. For me, it's a personal mission to show that the sport has changed. I certainly know that the results I'm getting are not going to be stripped."
We drove to the campsite that night, opened a nice bottle of wine and the next morning began - as they all began - with a read of the French sports daily, L'équipe. There was a documentary crew following us to Paris. We were filmed having breakfast and I was asked by the director, Adrian McCarthy, to explain the furrows on my brow.
"There's a piece in this from David Millar," I replied, "giving out about all the people asking questions about Froome. Now I've said this to David before - he loves cycling but his love is blind. My love is not blind and I am not going to apologise to David Millar or anyone for reacting the way I do to what I see. It's unfortunate, but that's what the sport has become now. We've been betrayed and lied to for so long that we cannot believe our own eyes."
Ann did not agree.
"He seems nice," she interjected. "He's more gracious than his team-mate (Bradley Wiggins) was last year in the same position."
"Nice has nothing to do with it," I replied. "It's not a popularity contest."
"No, but maybe he's a really nice fella."
"Yeah, well he's very polite but . . . I don't know him. I don't know him."
"He's dealing with it pretty well, the controversy. Is he not?"
"We'll see," I laughed.
But she would not be dismissed.
"Sorry for interrupting your show," she hissed. And then she smiled. "I think he's nice."
Two weeks later, my brow was still contorted when Froome cruised to victory on the Champs-élysées. He had answered every question and passed every control but there were elements to his story that were puzzling. Two years previously, he had failed to earn selection for the Tour and was about to be shown the door at Sky. How had this mild-mannered Kenyan transformed into one of the greatest we have seen?
Eight months passed. Froome started the new season as he had ended the last and I was invited to contact his PR company about a possible interview before the Tour. His autobiography, The Climb, was about to be published and a 'slot' could be arranged for June. But I'm not keen on 'slots' and informed them I'd prefer to wait until after the Tour.
Two months later, on June 9, there was a meltdown on Twitter when Froome was photographed using an inhaler before going on the attack to win the second stage of the Criterium du Dauphine. "Where did the asthma come from?" the sceptics wondered. "There's no mention of it in his book."
Five days later a French newspaper, Le Journal du Dimanche, ran a story with a sensational headline alleging that the sport's governing body had ignored its own rules in granting Froome a TUE (Therapeutic Use Exemption) for prednisone, a glucocortisteroid, during the Tour of Romandie in April.
Glucocortisteroids are banned in competition but can be dispensed in emergency situations if the rider is granted a TUE. Froome had been struggling with a chest infection and applied for the TUE when his doctor noticed him coughing after the opening stage. No rules were broken but many observers were alarmed.
The abuse of glucocortisteroids has been rampant in cycling for years and Froome's team had earned plaudits for stating that they would withdraw their riders from competition rather than apply for TUEs. What was going on? Had that policy, like many of the others, suddenly changed?
I decided to email Michelle Cound, Froome's fiancée, with a fresh request for an interview. A few days later, Froome called my mobile and asked what I had in mind. On Wednesday, accompanied by his fiancée, and against the advice of his handlers and his team, he agreed to meet in Monaco.
Ann was right: Chris Froome is a very nice guy. But ours is a shitty business.
1 Out of Africa
We brought my mum's coffin through, unloaded it and put it on top of the open fireplace. We all took a burning branch and lit the fire, watching the flames slowly gathering momentum. It was hard to stomach, in that the coffin disintegrated quite quickly and then the body was just there burning . . . I hadn't prepared mentally for this. I hadn't expected the really burning smell of pungent flesh, I guess . . . This was raw. I cried my eyes out . . . One thing we maybe didn't need to know was that they had to keep stoking the fire to make sure that the bigger bones would burn. They need a higher heat. Again, this was raw but in Africa that's how death is. There are no sugar coatings.
Paul Kimmage: I told a friend I was coming to see you today and he said, 'Don't do a Suarez on him'.
