The Chris Froome-Sylvan Adams honeymoon is over

Dueling statements from the four-time Tour winner and his team owner suggest an end is coming sooner than later.

Is Froome’s long run in the sport finally nearing an end? Photo © Kristof Ramon

Joe Lindsey
by Joe Lindsey 14.07.2023 Photography by
Kristof Ramon
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When Israel-Premier Tech announced its 2023 Tour de France squad, there was a name conspicuously missing. Four-time Tour winner Chris Froome, one of the team’s marquee riders, was left off IPT’s roster for the first time in his stint with the team. And he was none too happy about it.

In a video posted to his YouTube channel on July 13 (all-caps title “I WAS READY FOR THE TOUR”) Froome pronounced himself “disappointed” not to have been selected. “It was a pretty big letdown not making the Tour de France squad,” he said while parked under a tree mid-training ride. “This year I really felt as if I was on track. I felt as if, physically, I was ready.”

That might be a surprise to anyone familiar with Froome’s competitive results this year, and IPT owner Sylvan Adams certainly doesn’t agree. In an interview with Cycling Weekly’s Chris Marshall-Bell that published a few hours after Froome’s video, Adams offered a very different perspective. While acknowledging that he knew Froome was disappointed, he said his star 2021 signing hadn’t offered a good return on investment. “Absolutely not. How could we say we had value for money?” Adams responded to a question about Froome’s reported multi-million Euro salary. 

“This is not a PR exercise,” he said, although Adams has been on record that he wants to use cycling to promote Israel. “Chris isn’t a symbol, he isn’t a PR tool, he’s supposed to be our leader at the Tour de France and he’s not even here, so no, I couldn’t say he’s value for money.” Adams noted he’d brought Froome to the team to be a GC leader, and yet Froome wasn’t even capable of hunting stages. “If he wants to come here and hunt for stages he has got to displace one of these guys here and frankly he didn’t earn his spot.” Yikes.

A year ago, for one shining stage on Alpe d’Huez, the old Chris Froome was back. And then he was gone again. Photo by Mike Steegmans © Kristof Ramon

To make things even more interesting, this all happened on the very same day IPT dropped a gauzy press release about Froome’s recent multisport travel junket in Israel. A sample Froome quote: “You’ve got such a mix of so many different cultures that have come together to make this melting pot of life.” This quote, just as Palestinian-Israeli tensions reach multi-year highs, comes across even more cringe than blaming your equipment.

Truth be told, there had been signs that the IPT-Froome marriage was on rocky ground well before this development, including Froome’s repeated criticisms of team equipment. Froome’s dislike of disc brakes is well-known, and in February he blamed them for slow wheel changes that he said had doomed a breakaway at the Tour of Rwanda. Then, after his Tour non-selection, he again claimed equipment issues have prevented him from showing his form this year. But his latest video stops just short of blaming the team for those troubles.

Froome noted that an untimely flat tire necessitated a bike change at the CIC – Mont Ventoux one-day race, but that his spare bike had a mysteriously bent handlebar, which forced another bike switch. Froome added that he’s never been a great one-day rider. And he hasn’t, but his point wasn’t merely to explain his 55th-placed result, but rather a subtle dig at the team’s scheduling priorities because “doing a few one-day races wasn’t the ideal” preparation he needed for the Tour.

Of course, Froome did two European stage races this year as well: May’s Tour de Romandie, where his best stage finish was 98th, and June’s Route d’Occitanie, where he was an encouraging 14th on stage 1 before mechanical disaster struck again. This one’s even more mysterious than the Case of the Cockeyed Handlebar.

As Froome tells it, there was one good climbing day at Occitanie where he could’ve showcased his form, but he was prevented from doing so because, inexplicably, his saddle setback had slipped. “I just felt completely locked up through my lower back and I could feel something wasn’t right,” he said. “I just wasn’t pushing right on the bike.”

That’s curious, because teams keep detailed fit data on hand to set up bikes, and Froome, like many pros, is said to be pretty sensitive to bike-fit changes. Froome has also had the same mechanic, Gary Blem, since relatively early in his Sky days, so a setup error seems unlikely. Finally, both Factor’s Ostro VAM and O2 VAM bikes feature a single-bolt side clamp adjustment for both saddle angle and setback, meaning that if something came loose, Froome would be riding a teeter-totter. So again, there’s the curious convergence of bad result and a convenient mechanical gremlin to explain it.

Froome’s transformation from Grand Tour galactico to gregario has certainly been challenging for him, and it’s easy to pin his decline on the devastating crash at the 2019 Critérium du Dauphiné. But truth be told, even before his crash, 2019 wasn’t the kind of season he’d had in his Tour-winning years. And Adams said the team had worked extensively with Froome on rehab. “Chris’ performances [nowadays] have nothing to do with his injuries in my observation,” Adams told Cycling Weekly. “I don’t think Chris is using that as an excuse anymore.” That’s probably the one thing they agree on.

It’s easy to forget that, just five years ago, Froome almost became the first rider since Marco Pantani to achieve the Giro-Tour double. Photo © Kristof Ramon

In his YouTube video, Froome claimed he was reaching all his goals with race weight and hadn’t lost any muscle, before switching seamlessly into a lengthy shoutout to a maker of connected scales that sponsors him. When a commenter noted he had talked about weight but not fitness, Froome jumped in with a reply that he notably pinned to the top of the comments thread: “In terms of performance my coach said I was on track with building towards the tour. Unfortunately the [team’s] head of performance didn’t discuss this with my coach and made his decision without our input. So they looked purely at what happened on the road which was hampered by the bad luck.”

Yeah, that doesn’t sound like a rider who’s on the same page with his team. And it may get worse. According to Adams, Froome has a three-year contract that ends after this season. But the deal was initially reported as five years, and Froome, at least, seems to think he’s got another year at least. “I’ve started thinking about how I want to do things next year,” he said. “How I might try and change their approach to the Tour de France next year.”

If you asked a magic 8-ball, the answer would be, at best, “unlikely.” While Adams vowed that “the commitment I made to Chris was that he will retire on our team” he also sounds very much like a man with buyer’s remorse. Adams view is that the deal “can go up to five years if Chris so decides” while Froome speaks like 2024 is already locked in. All of which seems like the kind of thing a properly written contract would leave in little doubt, and could be a potent source of further friction, especially when, to Froome, all of his troubles seem to have causes other than Chris Froome.

Even as Adams held open the possibility of Froome in an IPT kit for another one or two years, he mused that retirement was probably close. “If he just doesn’t produce results in lower-tier races, would he really want to continue to be a pedestrian domestique on this team?” Adams mooted. Was pedestrian necessary there, because that seems like a dig.

Look, marquee rider signings sometimes just don’t work out; just ask Miguel Angel Lopez and Movistar. But unless Patrick Lefevere is involved, they rarely fall apart this publicly or messily. Does Adams blame Froome for not delivering results that would have saved IPT from relegation? It’s hard to say; Froome certainly didn’t add much to the points tally, but there wasn’t a bidding war for his services, so he didn’t exactly arm-twist Adams, a billionaire entrepreneur, into overpaying for a recently injured 35-year-old.

What does seem clear is that whatever the original affinity between the two sides, it’s rapidly dissipating into acrimony. The end is coming, and likely soon, and Chris Froome, pro cyclist-vlogger, will have to find new roads to ride.

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