He was flying at 60 kilometres per hour. And he hit the wall. He was horribly injured. The end of his career was the logical choice. But Christopher Froome, a legend in the cycling peloton, defied fate. That's why fans will get a unique opportunity to see the Tour de France icon at the biggest domestic race - the Czech Tour (July 27-30).
"Retiring from the sport was a logical choice. But I didn't want to end my career on a hospital bed," explains the Team Israel PremierTech rider, who won the Tour de France four times in his career, the Spanish Vuelta twice and the Italian Giro once, on why he is not enjoying the position he has built up through hard work in the saddle of his bike.
It was June 2019 and Chris Froome was in great form. He was planning an attack for a fifth Tour de France win, which would have put him on par with the likes of Anquetil, Hinault, Merckx and Indurain.
The traditional Critérium du Dauphiné stage race was a dress rehearsal for the Grande Boucle for the Kenyan-born rider, who lived on his parents' farm. The twenty-six kilometre time trial was to confirm the form of the then leader of Sky. But while checking out the route, Froome fell and crashed into a concrete bridge.
He had to undergo three operations. Doctors gradually used titanium plates and screws to fix his broken hip, elbow, sternum, vertebrae and also his right leg. He spent weeks in bed and in a wheelchair. It was foolish to think he would still be riding a bike. For a mere mortal, that is. Not for a man who had suffered so much to get to the top. Because winning the most famous race on the planet is preceded by a sea of suffering.
The fighter, who started cycling in Kenya and then continued during his studies in South Africa, didn't exactly have a clear path to the top. There was no enthusiasm at home for his love of cycling. Moreover, the conditions for training in the countries of his youth were not ideal.
He didn't become a professional cyclist until he was twenty-two. By then he had represented Kenya at the Commonwealth Games and the Under-23 World Championships. And even though he had absolutely inadequate material and his training was far from perfect, he was able to compete with the best. That's why his performance skyrocketed when he got into a truly professional environment.
Only a year after signing his first contract, he made his debut at the Tour de France. And when he debuted at the Vuelta in the summer of 2011, he dazzled with an overall victory. A year later, he was a key domestique for Bradley Wiggins in Britain's first Tour de France triumph.
Then, in the next season, the great era of Chris Froome himself began. In total, he completed 21 Grand Tours! He won seven of them. In the Tour de France, he was second overall once and third once. In addition to his two triumphs, he also took two second places in the overall standings at the Vuelta! He has medals from the Olympic Games and the World Championships. He is held in high esteem in the UK. He is also a recipient of the Order of the British Empire. If he'd cleared the scene after a rough fall from the Dauphiné, he'd still be an idol.
"Of course, it would have been easier to cut his career short. But I didn't want to end up in hospital. Four Tour de France titles was not the maximum for me. So when the doctors said I would be able to recover fully and have no physical limits, the choice to continue in the saddle of the bike was quite logical," he explains.
He dreamed of returning to the Grand Tour. Ideally for a fifth Tour de France victory. But during his first season back from injury, he couldn't come close to his previous performances. "The problem was that it wasn't until I got back into racing that I recognised my weaknesses and defined what I needed to work on," he says.
Moreover, it was only more than a year later that doctors removed the above-knee screws from his leg, which were causing irritation to the thigh muscle and limiting the cycling legend's training.
By then he was already a rider in the Israel Start-Up Nations formation, which recruited him after his contract at Sky expired.
"Age is only a state of mind. Moreover, I didn't get into the sport until a bit later," Froome reminds us that he is not worn out by the drill in his youth. "Everything evolves. As the approach to training changes, to nutrition, to recovery. Athletes can stay on top long after 30," convinces the man who hopes to still experience the heady taste of a big win. His best result so far since returning to the peloton is third place in a stage of the Tour de France with the finish on the Alpe d'Huez.
"For the first time since my injury, I had a season where I didn't feel any effects of the crash and could train and race 100%," he recaps of the 2022 season. He may very well make his dream of victory come true at the end of July at the Czech Tour! Israel PremierTech will arrive with an extremely strong line-up. And since Froome missed the Tour de France, he'll want to make up for it.