It’s All About Froome

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While I was riding in the woods yesterday I was thinking about yesterday’s stage in the Tour de France and the dominance of Chris Froome. His attacking Contador, seated, pedaling at a gazillion rpm’s, looking like a spider, wasn’t a pretty thing to watch. It seemed unnatural to say the least. But sports do release unnatural feats. It’s probably the most beautiful thing about sport.

What seems so “wrong” to me about the how Chris Froome is riding is that he obviously has the best power to weight ratio. He can climb a level above every other rider in the race, by far. And he can do this at will.

But he also seems to just have the most power of anyone in the race. He came within a stone’s throw of winning the relatively flat individual TT a few days ago when he weighs next to nothing and has nearly as much wind resistance as other guys that have 10-15 kg of body weight. This doesn’t make any sense.

I also don’t understand why he took, maybe, 3 bottles in the last 10 km of the climb yesterday. He took one bottle, then a mile later grabbed a musette that looked like it had a couple more bottles, at least. That was very strange. Just the weight of it would negate the benefits of the nutrition. I don’t know what was in that last feed to help him the last 20 minutes of the stage. Maybe he was replenishing for the rest day. It seemed weird.

When Wiggins and Froome finished 1st and 3rd in the Olympic Time Trial last year, it threw up a huge red flag to me. It just didn’t seem right that the two best climbers in the world should be able to time trial better than every other person on the planet. Scientifically, it just doesn’t make any sense. It would be like the lightweight crew rowing faster than the open guys. The guys with the most muscle, with the same amount of wind resistance, generally goes the fastest. Another comparison would be a runner that wins the marathon at the Olympics also wins the 400 meters. It just shouldn’t happen.

People have been comparing Froome’s climbing times and VAM results and they seem to come back suspect. He hasn’t been releasing his power numbers, so it is all speculation. His results make it all more concerning.

We’ve been shown abunch of unreal bike racing the last couple decades. We need to reset our beliefs about what should and does happen during a stage race. The same one guy shouldn’t always have the best day on the most important stages. There are 200 exceptional athletes in this race. A guy should be able to ride in the groupetto, resting up, and then have a stellar day. The rider in the yellow jersey has to expend an enormous amount of energy protecting that jersey, plus an enormous amount of energy doing off the bike obligations. Froome seems to have more than enough energy for all of that.

This speculation stuff is draining. But tons of others are doing it. Articles comparing Froome’s times to others historically. Velonews today, the majority of articles on their main page address either Froome doping or defending himself, declaring himself completely clean. They even have an article there that is quoting Alberto Contador as saying Froome is racing clean. Wow, that is a strange one.

I didn’t feel much like writing about this. Like I said above, it is draining and ruins some of excitement of the racing. But, in this day and age of the sport, performance like we’ve been watching have been proven over and over again not to be real. Paul Kimmage wrote an pretty good article at the He addresses Chris Froome a bit. He states that 3 years ago, at the Giro, Chris Froome was kicked out for holding onto a motorcycle on a climb. Now he can climb much better than any other person on the planet. That is a pretty astronomical change in a short time.

I doubt we’ll have any answers about this all any time soon. I guess we should just all sit back and try to enjoy.

I don't find Chris Froome a very pretty rider.

I don’t find Chris Froome a very pretty rider.

38 thoughts on “It’s All About Froome

  1. Anton

    And Richie Poorte can climb with the best of them when he’s not being told to ‘stop being so blatantly obvious’.

  2. SalRuibal

    Is it all about power-to-weight ratio? Froome is a stick figure, but even tiny creatures can produce power. The U.S. Dept. of Defense has made tiny generators powered by insects that have produced 45 micro-watts of electricity.

  3. Bill K

    I’m sure Froome is clean. Has he ever “Tested Positive”??….

    He’s been tested over 500 times.
    He’s winning now ‘cuz he’s riding at 120%
    His training plans are the “best in the world”
    His Coach is the “best in the world”
    He lost all the weight when he had cancer.
    His team is so strong because they drink only the best “Spring Water”.

  4. Richard Wharton

    I still don’t understand why no one is complaining more about the ILLEGAL FEED Sky got at the 10k mark. If that were 200-300Kcal of food, that no one else was allowed to obtain, then that makes the feed itself a form of doping. It’s an illicit way to get Kcals, and 9:20 later, Froome kicked it in to overdrive. IMHO, it sullied the whole finish. It takes about that long for the nutrients to enter the bloodstream, so even if it was flat Coke…. it worked when others simply didn’t have that opportunity.

