|Cover image © Penguin Books.|
I work in an English department at a secondary school so, naturally, my boss likes to buy all of his members of staff at book for Christmas. Having a little time to think about it, he chose the best thing possible for his cycling-obsessed English teacher; The Climb by Chris Froome.
In a manner similar to other sports autobiographies, The Climb is actually ghostwritten by the journalist of Lance Armstrong-hunting fame, David Walsh. The inimitable style of the Irish journalist is evident throughout the book, but it is easy to overlook this and believe that the words written are probably quite close to what Chris Froome would probably say.
Although my Head of Department tells me that the decision was purely based on Froome's sporting merit, he was quietly smug about the fact that the majority of Chris Froome's childhood was actually spent in Kenya. The East Africa connection, for me, is obviously something that I find difficult to ignore and, perhaps, has inspired me to want to take my beloved Sasha on a trip to Uganda one April.
Froome's story starts in Kenya in a reasonably affluent expatriate area of the capital Nairobi. The area, Karen, is named after Karen Blixen of Out of Africa fame. We learn that Froome's childhood was far from consistently comfortable. At a young age his parents became divorced and this meant that homelife, by the standards of regular white members of the Karen population, was actually one of relative scarcity. As time moves forward, this results in Froome splitting his time between Kenya and South Africa.
The first first section, in many ways, is the most interesting part. Froome rapidly grows up from being a strange mzungu who spends his time watching bike mechanics fixing bikes to meeting David Kinjah, the leader of the Safari Simbaz cycling team and the man who would help to push his cycling career forward. One words is mentioned or hinted at throughout the book: obsession.
In many ways, this section of The Climb also helps to answer my constant question: Why did Froome ultimately decide to represent Great Britain over Kenya in the end? One big answer: omnishambles.
The story that unfolds of Julius Mwangi, the chief of the Kenyan Cycling Federation, who is presented in the book as having all of the organisational skills of a rock. The first frustration for Froome seems to have been even getting recognised as a potential addition to the Kenyan cycling team, despite the fact that Mwangi's office had been receiving his results in the time period leading up to the 2006 Tour of Egypt.
When the team finally had their visa applications signed by Mwangi so that they could actually participate in the event, during the race he disappears in the support car meaning that when Michael Muthai finally succumbed to dehydration, he was just left at the side of the road. Fortunately, he survived by digging a hole in the sand and was eventually picked up by a Polish team member hours later. During the race, Mwangi, it transpired, had gone sightseeing around Cairo.
This, needless to say, wasn't the final act of silliness from the Kenyan Cycling Federation. It comes as no surprise that, when Froome is approached by a Team GB representative at the end of the Commonwealth Games road race in Melbourne, he jumped at the chance to join their development system.
The book, as far as ghostwritten autobiographies goes, is very interesting, sustained my interest well until and takes us to the end of his first Tour de France victory. There are moments of the same cringeworthy lexical choices that Walsh uses in Inside Team Sky, but there are many poignant moments that are described with subtlety and beauty that more than make up for it.