(He looks at me curiously; the term is obviously French.) Chris Froome: What's a soirez?
PK: There's a football player called Luis Suarez. He was playing for Uruguay against Italy in the World Cup last night and he bit one of the Italian players.
CF: (Laughs) Okay.
PK: So my friend doesn't want me to bite you, but having read your book I'd say there's more of a chance that you might bite me.
CF: (Smiles) What did you think of it?
PK: I had no idea what a brutally tough upbringing you had. I think you're a very interesting man. What did you think?
CF: Doing the book?
CF: It was certainly . . . I mean, I'm not somebody who really looks back too much.
CF: I'm always focused on the next thing. It's actually something Michelle criticises me for a lot - I'm actually 10 years down the line already in my thinking. I don't tend to look back much; I'm always in the future of my mind and it was quite an interesting process sitting down with David [Walsh, the ghost writer of his autobiography] and actually going through old memories of different stages of my career.
PK: When did you decide you were going to do it?
CF: I think, after the Tour last year.
Michelle Cound: The requests started before the Tour and publishers saw the potential and wanted him to sign before the Tour, and then obviously after the Tour it was crazy.
CF: More than anything, I just felt that a lot of the fans can't engage with me. I'm not 100 per cent British, so the British don't get behind me; I'm not exactly South African, I'm not Kenyan either, so it's almost like they don't really know how to associate with me.
PK: But you are Kenyan - that's where you were born, that's where you grew up and that's where you were formed?
CF: It's an interesting one, an analogy that I like to equate to myself is: if you think of an Indian family that's moved over to the UK, and they have a kid in the UK and the kid grows up in Britain but his parents live by Indian traditions and eat Indian food. The kid grows up with British friends but he feels Indian, even though he has never really spent much time there. That's the way I feel. I feel absolutely blessed with the childhood I had, the independence as a kid and the outdoor lifestyle I had. It was very different to a British upbringing but I do feel British.
PK: You do?
CF: I do.
PK: And you always have?
CF: Yeah, I've always felt my family is British; I'm British, even though I have never lived there.
PK: What about your decision to take a British (racing) licence? Is that something in hindsight you might revisit because you would have been totally embraced by Kenyans as a Kenyan but you are not embraced in Britain as British. Bradley (Wiggins) is 'their' boy.
PK: He wins the Tour and gets a knighthood and Sports Personality of the Year. You win the Tour and get neither?
CF: Yeah, but that's understandable and I think that was a large reason for me to have sat down and told my whole story so people can associate with me and understand why this guy is now riding with a British flag on his seat, as opposed to a Kenyan.
MC: Your mother was quite opposed to you (taking a British licence).
CF: Yeah, my mother wanted me to stay as a Kenyan. She was always very proud of the life we had there in Kenya, and the outdoors, and obviously when I first started riding and I rode on the Kenyan national team, she felt that was very . . .
MC: I mean when you think about it: if you had won the Tour last year . . . how big that would have been for African cycling?
CF: Yeah, but to be honest I would have felt a little bit of a fraud. If I had been (acclaimed as) the first African winner of the Tour de France I would have felt, 'Hold on, something isn't quite right here'. Yes, I was born in Africa but I'm not . . . look at the true Kenyans, the Kenyan marathon runners, and I don't want to point out the obvious but I look nothing like them.
PK: (Laughs) That is obvious.
CF: I don't think that would have sat comfortably with me if I had carried on with that path.
PK: The 'White Kenyan' has a nice ring to it?
CF: I still feel very passionate about my connection to Kenya, and Africa, and I feel extremely lucky to have had that upbringing but to go as far as calling myself Kenyan, I'm not quite sure about that.
PK: Does it hurt that you haven't been embraced in Britain?
CF: To be honest, it's not the reason I race. I don't race for popularity. I don't race to be held by a nation. I race because I love cycling. I love what I do. Those are my driving forces - it's not to be recognised walking down the street. Of course, it's nice to be recognised for your achievements but I believe that will come.
