Chris Froome hit with flare-up of parasitic worms in 2021

Israel Start-Up Nation officials confirm four-time Tour de France winner was diagnosed and treated for bilharzia, the same parasite that zapped him a decade ago.

Photo: Ilia Yefimovich/picture alliance via Getty Images

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Chris Froome was hit with a flare-up of parasitic worms this summer that impacted his 2021 campaign, team officials confirmed to VeloNews.

The four-time Tour de France winner was feeling especially tired and weary throughout the 2021 Tour, and later underwent a battery of tests to see what might be bothering him, officials said.

The diagnosis? A return of bilharzia, the same parasitic worm that he was infected with a decade ago.

“Chris Froome had some medical issues this season, and he was completely blocked during the Tour de France,” Israel Start-Up Nation owner Sylvan Adams told VeloNews. “At the Tour, he told me that this year’s Tour de France was more difficult than any Tour he’d ever done before. He was expending massive amounts of energy.”

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Froome also confirmed to VeloNews he was diagnosed and subsequently treated for the parasite, but did not want to elaborate, suggesting he did not want to appear he was “making excuses.” Froome did say that he was successfully treated by team doctors and that he’s had a full recovery.

“I’ll be racing for a few years yet,” Froome said. “I just love racing and I am motivated to keep working and to keep racing. I had a few issues related to my recovery, and I think we’ve got most of those worked out on now. I’m excited [about 2022].”

In other interviews, Froome said was his 2021 season impacted with unspecified digestive issues, which the team later confirmed to VeloNews to be bilharzia.

After the Tour, team doctors put the Kenya-born Froome through a battery of tests, with some wondering if he was perhaps suffering from Barr-Epstein or issues with his femoral arteries in his legs.

Finally, doctors tested for bilharzia, a parasitic disease also called schistosomiasis, which struck Froome a decade ago when he joined Team Sky in 2010. The disease, which affects more than 200 million people worldwide and causes up to 200,000 deaths per year, is prevalent in Africa, South America, and Asia.

After his initial diagnosis a decade ago, Froome continued with annual check-ups for the parasites.

From the archives: Chris Froome still battling bilharzia

Doctors suggested that the parasite could have remained dormant in his system after being treated for it 10 years ago just as he was emerging as a stage-racing force, eventually winning four yellow jerseys, two editions of the Vuelta a España, and a Giro d’Italia.

Adams said Froome was immediately treated for the flare-up this summer and resumed racing at the Deutschland Tour in August.

“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,” Adams said. “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.”

Chris Froome preparing for decisive 2022 season

06 November 2021, Israel, Jerusalem: British cyclist Chris Froome (R) of UCI WorldTeam Israel Start-Up Nation (ISN) takes part in an exhibition ride organized by the team in Jerusalem. Photo: Ilia Yefimovich/dpa (Photo by Ilia Yefimovich/picture alliance via Getty Images)
Chris Froome, shown here riding with teammate Daryl Impey last week in Israel, is preparing for the 2022 season. (Photo: Ilia Yefimovich/picture alliance via Getty Images)

The flare-up of the parasite marks the latest hurdle for Froome in his ongoing recovery from his devastating training crash in 2019 ahead of a time trial stage at the Critérium du Dauphiné.

Following a series of surgeries and rehabilitation, Froome returned to racing in 2020 and moved to Israel Start-Up Nation in 2021 in a high-profile transfer. Despite remaining optimistic about his future, Froome has not won a race since the 2018 Giro d’Italia.

Also read: Sylvan Adams: ‘ISN is not a government project’

The confirmation of the diagnosis comes as Froome and Israel Start-Up Nation prepare for the 2022 season.

The 36-year-old Froome and his Israel Start-Up Nation teammates spent a week in Israel in a team-building camp that included visits to some of Israel’s top historic sites as well as a mix of road and mountain bike riding.

The team will buckle down with more intense team training camps in December and January before making racing debuts next season.

Froome has yet to outline his 2022 schedule, and lead sport director Rik Verbrugghe said the team’s racing calendar will be mapped out soon.

“We have our strategy for next year.  And hopefully, he can come back to the next level,” Verbrugghe told VeloNews last week. “The calendar? That’s something we need to discuss. We need to do the debriefing, and then we will set the goals and how we are going to do it. I have my vision on it, and I will explain it first to Chris. We will do it step by step.”

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