Chris Froome may finally have some answers to the questions raised by his disappointing 2021 season.
A new team, a new programme, it was always going to be a big ask to place well in a Grand Tour as he continued his recovery from his horrifying 2019 crash, but add further illness into the picture, and the former Grand Tour winner's slow return to form makes far more sense. He was plagued by digestive issues particularly in the first half of the 2021 season, which he now knows was a recurrence of the debilitating disease schistosomiasis, also known as bilharzia.
We won't go into too much detail, but bilharzia is a disease caused by parasitic worms and can lead to symptoms such as diarrhoea and abdominal pain – not things you want while you're riding a bike for a living.
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Although Froome was reluctant to confirm the re-diagnosis, the owner of his Israel Start Up Nation team, Sylvan Adams, told Velonews that "he tested positive for bilharzia, took the medication for it, he’s now negative for it, and went on to have a good finish to the season.”
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This isn’t the first time the four-time Tour de France winner has suffered from the condition, after returning positive tests at the start of his professional career in 2009. He received treatment then and his impressive acceleration to the top of the sport was widely held to be due, in part, to his recovery from the condition. It’s clear from his comments that Adams hopes this will happen second time around as well.
“He immediately started to show improvement in his numbers, and we are optimistic we will see the old Chris Froome again, and he can be up there and contend for the Grand Tours.”
But will we really see a resurgence of the mighty Froome? Or is it too little too late? His return to the Tour de France in 2021 was unremarkable, but given he was suffering from bilharzia at the time, his underperformance is unsurprising. Froome is not one to make excuses for himself, but even finishing a three-week Grand Tour with a disease like bilharzia is impressive. And as the year drew on he proved himself a reliable domestique, helping teammates like Michael Woods to some decent end-of-season results.
Although it would be fairytale-like to have Froome return from the brink of a career and life-threatening crash to Grand Tour glory, there are new players in contention with the rise of Tadej Pogacar and of course, Primoz Roglic. Even if Froome can find the numbers he previously had, it’s not a given that they will be enough to win that elusive fifth Tour. Fairytales do happen from time to time, however. Just ask Mark Cavendish. The Kenya-born rider isn't one to give up easily and – on the face of things at least – he has the backing of his team, who have been wholly supportive throughout his contract so far. Nevertheless, he is on a hefty wage at ISN and Adams will be eager to start seeing some return on his investment soon.
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