With 875m of climbing over 15.8km, it was a tough road for everyone. And a very familiar one for Israel - Premier Tech’s Chris Froome.
The time trial start ramp was installed in the middle of the small road leading up to the UCI World Cycling Centre (WCC), where Froome, now 36, was a UCI WCC trainee for five months back in 2007.
“I had to pinch myself before the start, riding that same road that we used to ride between the boarding house and the World Cycling Centre,” said Froome. “The roads are the same, and the climb up to Villars, it is all so familiar. It really does feel like I have time-travelled back 15 years.”
Froome was just 21 years old when he arrived at the UCI WCC from Nairobi, Kenya, where he was born, to British parents, and grew up. His time spent at the high-level training centre in Aigle enabled him to get a first experience of cycling on the European continent. He soon began winning, he went on to sign his first professional contract, and the rest is common knowledge: he has won all the Grand Tours (the Tour de France four times, the Vuelta Ciclista a España twice and the Giro d’Italia). His other multiple victories include two at the Tour de Romandie (in 2013 and 2014).
Experiencing life as a professional
Despite his incredible achievements, he has not forgotten his days as part of the UCI WCC’s Under-23 development team.
“I genuinely believe that was a huge contributing factor to me being able to turn professional. Coming from a developing country, having grown up in East Africa, in Kenya, there was no clear path to professional cycling. It was a real stepping-stone for me. I came in not knowing anything about professional cycling. To have seven Grand Tours under my belt… I’d never have dreamt it.
“The World Cycling Centre gave me an opportunity to experience what life is like as a professional cyclist and to have that support structure. I am extremely grateful to have had that opportunity.”
Chris Froome still remembers his first races with the team from the UCI WCC, which included the GP Tell, a UCI Under-23 Nations Cup event in Switzerland. It turns out that he was fighting for podium positions with a certain Jakob Fugslang… now his Israel - Premier Tech teammate: “We didn’t even realise. We just looked at the results yesterday!”
The same year Froome claimed first and second places in two stages of another UCI Under-23 Nations Cup event, the Giro delle Regioni: “They were my first stage races in Europe, and they were with the UCI development team. I think it’s thanks to those results that I actually signed my first professional contract.”
Soaking up the coach’s advice
Back in the days, his UCI WCC coach and Sport Director was Michel Thèze.
“An amazing man,” says Froome. “I learnt a lot from him. He was incredibly insightful and patient - which I think you need in that role! - and with loads of experience. I just soaked up every word he had to share as I was coming into cycling completely oblivious.
“I really do feel my time here with Michel Thèze was hugely instrumental in everything that happened afterwards.”
Chris Froome is aware that other international talents have emerged from the UCI World Cycling Centre, including several from Africa such as Eritreans Daniel Teklehaimanot, who in 2015 became the first sub-Saharan African to wear the polka dot mountain classification jersey at the Tour de France, and Biniam Girmay, who recently claimed victory in Gent-Wevelgem in Flanders Fields.
“That is so incredible. There really is huge talent in Africa,” says the champion, who would like to get involved in development on the continent, in particular with his former mentor David Kinjah.
For now, Froome, who suffered multiple serious injuries at the 2019 Critérium du Dauphiné and had to delay the start of his 2022 campaign due to a knee problem, is reveling in the fact that he is injury-free. He looks forward to getting back into his best shape as the season progresses.
Sitting outside his team’s bus at the UCI World Cycling Centre yesterday, he said: “It almost does feel as if I have a similar sort of mindset as I had back in 2007. I know what I need to do. I need to do the work. It’s still all ahead of me.”