'I feel five years younger' – Chris Froome ready to take on 2024 with fresh motivation
Seven-time Grand Tour winner on returning to racing, Tour de France ambitions, and working with Factor
Racing News Editor
© Sprint Cycling Agency
Chris Froome is hoping he can get back to the Tour de France
For most professional riders, an autumn trip to race in Hainan and visit your team's bike manufacturer's HQ in Taiwan might not be the most exciting prospect – principally an exercise in satisfying your team and sponsors at the end of a long season.
Yet for Chris Froome, the Tour of Hainan was a refreshing return to racing after two months away. The trip to Factor’s base in Taiwan, meanwhile, was not just a visit to a sponsor, but a chance to see the fruits of his own labour; Froome is an involved investor in Factor bikes, as well as riding their bikes in races.
Froome was passed over for this year's Tour de France, a race he has won four times. Bitterly disappointed, he instead took on the Czech Tour, where he failed to finish on the final stage. Since then, he hasn’t raced all summer.
In October, determined to go out of this season with a bang not a whimper, the 38-year-old headed to Asia to try his hand at the Tour of Hainan and the Japan Cup. These are lower-level races, especially for a Tour winner like Froome, but he hoped they’d give him a taste of positivity ahead of his 2024 campaign.
“The first couple of days I really struggled in the race,” Froome said of his time in Hainan, where an illness derailed his start. “But certainly through day three, four, five in the race, I just felt as if I was getting better and better and better.”
After a difficult season, it’s perhaps no surprise that Froome’s results on paper were nothing stand-out, but the Brit was emphatic about how much the experience had buoyed him mentally ahead of next season.
“Even though I came in a little bit sick into the race, I came out feeling super,” he explained. “I mean really just feeling five years younger again - wanting to go in the break, feeling energetic, feeling completely rejuvenated.
"This has given me a bit of newfound motivation I guess, in terms of thinking about next season and how I approach next year. I’ve got no expectations on myself, but at the same time, I would really like to get back to the pointy end of racing again, so that’s really given me that bit of hope now."
The power of bike set-up
What is behind Froome finally feeling good on a bike again? From the way he speaks, you might start to imagine a dramatic change in training, a new coach, a revitalised approach to racing. But no, the thing that made the difference for Chris Froome was as simple as a bike fit.
“In the earlier part of the season, I’ve been battling with a lot of lower back pain, before the Tour de France,” he said, referring to the problem that more than likely contributed to his non-selection for the biggest race on the calendar.
After the severe injuries Froome suffered in a career-changing crash in 2019, the Brit has been no stranger to pain and discomfort in the last few years as he tried to return to his old form, but it turns out that the most recent problem is not in fact a hangover from that crash.
“It led me to basically go and really double down on checking my bike set-up and my position and everything,” he said. “We did find some pretty big discrepancies between my current position at that time, and looking back at how I was sitting when I was racing for Sky and Ineos.”
© Sprint Cycling Agency
Chris Froome in a position more akin to his old Team Sky posture
A tall and rangy rider with long arms and an upright form, Froome’s position on the bike isn’t particularly standard, which can make it harder to get right.
“That led me to go and make an appointment with a bike set-up specialist, to go and really check and see all the angles. Basically to get closer to and try and copy the position that I was sitting at previously when I was winning races, and I found that there was actually a really big difference in those two set-ups.
“We’ve made some big, big changes in terms of my position, but I am feeling much better now. And interestingly the back pain has just disappeared, so I think that was very much down to how I was sitting on the bike.”
Can a tweaked bike set-up change a rider’s trajectory? That remains to be seen, but it’s clear that for Froome, fixing that problem and riding pain-free for the first time in a long time has been a big boost.
Equipment matters: working closely with Factor
The specific work on Froome’s bike set-up is emblematic of a rider for whom equipment, bikes and technology are especially important. Not content to just climb onto the team bike provided and be done with it, Froome’s tenure at Israel-Premier Tech has seen him work closely with Factor, becoming a shareholder in the company and helping develop their race bikes.
Chris Froome visited the Factor factory in Taiwan
“For any professional bike rider, it's super important to be able to have that connection and relationship with the guys who are producing the bikes for you,” he said. “You always want to be involved, making it faster, making tweaks. Even just a few months into the relationship I knew I wanted to get more involved with these guys.”
The idea of a rider having involvement in the equipment they ride – particularly when you’re a seven-time Grand Tour winner – seems like it may be a given, but in fact, for Froome it was a marked change from his time working with Pinarello on Team Sky and Ineos.
© Sprint Cycling Agency
Chris Froome is hands-on and involved with Factor
As well as feeling like he was listened to with his feedback, coming on board as a shareholder has given Froome even more input into his equipment, from small tweaks to redesigning the race bike’s handlebar set-up at his request.
“Having this channel, I feel I've got an amazing opportunity,” he said of his partnership with the brand. “Every bike rider wishes they could have a direct line to the factory to make changes happen.
"Within months of saying about the handlebars, I had a finished product in my hands, ready to test, not having to give feedback to one person and then chase it up and see if they've followed it up to someone else. I'm passionate about my equipment, I always have been, so the two just go together.”
It’s clear this is a partnership that works, both for Froome and for Factor, who get to have one of the biggest names in cycling in recent years riding its equipment and acting as an ambassador for the brand. Even when relations with Israel-Premier Tech have been less rosy, the relationships between Froome and his bike sponsor has stood out.
The final piece: motivation
Despite the positives of the end of 2023 going well, his back pain issue resolved, and Froome and Factor working closer together than ever, it’s not hard to forget that for Chris Froome, the last few years have not been successful. In the face of repeated setbacks, staying motivated has been a question of managing expectations.
“Since my big crash in 2019, anything from here in terms of achievements, objectives, I don’t want to set a limit on what I’m able to achieve," he said.
"I just want to get the best out of myself. I want to be able to look back once I’ve retired and say that I’ve given it everything, no regrets. Whether that means winning a bike race again and putting my arms in the air, or just helping my teammates, I’m good with that."
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Froome is still hoping to rediscover some form of old
Whilst the outside world may continue to judge the 38-year-old’s success purely on his results at the highest level – something he admits may not come back – his own outlook takes a wider perspective.
“I think a lot of people really understand - you’ve won all the biggest Grand Tours in cycling, how can you be happy just to be a team player? And I genuinely just love racing. I love racing, I love being in the team environment, whether that’s winning or not winning.
"Of course I enjoy when I’m able to win – every bike rider dreams of winning the biggest races, but even though I’m in a position where I’m not winning it doesn’t mean that I’m not enjoying myself and not happy and grateful to be here."
The one big hope he does have, though, is to make a return to the Tour de France, perhaps not to win it, but to be back at the race which has given him so much success during his career. It’s clear that even now, nine months away from the race, that it’s something that’s on his mind, and any thoughts about 2024 are also about how he builds towards that one race.
Whilst he admits team goals will ultimately decide what his place is in the team, the focus is there, with plans ready for a more strategic racing programme in the first half of the year.
"I think I can only really control where I can get to as a bike rider and the preparation that I can do before the Tour de France, to put myself in the best position to be chosen for the Tour next year,” he explained. “So I’m going to do everything I can.”