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Tuesday 16 October 2018

Froome's story is not yet complete

Team Sky rider Chris Froome. Picture: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.
Team Sky rider Chris Froome. Picture: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.

A COUPLE of months ago on these pages I wrote a review of one of the many books that has addressed Lance Armstrong and his spectacular fall from grace.

'Cycle of Lies - The Fall of Lance Armstrong' by New York Times journalist Juliet Macur is a detailed and often shocking account of how Armstrong perpetrated one of the greatest lies in sport.

A cloud of suspicion has always hung over cycling when it came to doping. But Armstrong's story became the epicentre of cycling's doping culture. His constant denials followed by his spectacular U-turn and admission of guilt has left cycling trying to pick up the pieces. We are told the peloton is now racing clean, but the sporting public has every right to be cynical about such claims.

This is the world that Chris Froome finds himself competing in. In a relatively short space of time, this Kenyan-born cyclist of British descent has gone from average journeyman to Tour de France champion in 2013.

His story so far is dealt with in 'The Climb', an autobiography of sorts co-written by renowned Sunday Times journalist David Walsh.

The presence of Walsh on the book immediately makes the reader stand up and take notice. This, as all cycling fans will know, is the same Walsh who for years was one of the very few journalists brave and astute enough to question Armstrong's achievements.

So with Walsh putting words to Froome's story, is the reader entitled to surmise that Froome is racing clean? Perhaps.

I must admit to watching Froome's win in last year's Tour de France with a hint of scepticism - and I was not alone. This was the 'Sunday Independent's Paul Kimmage's take on Froome last July: 'His performance last Sunday on Mount 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 - Merkx, Hinault, LeMond - has described Chris Froome as 'great'. And there was an itch we couldn't scratch at L'Alpe d'Huez on Tuesday, when Froome had looked vulnerable and yet somehow extended his lead. What are we watching here.'

It is a credit to Walsh, then, that in reading 'The Climb' I was tempted to believe in Chris Froome one hundred per cent.

Froome's backstory is incredible. He was born in Kenya to wealthy British parents, yet when his father's business failed when Chris was only six, the money dried up. His parents divorced, and Chris and his mother were left to get by alone in Kenya.

The book is divided into three sections, Africa, Europe and the Tour de France. It is the opening part dealing with Africa that is the most compelling. Chris grew up not far from where Karen Blixen lived, who penned the classic 'Out of Africa', and some of the passages dealing with Froome's Africa could have been lifted straight from Blixen's memoir.

But the problem with 'The Climb' is that it finishes with his Tour de France win last year, and so much has happened since. Some promising early-season form earlier this year was marred by photographs of Froome using an inhaler during a stage win of the Criterium du Dauphine. Then it emerged that the sport's governing body granted a TUE (Theraputic Use Exemption) for prednisone - something that's contrary to its own rules.

Froome began his defence of the Tour de France last week under a cloud, and he subsequently crashed out of the race on stage five. Froome's story is by no means at an end - let's hope it has a happy one.

DARRAGH CLIFFORD

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