The rider in the yellow jersey is cycling’s most celebrated champion – and for the last few years the secret to his Tour de France success has been Johannesburg.
Four-time Tour de France winner and defending champion, Chris Froome, might race under a British flag but he’s undeniably African. Born in Kenya and schooled in Johannesburg, the St John’s old boy retains a southern hemisphere training base in Gauteng, which is a very improbable road bike training location.
While other professional riders frequent the Canary or Balearic island to achieve their crucial off-season training volumes, Froome prefers to log his mileage in and around Africa’s most industrialised city.
Beyond the abundance of sunlight, it’s the altitude of Gauteng which appeals. Froome spent the first 14-years of his life in Nairobi, which at 1,795m has similarly thin air to Johannesburg. Pacing his gargantuan training mileages in the rarefied atmosphere of Gauteng makes Froome work that much harder for each kilometre logged – and prepares him for the Tour de France’s most testing stages, which often peak close to 2,000m in the Alps.
During his January 2018 training block Froome recorded one particularly astounding day of riding. Titled as an "empty the tank" ride on Strava, the popular cycling peer review app, Froome illustrated just how extreme a single-day ride around Gauteng and the North West could be.
Departing his Parkhurst home at 06:30AM Froome rode for seven hours, including a few breaks, to tally an incredible distance of 271km, climbing 3,485m along the way, while averaging 45km/h. This monumental ride was the peak of Froome’s off-season training, culminating an excruciating January for the greatest African road cyclist in history. In a mere month he’d ridden 4,500km.
Whereas most of his peers prefer the perfectly kept backroads and lightly traffic, Froome is energised by returning to his adopted African home city each year. Not even a crash midway through his brutal January training cycle, during a 201km day, could deter Froome’s enthusiasm for road biking in Johannesburg.
Most Tour de France champions are groomed in the epicentre of global cycling – Europe – but Froome’s road to becoming the world’s most famous rider routed from Nairobi, through Johannesburg, to his current seasonal residence in Monaco. Despite all the fame and adulation, Gauteng draws Froome back each year. He values the environmental benefits of Johannesburg, its altitude and fair weather, which is unrivalled for rides who wish to train at Alpine altitudes without the risk of snow or hypothermia in December and January.
A self-acknowledged "fair weather" rider, Froome dislikes training in near-freezing temperatures, layered in extreme riding gear – which is a reality for nearly all his rivals and team mates who remain in Europe during the South African summer. Fluent in English, French, Italian and Swahili – Froome’s South African training vacations also give him an opportunity to practise his Afrikaans.
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