PK: There are two stories in the book that really stood out for me. The first is about a long training ride you did in South Africa a couple of years ago. I quote: I was coming into the last hour or so, and was on the home run, when I hit a long, straight piece of road where I could see for a long way ahead of me and behind me. Up the road there was a group of young guys walking in my direction. They were around my own age and there were six or seven of them on the left-hand side of the road. As far as the eye could see there was just them and there was just me. As I got closer they fanned out and made a straight line across the road; a human barrier. I knew I was in trouble.
PK: Now your reaction was fascinating because I would probably have turned around but you decided you were going to charge and go through them.
CF: I look at that now and think, 'You idiot'. I don't know what they would have done to me - if they had knives or if they were just going to mug me. And it was pretty careless of me to just charge at them and hope they moved but it was just that, I don't know, animal instinct in me that thought, 'Right, this is a fight and I'm going to take it on. I wouldn't want to put myself in front of a bike that was going at 60k an hour and I hope they feel the same'. But it was a gamble, it was.
PK: You write: I'm here today because I have that madness in me. How does the madness manifest itself?
CF: I think there are definitely times when you can see that animal instinct, or whatever you want to call it, take over with me. That stage into Semnoz (the 20th stage of the Tour de France last year) got the better of me; I went sprinting off at the bottom of the climb and paid the price for it.
PK: Have you seen any of the madness Michelle?
MC: Off the bike he is incredibly calm and polite and everything, but the madness definitely comes out in his training and his determination to do those training rides. At one point in his career, he was . . .
(She starts laughing).
CF: That (story) is actually not in the book.
MC: He decided that all he needed to do was eat, sleep and train.
CF: I was basically challenging the conventional system of, 'Why do we train once a day and then have dinner and go to bed and have breakfast the next day?' Surely, as an athlete, it would be best if you trained, ate something healthy, slept and went training again when you wake up. So I was basically ignoring night and day; if I woke up at two in the morning, I'd go training, get back at seven, have a meal, go to bed and go out again in the afternoon.
PK: When was this?
CF: When I was in Italy during my first year at Sky (2010). I had little torches on my bike and it was actually really peaceful training in the moonlight, and I enjoyed it, but I got about four days into it and was just empty. I had nothing left and my clock was all messed up and I quickly abandoned that idea.
But I like to challenge the conventional ways of doing things. While I was in South Africa (as an amateur) there was no one training the way I was training, I was always doing my own thing.
PK: The other story that stands out is about the death of your mother, Jane, or rather her cremation. That doesn't happen in Kilburn.
CF: (Smiles) It doesn't. It was very raw; it was very African. I felt it was very fitting for her given her passionate affinity to Kenya but it was quite raw in that sense of seeing the fire and seeing the body. It was quite hard to do, quite emotional.
PK: And the bones.
CF: And the bones. It wasn't pretty but at the same time it was done in a way that was . . . we had flowers, we had family there and it was very moving, actually.
PK: Was your dad there?
CF: He wasn't. He was down in South Africa.
PK: Why didn't he come?
CF: They weren't close after the divorce.
PK: But your mother is dead, and your father has three sons. Why would he not go for you?
CF: I think both of my older brothers were (pauses) . . .
PK: They didn't want him there?
CF: I wouldn't say they didn't want him there but it wouldn't really seem right. There were family members from my mother's side that don't like my father because of the divorce and what happened and . . .
PK: How do you feel about him?
CF: What can I say? I don't resent what he did, I mean . . . I was too young to understand what was happening but I feel extremely grateful that neither my father nor my mother tried to play me off each other. I had love from my father and from my mother.
MC: You had a much closer relationship with your mum, though.
