We ride with the triple Tour de France winner in Monaco, the closest thing he’s got to home roads.
So you’re going for a ride with Chris Froome, eh?” a friend back home in Northumberland said. “That’s pretty cool.” I’ll be honest, the prospect was. Froome, the Côte d’Azur, a bike ride – there’s a lot to like there. A couple of buts held me back initially. Ever seen photos of the Daily Mail’s chief football writer Martin Samuel down in Cobham of a Wednesday, having a kick about with Chelsea? No, of course not. Serious journalists don’t go onto the field of play with their subjects. It’s a bit cosy, and in cycling such an outing inevitably results in burning ears for months afterwards. Honestly though, I’m not all that serious. That’s a realm for finer, more forensic minds than my sclerotic grey matter can attain, so it was a comparatively easy hurdle to overcome.
Something else checked my headlong rush into a quick ‘yes’. ‘Amateur crashes with triple Tour winner, scuppers 2017 title defence,’ is just the sort of catastrophic, career-ending headline that’ll keep one awake at night. I’d already weaselled out of one opportunity to join the Team Sky leader on a ride when he’d been in Southampton doing wind tunnel testing before the 2016 Tour. This time it involved a trip to the south of France and the pros finally outweighed the cons. Trusting to Cycling Plus’s generous insurance for covering acts of lunacy, I found a bike hire company and booked myself a Trek.
Perched on a fast road with a view over Monaco sits Team Sky’s Côte d’Azur base. The house is in Beausoleil, on the French side of the border but it tumbles down the slope into the tiny principality. There was a predictably impressive view from the terrace. The red roofs of villas, an enormous blue skyscraper called the Odeon with a £240m penthouse on the top, the famous marina: it all gives way to the vast blue Med, flecked with white yachts.
When we turn up the only clue the two-bedroomed, double-garaged villa with a swimming pool and patchy lawn is Sky’s, is the slip of paper in the letterbox: Tour Racing Limited – the name of the holding company that owns the British team. Inside, it’s cool, clean and comfortable in the way a smart bachelor pad is, but it’s unmistakably a functional place. There is an espresso machine, but it’s not a flash one; there’s a fridge, but it’s broken.
We Whatsapp Froome, and 15 minutes later he’s ridden up to meet us. His wrist carries the beads and bands a gap year student might have picked up in Africa. In his case they’re reminders of where he’s come from: British parents, born in Kenya, raised in South Africa and now, if you look at his travel itinerary, a global nomad.
He fills my water bottles, invites me to help myself to the gels and bars, and offers a choice of routes. There are a couple of Madones in the region, but one suggestion is the big kahuna, the Col de la Madone de Gorbio. It’s the one that many of the 40-odd pros who live in Monaco, or within spitting distance, use to test their form. It’s the one that Lance Armstrong made famous, that Trek still names a frame after. That’s two hours, without cafe stop. The second option is to use much of the Madone climb but turn off to the right and head to the hilltop village of Saint-Agnes. That’s about 90 minutes all-in but reaches a cafe with sensational views out over the Med. Option B, please, Chris – these legs aren’t up to much.
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