Fly­ing un­der the radar

The 2008 Tour de France did not presage the great­ness to come

Cycling Weekly - - FROOME -

From a Bri­tish point of view, the fo­cus of the 2008 Tour de France was on the emer­gence of a young Manx­man that went by the name of Mark Cavendish. Four stage vic­to­ries be­fore de­part­ing the race early for the Bei­jing Olympics, had given cy­cling fans a glimpse of what was to come over the next decade.

How­ever, what was un­be­known to many fans was the de­but of a rider that had yet to fully con­firm his na­tion­al­ity, as Chris Froome started the first Grand Tour of his ca­reer un­der a Kenyan li­cence for the Bar­loworld squad. Aus­tralian rider Baden Cooke was Froome’s team-mate as he lined up in Brest on stage one.

“He was pretty green, and prob­a­bly car­ry­ing eight kilo­grams or more than his race weight that he rides at now,” says Cooke. “Ob­vi­ously he hadn’t learnt how to train prop­erly and man­age him­self.”

With stages around north-west­ern France to start off the 95th Tour, Froome’s in­ex­pe­ri­ence showed as he rolled in each day at the back of the pack. “I think it was a bit of an eye-opener for him,” Cooke re­calls. “He was pretty much just mak­ing up the num­bers. His bike-han­dling skills weren’t very good and we used to joke and call him ‘Crash’ at the time. Fight­ing for po­si­tion when you are a rider with­out much ex­pe­ri­ence, ne­go­ti­at­ing those small roads with such a vi­cious bunch, is very hard for a guy like Froomey.”

With the open­ing stages ne­go­ti­ated, Froome found a solid per­for­mance in the stage four time trial around Cho­let, se­cur­ing a 31st place, the fastest in his South African li­censed team. Even though Froome may have lacked rac­ing nous, Cooke could tell his 23-year-old

team-mate had the self-be­lief re­quired to be a con­tender one day.

“He had a fair bit of con­fi­dence and a lit­tle bit of swag­ger even be­fore he had done any­thing but as if he just knew he would,” Cooke says. “Even back then he would say, ‘I’m a Grand Tour rider, I’m not a one-day rider or a one-week rider.’ He had noth­ing re­ally to back it up other than he be­lieved it. He was right!”

How­ever, any feel-good sen­sa­tion Froome might have had about his first ap­pear­ance in the Tour de France was dealt a heavy blow by the re­al­i­ties of cy­cling at the time, as team-mate Moisés Dueñas tested pos­i­tive for EPO in the sec­ond week. As Cooke re­calls, “I went to break­fast one day and there were po­lice at the el­e­va­tor of my floor and ev­ery­where. I said as a joke, ‘Oh, some­one must have tested pos­i­tive,’ and then I walked past and they were rip­ping my team-mates’ room apart.

“It was pretty up­set­ting for us, we were one of the small­est teams in the race and com­ing off the back of a big year where we won a cou­ple of stages and the polka-dot jersey. So for that to hap­pen knocked the wind out of my sails a lit­tle bit. Ob­vi­ously if you are in the same team as blokes like that you get as­so­ci­ated with them and I cer­tainly strug­gled with mo­ti­va­tion af­ter that. I’ll never for­get the next day and our bus be­ing swarmed by jour­nal­ists 10 deep from ev­ery side.”

Even with the team fall­ing apart around him — only four Bar­loworld riders made it to Paris — Froome’s per­for­mance was one of the few plus points to come out of the race. He showed glim­mers of po­ten­tial on the Alpe d’huez sum­mit fin­ish, com­ing home in 30th place, and took 16th place in the penul­ti­mate stage time trial into Saint-amand-mon­trond as he fin­ished 84th over­all.

Cooke was one of the Bar­loworld riders that didn’t make it to Paris, af­ter a stage 11 crash con­cluded his race. But the Aus­tralian for­mer pro is pleas­antly sur­prised by Froome’s rise to the top of the sport.

“He was a very po­lite, nice guy,” he says. “I didn’t see that side of him that could be such a mon­ster and an an­i­mal on the bike and so vi­cious as a com­peti­tor that he turned out to be in win­ning four Tours de France, that’s for sure.”

The 2008 Tour proved to be a bap­tism of fire for Froome and his team

eight ki­los heav­ier than Tour-win­ning weight

A fa­mil­iar look of de­ter­mi­na­tion in the stage four time trial

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