CF: I think just because I was almost living as an only child with my mother at that point (his two brothers had left for boarding school in England). We became very close over those years (after his parents divorced) from 6 to 13. My mother and my father are very different people. He's the one that instilled manners in me and some sense of discipline.
PK: Your father?
CF: Yeah, he has got a very British accent.
MC: He's not a warm and cuddly father.
CF: My mother was a lot more warm: 'Come on Chris, let's go for a walk'. Whereas my father was a lot more down the line.
PK: Things were pretty hard for you after they divorced.
CF: I never really saw it as such compared to other Kenyans and the slums (they had to live in). We had testing moments, especially once my father had left. We were moving house a lot and my mum was studying to become a physio but it was all character building.
PK: You were six years old when your parents started shouting at each other. It made you averse to shouting?
CF: Yeah, I did struggle a bit with that in my younger years, and after my father had left. I'd get that stomach-clenching kind of nervousness when people raised their voices because to me that was symbolic of their fighting and I'd get very uptight.
PK: Do you ever shout?
CF: Not often, probably on occasion, but nine times out of 10 I'll bite my tongue and say, 'Okay, if you sort this out now you'll probably shout but give it half an hour and you can probably have a conversation'. And I can recognise that.
PK: When was the last time you cried?
MC: I know.
CF: What was it about?
MC: I don't know if you want me to say . . .
MC: The other day, he got very upset about the TUE thing and he just said, 'What have I done wrong?'
(She starts crying. He reaches across and touches her shoulder).
CF: Yeah, I did get upset the other day. I was trying to turn a blind eye to everything and I just suddenly thought, 'Fuck!' I could see people really coming at me with aggression. I thought, 'What have I done wrong?' And it did bring tears to my eyes.
MC: I see how hard he works and it's just . . . (She's sobbing. He reaches out to her again.)
PK: This is a shitty business.
CF: It's tough.
MC: There are times when I just want to say, 'Just leave it'.
CF: It has changed my life. I've been able to win the Tour de France, a huge achievement, but it's put me right in the eye of the storm. I get the feeling, 'Hold on, I'm trying to speak out for clean cycling. I've always raced clean; I'm always going to race clean; I'll fucking hang up my bike the day I even think about doping'. And here I am being absolutely ripped apart.
2 The Right Thing
His performance last Sunday on Mont Ventoux was possibly the greatest I have ever seen. But no one has used that word to describe it; no one qualified to make that call - Merckx, Hinault, LeMond - has described Chris Froome as 'great.' And there was an itch we couldn't scratch at L'Alpe d'Huez on Thursday, when Froome had looked vulnerable and yet somehow extended his lead. What are we watching here?
PK: In exactly a week, you will arrive in Yorkshire for the start of the Tour de France as the defending champion and favourite. How does it feel to be Chris Froome at this moment in time?
CF: (Coughs) I don't like to think of myself as the favourite, the defending champion. I'll go in there thinking of each day and my little race and not necessarily having to hold all that pressure on my shoulders. It is a difficult position to be in, having the backing of a team like Team Sky and having eight guys who are going to be 100 per cent dedicated to working for me and to try to get me into the yellow jersey . . .
PK: So Bradley isn't riding?
CF: (Laughs) Well, you've said that, not me. Yeah, who knows? The team is going to be announced on Friday. They've asked for my input here and there but it is up to the management.
PK: It's a big call for (Dave) Brailsford (the Team Sky principal) to leave Wiggins out?
CF: I still don't know if it's certain or not but . . . yeah, it would be a big call.
PK: You mentioned pressure: casual observers of the sport have no inkling what it's like to wear the yellow jersey in the Tour, and the swarm of media attention that goes with it. You experienced it for the first time last year?
CF: Yeah, there's not much you can do that prepares you for that. It's not like any other race. You cross that finish line and it doesn't stop, the podium protocols, the interviews, a press conference, anti-doping control. You go back to your hotel and there are fans waiting for photos and autographs. It's a bubble that follows you around for three weeks.