  5. Max

    One of Froome’s handlers speaking on his behalf is already hinting that his power figures are likely equal to or better than a “doped to the gills” Armstrong.

    As for Contador claiming that he believes Froome is clean. He is probably hoping his own doping program can catch up down the road. Wouldn’t want to ruin it for himself.

    This is when/where the teams that actually are committed to racing clean should be crying foul. If they stay quiet then “like in the days of Armstrong” they themselves will have little choice other than to dope if they wish to be competitive.

  6. Calvin Jones

    Froome, Shroome, whatever. Who can tell me about Friday’s stage and this issue of Cavendish riding to his car, taking off a shoe and passing it to the car? Can some give me, “…the rest of the story”?

    Thank you,

    Paul Harvey

  7. Euro

    Cavendish was probably needing his cleat tightened or adjusted. This happens fairly often in PRO racing.

  8. Euro

    Froome reminds me of the scarecrow from Wizard of Oz. He is the least stylish rider on the bike I have ever seen at that level. Sure is fast, but looks terrible doing it. I am very suspicious of his performances also…

  9. Fred

    It’s not just power/weight… or even aerodynamic resistance. Don’t forget efficiency.

  10. Fred

    He could’ve gotten the same calories from 2 gels, something he and anyone else could’ve carried with no detriment. Having said that, it was still pretty bush league.

  11. Just Crusty

    Two comments:
    a. According to Velonews, the “illegal” feed was approved at the last minute by the race officials. Sky was the only team that took advantage of it.
    b. If Armstrong’s doping only helped him develop his true potential via training harder and recovering faster, then it stands to reason that with the passage of time, science would develop new techniques which would accomplish the same thing legally. Or maybe the techniques are just designer drugs that accomplish the same thing as EPO/HGH but are either not yet detectible or not on the list as banned. Which means they are legal, right?

  12. jrmy

    @Just Crusty

    It does appear using EPO/HGH/etc would allow you to train harder and recover faster. And science may develop other strategies to accomplish similar recovery, although don’t forget EPO/HGH/etc is still science. The key item is that EPO and other products help you perform _above_ your ability. It augments your body. Just look at the recent EPO bust in the tour of Turky. If EPO only helped to train why would people be taking during an event.

    I believe you have the drug list wrong. There are actually an approved and a prohibited list of items. You may take the approved by default and if you have a TUE you could be taking one of the prohibited items. If it’s not on the list then it’s an illegal substance and you could be dq’ed for it. I don’t think anyone would logically create a banned list. It’s better to create an approved list and ban everything else. Otherwise it will always be a race to discover the next substance that has not been banned.

  13. Just Crusty

    No, no jrmy, say it isn’t so!!
    Froome said he was clean. Even Contador said he was clean.
    If we can’t believe his closest enemy, who can we believe?
    Well, this is disappointing.

  14. jrmy

    huh? Not exactly sure where you were going with that. My comment was not intended to be about Froome at all. :/

  15. Jason

    A couple problems with the post:
    1. He does not have nearly the same wind resistance as other big guys (think Martin here). He’s a freaking bean pole AND he just may have the best position of anyone right now – it’s absolutely amazing. His head is way low, his arms and shoulders are so small the wind doesn’t even consider them and his hip angle is great. We should be concerned with his flexibility as much as suspicion of dope.

    2. Wiggo wasn’t 1st or 2nd in the world of climbing. He was very good though.

    What I don’t think we are giving much attention to is dudes coming back to Wiggo or Froome rather than the Brit duo just being great dopers. To me it makes as much sense that they are rising simply because others are falling —– off dope.

    And Sky is obviously onto something here with the “spider” body type. Look who’s waiting in the wings: Dombroski and Boswell. This tells me there may be a lot to the idea of mechanic advantage from long levers, not to mention the simply ability to put out very large watts with a very sleak frame.

    Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt for sanity’s sake.

  16. Robert Dole

    Thanks, Steve,
    I was sorely disappointed in Froome’s performance. SOS (Same old stuff). Different day. It was absurd at how easily he dispatched his rivals.

  17. Alex Simmons

    Folks, please read the WADA code before commenting on the subject. That way one can dispel all this ignorant nonsense about what is/isn’t doping and about TUEs. There is no list of approved substances. And a substance does not need to be specifically named to be prohibited. Read the code.

