One of the world’s elite cyclists, Chris Froome, has announced on his Instagram page that he has gone vegan. He is one of a growing number of elite sportsmen who have made this step after watching the Game Changers documentary.
To the backdrop of a photograph of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream Froome announced:
“Decided to go vegan since watching Netflix – The Game Changers. Ben & Jerry’s has got me covered.”
Chris Froome is a four-time Tour de France winner which puts him in a rare category of elite sportsmen. There are few athletic events that make so many demands on an athlete’s body as the Tour de France, and it has long been seen as conventional wisdom that a vegan is unlikely to be able to be competitive for the Tour de France title. Chris Froome will challenge that notion in 2020.
Vegan success in the Tour de France really would be a Game Changer
If Chris Froome can come back from his injury and become competitive in the race for the Yellow Jersey, then it will be a pivotal achievement in the acceptance of veganism for top athletes. He is still in recovery after being hospitalised with a fractured right femur, a fractured elbow and fractured ribs on 12 June 2019 after a high-speed crash into a wall while training for the 4th stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné. He missed this year’s Tour de France as a result. His recovery is on-going and he has posted to social media that he is back training on the road.
There are many factors that persuade top sportsmen and women to go vegan. One of the themes in the Game Changers was how a plant-based diet can aid an athlete in recovery from injury.
The simple truth is that the Tour de France is without doubt one of the toughest sporting events. It is three weeks of relentless riding over 100 miles per day including mountain stretches in the Alps or Pyrenees with only one day off during that time. Just to finish the event is for many professional cyclists an achievement in itself.
The sport has had its problems with doping and it is to be hoped that these have now been dealt with. If cyclists are not looking at doping to achieve an incremental advantage, then nutrition is an obvious area to look to. The traditional view has been that eating a lot of animal protein with almost every meal was de rigueur to refuel the body after burning over 6,000 calories in a day of hard riding.
The first vegan cyclist to challenge this notion was Dave Zabriskie in 2011. A time trial specialist, he has had the distinction of wearing the yellow jersey and has won stages in all three Grand Tours. After blood tests revealed certain food sensitivities he began to phase out meat and eventually dairy. He put in some strong performances and maintained a stable iron level on his vegan diet. Subsequently, he added fish back to his diet. He competed in the Tour in 2011 as a full vegan but did not finish it after suffering a crash fracturing his wrist. He did, however, finish it in 2012 in a respectable 100th position.
Latterly, Adam Hansen the Australian cyclist has shown what is possible for a vegan cyclist. He has been fully vegan since 2017 having given up dairy in the mid-1990s. He holds the record for being the only rider to compete in twenty consecutive Grand Tours – he earned this distinction when he completed the 2018 Giro d’Italia. The Grand Tour means the three major cycling road races: the Tour de France, the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España.
Meat got some bad cycling publicity when Alberto Contador used it as his excuse for a failed doping test. He was famously stripped of his 2010 Tour de France title and banned for two years for a positive test for clenbuterol. He claimed it was caused by eating contaminated meat.
Chris Froome is recovering from his serious injury and entering a new phase of his career. If he can again challenge for a Tour de France Yellow Jersey as a vegan cyclist then he will break through a glass ceiling of what was previously thought possible.