PK: You seemed to deal with it well?
CF: (Smiles) Yeah, it's quite an experience being in that position. It's a privilege, and not something I'm going to fight or get agitated about.
PK: What does get you agitated?
PK: You seemed a bit irritated (by the doping questions) in the press conference after the Mont Ventoux stage but that was the only sign really.
CF: Yeah, I understand where they're coming from. The sport has been through hell and back the last 10 or 15 years and people have been let down by previous winners. When people ask questions, I can see it's not a personal judgement of my character or an attack on me. (They're saying) 'Okay, you are in this position. How did you get there? Because we know how the guys that did it before you, got there.'
PK: And you understand that?
CF: I understand that.
PK: Because that's the issue.
CF: Yeah, but it gets to the point where I've answered the questions, and people know the answers, but they want to write the doping story, which I feel is very sad. It's sad for the sport. We've got teams and sponsors and riders, more importantly, who want to move past the past, and it feels like a lot of the journalism is just trying to keep it current.
MC: At the end of the day, we realised what an amazing ride it was (on Mont Ventoux). We knew that you did it clean and we wanted to celebrate and, instead, everyone was just pulling you down.
CF: Yeah, it is frustrating, and I think my frustration was starting to show at that press conference. I felt as if I had done the ride of my life and staked my claim for the race, only to get brought straight back down and (I thought), 'Ahh, you guys are sods. Here I am busting my gut trying to do things right, and trying to show people the sport has changed and it's you guys who are bringing me down'.
PK: For me, (Mont Ventoux) was one of the greatest performances I've seen but it wasn't acclaimed as such. People were looking at it and thinking, 'Can I believe this?'
CF: Obviously I've got to take that as a huge compliment but one misconception people have is where I attacked (Alberto) Contador. You know the climb. The road flattens just before you get to Chalet Reynard. Richie (his team-mate, Richie Porte) had been pulling a really hard tempo up until that point and I thought, 'Right, I don't want anyone to recover here. I don't want Contador to recover here'. So I attacked on a flat bit.
PK: The thing that amazed me was the way you left Contador - you rode away from him without getting out of the saddle.
PK: I asked a lot of people in the sport and they had never seen that before.
CF: I've been working on that a lot in the wind tunnel - seated accelerations. I've seen the drag co-efficient go straight up as soon as you get out of the saddle, and I find it's a lot more sustainable to do that versus standing up and sprinting, but it depends obviously on the climb. I don't know what the times are up there, if you compare them to guys in the past . . .
PK: Well, I wasn't even thinking of that; I was just reacting to what I saw with my eyes. You are setting a bar now that puts you with the greatest of the greats.
CF: Do you not think, though, that observation is comparative to Contador?
PK: Yes, it is totally based on Contador who - and I've said this for a long time - is a cheat. You are beating people who have cheated, which is a fantastic thing to do if it's legitimate. And that's the question: Is it legitimate? This is the question that's being raised.
PK: The build-up to this year's Tour has been a bit more turbulent for you than last year. There's a piece in The Times this morning by Jeremy Whittle: 'With only one week before he arrives in Yorkshire to defend his Tour de France title, the pressure is building on Chris Froome and Team Sky, on and off the road. Since crashing heavily at the Criterium du Dauphine stage race at the beginning of this month, the storm clouds have been swirling over Froome. Rarely has a Tour champion come to the start of the three-week race with so many caveats attached.' Now Jeremy obviously has a short memory because there have been plenty of favourites who've arrived at the Tour with storm clouds swirling over them. So the question I guess is the storm clouds?
CF: Well, it's obviously in relation to the TUE application and the asthma.
CF: The asthma hasn't changed - you can check with any of (my former) team doctors - I have used inhalers since I was a teenager. The TUE? There are rules set out by the UCI; the team has followed those rules; I have followed those rules and I just think it's incredible that I can be criticised for the legitimate use of medication that I needed.