    As for TT performance, the poster shows a distinct lack of understanding about aerodynamics.

    The power estimations from climbing speed are just nonsense, especially when there is wind of any magnitude.

    And none of this tells us anything about whether a rider may/may not be doping. It’s a folly to think it ever will.

    The feed at 10km to go was legal (and made complete sense to help riders begin their recovery early, as only a handful were actually racing the climb, most were just finishing the day off as least painfully as possible).

  18. joe

    Will we have to wait for Riche Portes book ten years from now,giving the details of how and what sky used to dominate ?

  19. Matt

    Steve, I love your site and saw you race in the QC criterium. Thank you very much for letting me live vicariously through your exciting and enriched experiences. Now my Froome comment: I’ve noticed that he tilts his head down and then waddles it back and forth until its upright and then continuously repeats the process. Almost like a metronome. Do you think It’s a breathing cadence thing with him? His spreading of the elbows out seems to expand the rib cage a bit, but does add to the ungainly factor. Thank you again, Steve.

  20. jrmy

    @Alex Simmons

    Folks, please use the reply system correctly. Replying to multiple comments in the same reply makes the post confusing. If you are replying to multiple comments separately, take the very small amount of time to actually reply to them in that way. I understand that the reply level appears to be limited to three. That does not justify including random comments that are not related to the comment you are replying to.

    On a slightly more serious note, as serious as internet comments get, I was mistaken about the approved list. Although I will say I noted in my reply it was just my belief. Based on your writing it appears you are pretty fired up about all of this. I suggest calming down a bit. It’s just people commenting on the internet. :S

  21. Steve Tilford Post author

    Alex and Jason- I need to address the aerodynamic issue you are bringing up. Froome does have a lot of drag. His frontal area might be up to 90% of a rider that has 30 lb body weight on him. It is the same as someone small, that doesn’t weigh very much. They have a very high percentage of the same resistance, wind resistance, without the benefit of the extra power/muscle to push the gear. On a flat time trial, there shouldn’t be a case where a 6 plus foot rider that weighs 150 lbs should be riding faster times than a rider with more muscle mass. There is a certain body type for each and every sport. And that applies to the sport of cycling. Did you see Wiggins weighing in at 150 lbs when he was winning the Olympic games on the track. I think not.


    Froome has the same profile as the Hunchback of Notre Dame….”The bells. the bells”……………

  23. Alex Simmons

    I do aerodynamic analysis on cyclists as a profession (along with performance coaching). Frontal area is only one aspect. It’s important for sure but there’s another vital aspect called coefficient of drag. Assuming Cd is static among riders would be exceptionally naive.

    And I can tell you that a LOT of pro riders have pretty ordinary aerodynamic set ups and do very little work on it. Some are woeful. Indeed there are many amateur and masters riders with far better aero than many pros (and a more professional approach). They just don’t have the same power.

    I’ve dealt with many riders of similar morphology who have vastly different CdA. Heck I have a former team mate who was same height and weight as me (actually he was a bit heavier) and we have similar power output as well, yet his CdA is 20% less than mine on our respective pursuit bike set ups. We used to ride the same bike and almost exact same kit. His natural body shape is just far more aerodynamically gifted than mine. That’s why he medals at worlds and I don’t even make state finals.

    Unless you have real data on such things, then it’s just speculation of a type that’s worse than all the crappy W/kg estimates people keep making from climbing speed.

    I don’t know Froome’s current CdA but my colleague did measure it in 2011. Since then his aerodynamics has improved with additional tunnel work and lots of time in his TT position developing his abilities further. A quick look at his TT position in 2011 and 2013 will show some differences (if you know what you are looking at).

    Either way, none of this tells us anything about a rider’s doping status.

  24. Fabio Cardoso

    Besides, we all know already what the human body can do when it’s not running with a TURBO…. I’m glad, I’m not the only one who thinks he is riding a bike 2 or 3 sizes too small for him. Can someone PLEASE adjust his bike seat’s height !!! He rides like the old dudes in my neighborhood on their kid’s bikes.
    ” Chris your kid just came by looking for his bike…. I see you got it.”

  25. Skippy

    My comment elsewhere :
    ” My recent tweet :
    ” Jacques Rogge welcomes YOU to the Pantomine of Sport! See the UNBELIEVABLE! Performances that will make Sponsors wonder! In the REAL World ?”

