PARIS, France, July 22 – When Chris Froome stepped down from top of the the Tour de France podium on Sunday, there was no plan for a lavish ceremony befitting of the most recent winner of the race’s fabled yellow jersey.
For Froome, the celebrations would amount to “an unforgettable night in Paris with some school friends” who had made the trip from Africa to witness the climax of his amazing journey from the dirt roads of Kenya to success in the world’s greatest bike race.
Born in Kenya, Froome’s love affair with cycling began shortly after his mother asked former elite mountain biker David Kinjah to coach her dreamy 11-year-old son, the youngest of three.
“She needed somebody to tap his prodigious energy, and somebody had told her that I could handle him,” said Kinjah, who remembers Froome fondly.
“The first time Chris came here with his BMX bike he was very shy…but he was also a very determined young boy.”
Froome, who speaks several languages including Swahili and used to sport an array of coloured Kenyan clothes and bracelets, remains shy and is still quietly-spoken.
And while resolutely British, he is still not quite sure which country to love most.
“I really do feel divided amongst those places” that you mentioned now, he told media on Saturday.
“When I go back to Kenya, even going through customs control, when the customs guys give you that big smile, that always makes me really happy.”
But the determination Froome showed during his early cycling days, when 100 km training rides with Kinjah were the norm, remains one of his overriding attributes.
Froome’s journey to cycling stardom continued apace when, following his parents’ divorce, he was sent to boarding school in South Africa.
Although rugby and cricket were the top sports in Bloemfontein, Froome soon found a channel for his passion in the many road races in the country.
Froome would often awake at 5am to beat the traffic and cycle for two hours before heading off to university, where he studied economics.
He soon came to the attention of Robbie Nilsen, who ran a local cycling academy, and progressed further thanks to his keen interest in nutrition, training and the science of sport.
Having competed for Kenya as an under-23 year old at the world road race championships in Salzburg, Austria, opportunity knocked for Froome when, aged 22, he was offered the chance to race for the Konica-Minolta team while training at the International Cycling Union (UCI) academy in Aigle, Switzerland.
“I made the decision then to put my studies on hold,” Froome said.
“I thought, I’m going to give this cycling a go. I put the studies on hold and gave it everything.”
Froome virtually sealed a move to the Barloworld team with victory on a mountaintop during the Giro delle Regione in 2007.
A year later, Froome paved the way towards representing Britain when he took a British racing licence, and his move to Barloworld gave him a taste of prestigious races like Paris-Roubaix, Fleche-Wallone and Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
The same year, Froome lined up for his maiden Tour de France despite having lost his mother Jane to illness only weeks earlier.
Froome finished 84th overall and 11th in the young rider’s classification, a result which, among others, prompted the interest of coaches at British cycling on the lookout for fresh, raw talent for the future Sky team.
Since his move to Sky in 2010, Froome has gone from strength to strength, benefiting from the world’s best coaches and methods.
From being “a rough diamond, in need of shaping and polishing”, according to his team, he has emerged into what experts believe is the perfect rider for the gruelling three-week Grand Tours.
Froome’s first major breakthrough was his second-place finish, ahead of Bradley Wiggins, on the 2011 Tour of Spain — a result which equalled Robert Millar’s second place in the 1987 Giro d’Italia as the highest placed British rider in a Grand Tour.
Having finished runner-up on the Tour de France in 2012, when his help in the mountains proved crucial for Wiggins’ victory, Froome made the most of his opportunity to lead Team Sky on his own this year.
He claimed two mountaintop stage wins and victory in an individual time trial to finish with an impressive winning margin of 4:20 — the biggest on the race since disgraced American Lance Armstrong won the 2004 edition with a six-minute lead on Andreas Kloden.
For Sky chief Dave Brailsford, it could be the start of the Froome era.
“Our team won’t be built around one person, but there’s no doubt about it,” Brailsford said Saturday. “He’s one of, if not the best rider in the world right now and there’s no reason to think that couldn’t continue.”