PK: You applied for the TUE (on April 29) after the prologue of the Tour of Romandie. Two days before that you were in Belgium for Liege-Bastogne-Liege. You tweeted on the morning of the race that you'd had a (dope) control? You were woken at six?
PK: You went back to bed but didn't ride the race because of a chest infection. At what stage did you decide you weren't riding?
CF: It was that morning. I flew in the night before and the doctor saw me and said, 'We'll check you in the morning'.
PK: Who was the doctor?
CF: Richard.. . . .
CF: Sorry, Freeman. He saw me and said, 'Chris, you're not riding with the way you are at the moment, you're just going to aggravate it. Give it 48 hours and you should be good to start in Romandie'. So I ended up just riding on the indoor trainer for a couple of hours in the hotel, watching the guys race Liege. And then I went on to Romandie. I felt good. The chest infection was pretty much finished. I did the prologue and my chest closed up completely and that's when (the team doctor) said: 'Okay, listen, we know you're fit to race but you're coughing like a dog. You need to take this (prednisone) to clear your chest'.
PK: Who was the doctor?
CF: Richard Usher.
PK: So he decided you should apply for the TUE and he called?
CF: I think he called Farrell (Alan Farrell, the Team Sky lead doctor). I think it has to come from the head doctor. That was late on the evening of the prologue, about 9.30, 10 o'clock that night I think.
PK: And there was never a question of you pulling out of the race?
CF: No, because I was fit, I had done a great prologue. I was ready, I wasn't ill - it was an asthmatic response - the closed airways, the continuous coughing.
PK: So this is the issue: Do you recognise that the use of these drugs, which are quite strong and performance-enhancing, should be reserved for when you are ill?
CF: Well, the way I see it is . . . I've always raced with asthma, it's something that I've controlled well, but on the back of a chest infection it was exacerbated and made worse. I wasn't coughing coming into the race, so I wasn't ill in that sense but you see me after the prologue and I'm struggling to breathe. I'm at a big disadvantage because of my asthma. It's not an illness as such, but by taking prednisone that would hopefully get me to being closer to being normal again. It's not exactly performance-enhancing.
PK: Well, it is performance-enhancing but it's also treating your condition.
CF: Is it performance-enhancing?
PK: Well it's certainly not performance-reducing because that was the other issue - you went on to win the race.
CF: Yeah, I did.
PK: And the criticism has come because your team are on the record as saying that they would not apply for TUEs and would set a standard.
CF: Yeah, but that was something I only found out afterwards from David Walsh. He said: 'Chris, do you realise . . .' The team had told him that they would never race with a TUE. But that was the first I ever heard of it. It was never put to me that this was the team policy. I asked Doctor Farrell about it and he said, 'No, that's never been a team policy'. I don't know where the miscommunication is there.
PK: Did you see the piece David wrote last week (in The Sunday Times)?
CF: I didn't see it but I spoke to him, so I got a general idea of what he would have written.
PK: Did you read the bottom line? It was: 'Sky like to portray themselves as the most ethical team in the peloton. The evidence says otherwise.'
CF: Okay. I think if people are going to try and criticise the TUE thing in terms of . . .
CF: Ethics and a performance-enhancing advantage, I think they need to (understand) that in six-and-a-half years of my career I've applied for two TUEs - the one this year in Romandie was the only one in competition. And I had one last year, I think after Romandie, when I had a similar kind of condition and took prednisone again.
PK: But I thought you only had to apply for the TUE when you were in competition?
CF: No, I think you have to apply for them out of competition too because it's a banned substance. I think 'in' or 'out' you have to apply and that was the case last year . . . But getting back to your original question: I think people trying to judge Team Sky's ethical standards because of this one case is a bit far to go.
PK: But we're not judging them on this one case, we're judging them on their standards since the team was formed and their (mission) statement from Brailsford: 'We will not employ any doctors other than British doctors. We will not employ any doctors from within the sport.'