    UNTIL there is a ” T & R Comm. FOR ALL SPORT “, nothing is going to CHANGE !

    DOPING is OUT of CONTROL ! Catchup ? When are they going to catchup ? SEEMS LIKE THEY SACRIFICE A FEW ATHLETES IN Any Sport , then say ” See we are doing a Good Job “!

    A Closing date for ” Sealed Submissions of Guilt ” , then LIFE TIME BANS , for those discovered to have ” fudged the Truth “!

    In addition Athletes , locked up in their homes with ” Anklets” to save the community the expense of Prison Cells . Only the Suppliers and Team Managers should enjoy the comforts of a Prison Cell , fed on bread & water as a reminder of their claims of innocence !

    Perhaps the 3 bidons were full of water , some to pour over head & neck , for the cooling benefit ? Saw the pickups on TV , but saw nothing else after ?

    When i rode with Chris to the Teams Presentation , his pedalling & body positioning was calm , so like you , i find him ungainly to watch when he is struggling to conserve energy at the end of the day’s Etappe . Having ridden ” training with Valverde & Contador ” , through to the end of 40+km , i did not see the same aggitation . Having heard Chris P. describe Chris as emulating Paula R. , the media are only now noticing his ” Style ” on the bike ?

  26. Brad

    Alex Simmons:

    “Unless you have real data on such things, then it’s just speculation of a type that’s worse than all the crappy W/kg estimates people keep making from climbing speed.”

    We would all love to see “the real data” regarding rider power and aerodynamics, but Sky and most other professional cycling teams refuse to share it.

    Speculation is bound to occur absent the release of at least some of this data. Such speculation is entirely legitimate, especially given both the recent history of this sport and the remarkable nature of Froome’s performance.

    Attempting to police such speculation using argument from authority and unconfirmed anecdotes is probably not the best use of your time.

  27. Brad

    However, if the data ever is released, perhaps we can utilize your expertise as a professional in the field of “performance coaching” (ride lots, eat less) and “aerodynamic analysis of cyclists” (stay low, stop fidgeting) in analyzing it.

  28. Alex Simmons

    Say they do release it and we have more accurate power data. Then what?
    The speculation will not change. It will do nothing to help ascertain whether or not someone is doping.

    SRM make fine power meters, but they are not dopeometers.

  29. Alex Simmons

    Hardly, if that’s your sum total of knowledge on the subject.

    As for an argument from authority, well ignore my experience and instead focus on the actual physics. Attempting to normalise the aero resistance of different riders and use that as a means to establish power differential based on speed differences is simply nonsense.

    If you want to normalise ITT data, then you can make a reasonable stab at the differential in the power to aero drag ratios (W/m^2), and that assumes the same wind conditions (which can be problematic in itself when the rides being compared are on course several hours apart), but unless you know each individual’s CdA, attempting to derive power differentials is just pissing into the wind.

    Policing speculation? Sure, why not point out when complete bunkum is being passed off as valid information? Maybe people might learn something.

  30. OGS

    I think it would be very useful to compare the power and power/weight numbers to historical numbers. Currently we hear excuses that perhaps the only reason Froome’s climbing times at Ax3 are rivaled only by Laiseka and Armstrong is because of different conditions etc.
    However, if it turns out that he is able to produce, say, 6.8 W/kg, higher than Armstrong or Ullrich or Pantani, while the rest of the field is struggling to get to 6.1 W/kg, that would say something.
    Also, if he was struggling to produce much lower numbers in previous years or even earlier this year, but made a dramatic 10%+ improvement in power values just in time for TdF, that would be interesting data point to ponder, don’t you think?

    Frankly, I think he looks very inefficient and very un-aerodynamic to me, never mind his weird 120rpm pedaling style. But that’s subjective, as other posters here suggest that it may be that he is indeed very smooth and very aero, and maybe his equipment and other “incremental improvement” details make all the difference.

    Power numbers, along with other data would help address these and other issues.

  31. Sameoldsameold

    Well the data has been released to a French newspaper and a fellow named Frappe who upon studying them declared them within reason and possible.
    Mr.Frappe said the same thing about Lance back in the day.
    Great article Steve enjoyed it.
    I fear cycling at the highest levels is self-destructing.

  32. Charles Dostale

    Hands down the ugliest position / style was Michel Pollentier. I watched him climb part of Vail Pass from the follow van 1982 Coors, and it was an awful sight. A cross between a spider and a crab.


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