British Olympic cyclist CHRIS FROOME recently won the 2013 Tour de France. He spoke to Eve Middleton before the race about the country’s special place in his life and career
How much time on average do you spend in France every year?
Quite a bit – for racing there is the Critérium International in Corsica and the Critérium Dauphiné in Switzerland and France [Froome won both events this year] and then obviously the Tour de France. I moved to Monaco two years ago, so I like to say that I live in the south of France. All the training I’m doing is around there and over into Italy sometimes.
Where are your favourite places to train near Monaco?
I like the mountains, as it’s quieter and the roads are generally better for cycling. Normally I go up to La Turbie behind Monaco, then down across to Peille and over to Saint-André-de-la-Roche on the outskirts of Nice. For recovery rides the coast is more scenic, not to mention flatter.
When in France where do you like to spend your days off?
During the season I don’t get the chance to travel too much – during down time you want to be in bed or on the couch. However, last year I went to Saint-Émilion for a small Critérium race after the Tour de France – it was more of a fun event, so that felt like a holiday. It was beautiful area; a real change of scenery with rolling vineyards and very quiet small towns.
The area around Saint-Émilion is famed for its gastronomy – did you enjoy any dish in particular?
Yes – I had duck for one of the first times in France and certainly enjoyed that.
When in Monaco do you have the chance to use your French?
You can get by not speaking French in Monaco, but it definitely helps as doing all your admin and anything on the phone you have to speak French. My French isn’t the best but it’s getting better the longer I spend here.
Where did you learn French?
Growing up in Kenya, I was taught French at school there and then at secondary school in South Africa I did the equivalent of A-level French. In the peloton a lot of the riders are French and you hear a lot of the language being spoken; it’s something I’m around quite a lot.
Are there any amusing expressions or anecdotes that you’ve picked up in French?
Not many that I’d like to repeat!
When you’re in France do you enjoy a particular dish or food speciality?
I love a steak tartare when I’m training; it’s pretty good value and not something that’s going to be overcooked, obviously. The French have a very relaxed mentality towards their food and it’s nice to be able to enjoy that out of the [racing] season.
Let’s talk about the Tour de France – do you have a particular type of stage that you enjoy?
The last stage is the one that we all look forward to, rolling on to the Champs-Élysées at the end. This year is a bit different as they’re planning to have the finish in the late evening. I’m also looking forward to the mountain stages in the Alps.
How do you feel about the start in Corsica?
The first week of the Tour de France is always very stressful as the riders fight for position. In Corsica the roads are undulating and winding, with lots of lefts and rights, so it’s going to be tough to navigate those first three days.
How do you find attitudes towards cycling in France?
That’s one of the things that makes the Tour de France so special – the way that it’s embraced by the public. People make a day of it, coming to camp on the side of the road to watch us and have their picnic while we go past; it makes you feel that the Tour de France has a special connection with the French public.
When you have a break, do you plan to visit more of France now that you’re based in Monaco?
Absolutely – although I haven’t even been to Cannes yet and that’s within 60 kilometres. So there are definitely places that I’d like to see, but it will have to wait until we finish racing at the end of October.