PK: And we both know what happened since?
(Note: Geert Leinders, a Belgian doctor who had been involved with doping at the Rabobank team, was hired by Team Sky in 2011. An Italian doctor, Fabio Bartolucci, was also hired.)
PK: I asked Brailsford once: 'Is there a difference between doing the right thing and being seen to do the right thing?' Because for me, it (the policy at Sky) has always been about being seen to do the right thing, rather than . . .
CF: Doing the right thing.
PK: Yeah, and the right thing for me in this case would have been: 'Okay, Chris, we're taking you out of the race. You are the highest profile rider in the sport today. We want you to set a standard that others can look up to and admire.'
PK: If I was Dave Brailsford, that's what I'd have done.
CF: What if I had been two weeks into the Tour de France? What if I had a three-minute advantage like I had last year, and had a similar condition? What would you, as Dave Brailsford, have done then? Would you have done the same thing (applied for the TUE)?
PK: If I was David Brailsford? Most definitely. If I was Paul Kimmage, I'd probably have to think about it.
PK: The thing is this, Chris: I want you to set the standard for behaviour.
CF: But at what cost?
PK: At what cost?
CF: Do we sacrifice winning a race like the Tour de France, even when we are following the rules? Or do we go further than following the rules and pull out of the race?
PK: Well, the Tour de France is a big price to pay, I admit.
CF: In my opinion, if there is something wrong with the rules . . .
MC: We have had zero communication from the UCI or Wada or anything on this. I sent an email to Brian Cookson (the president of the UCI) - because he went and tweeted a whole load of fluff again yesterday - and I said to him: 'Don't you think you owe Chris an apology here?' Because Chris' reputation has been ruined here.
CF: Damaged, not ruined.
MC: Damaged, because of problems with the UCI. They're not being transparent and all of a sudden they're changing things. It's pretty ridiculous.
CF: There is definitely something that needs to change; I'm being torn to shreds here and all I've done is follow the rules set out to us by our governing body. So something is not right. And something is definitely not right if you think that, in the past, the UCI have dropped the ball in terms of showing the sport to be a trustable sport. But I don't believe TUEs are being abused the way they were in the past.
PK: You don't know.
CF: Say again?
PK: You don't know.
CF: Well, from my perspective and for the TUE that was applied for me.
PK: But you can only speak for yourself.
CF: That's right.
PK: Because we've had people like Andrew Talansky (the recent winner of the Criterium de Dauphine) telling us how clean the peloton is now . . . but Andrew Talansky can speak for himself.
PK: That's all he can do.
CF: And that's all I can do at the end of the day.
PK: You asked me about the Tour de France and what I would do? In 2002, Jonathan Vaughters was stung by a wasp (in the eye) on the rest day in Bordeaux and needed a cortisone injection. He had never finished the Tour de France and was only a couple of days from Paris but the team would not allow him to have the injection and pulled him out of the race. That's the standard.
PK: That's what we require now. This sport has had loads of champions - what it needs is a champion we can believe in. That's where you come in. That's the standard we require from you.
MC: Chris doesn't know the history of the sport . . .
CF: I'm learning about it but I am very naive still.
PK: Naive is a word Dave Brailsford often uses.
CF: Oh, really? Okay. I'm very . . .
(He looks at Michelle)
CF: What would you say?
MC: You don't know the history of the sport; you don't know those sorts of stories. In this situation, maybe it would have been better to know that story. All he can do now is focus on racing clean and focus on following the rules that have been set out to him, and that's what he feels he's done. And that's why he can't understand the criticism.
One hour and 20 minutes of the interview have passed. It feels like we have barely started.
Paul Kimmage's full three-hour interview with Chris Froome will be available on independent.ie from lunchtime tomorrow. The feature documentary film 'Rough Rider' is scheduled for release this summer.
Sunday Indo Sport