Monday, 22 July 2013

Chris Froome: An Icon Of Cycling

Kenya-born Chris Froome held the yellow jersey for 14 days as he proved success can come clean

I am writing this while watching the celebratory opening to the final stage of the 100th Tour de France; the riders have not yet reached the start, in Versailles, and there is a relaxed sense among them as Paris reaches a standstill. Chris Froome, decked in yellow, converses with his compatriots, shaking hands here and there and sharing a smile. The scale of the Kenya-born Briton's momentous achievement is beginning to sink in - not just for him, but  for his fans and everybody connected with cycling. By the scruff of the neck, a quiet, well-spoken yet iconic man is dragging the sport into a new era, in which doping is a thing of the past. 

After Bradley Wiggins' famous Tour de France victory in an incredible year for British cycling, the ideal (and, I must say, expected) way for Chris Froome to follow it up was to transform his second-place finish from last year into a victory; as the favourite to win the Tour, he has undoubtedly cycled out of Wiggins' shadow and become the new face of the sport following the reveal of the doping scandal in the process. 

However, he has done so in a completely different way to Wiggins; the way he has gone about his work is admirable to say the least. I feel compelled to defend him from those who call him robotic, despite his unwavering, unchanging personality when facing the media. He always seems rather quiet and focussed - he may not have the outspoken personality of Wiggins, but that is (obviously) because they are two very different people who I believe should not be compared. 

Christopher Froome is quite the unconventional hero. Along with his politeness and general calmness, his life story is a remarkable one; a constant relationship between man and bike that covers years and continents. To my amazement, I find myself discovering tale upon tale that gives Froome the inspirational ability to make grown men eye up skin-tight Lycra jerseys with a manner of newfound bravery and desire. . 

An increasing amount of people will be intrigued by the Brit's past due to his success and rise to fame. The 28 year-old was born in Nairobi in 1985 due to his grandparents' emigration to the Kenyan capital from Gloucestershire, and spent the majority of his childhood in the under-developed Kenyan capital, where as a child, he often suffered from Schistosomiasis, a parasitic disease carried by freshwater snails which is the consequence of contaminated water used for swimming or playing in. 

His love of cycling, combined with his late mother's support (who he dedicated his win to during his triumphant speech in Paris), brought him to his first bike race aged 12, where he met his cycling mentor, David Kinjah. The ex-professional described him as a "poor white boy" upon first impression, when recently speaking to The Daily Mail; this is a factor which lead them to become friends rather than simply just teacher and student - the two would often go mountain biking together, and have remained good friends over the years.

There are numerous stories from those who have known Froome, from his time in school and university in Johannesburg following his move there as a 14 year-old, about his love for cycling and how his time would often be spent in the hills on his bicycle rather than partaking in the average teenage pastime, for it was here that Froome began to immerse himself in road cycling. 

Turning professional in 2007 aged 22, Froome rode his first Tour de France in 2008. I find the statistics for his first Tour to be creditable, but hardly outstanding - he finished 84th overall and 11th out of the young riders. He was hardly at the level that, for example, 23 year-old Nairo Qiuntana, winner of both the King of the Mountains and best young rider category at this year's Tour, is at now.

His performances did, although, catch the eye of British Cycling coach Rod Ellingworth, and in 2008 he swapped his first professional team, Konica Minolta of South Africa, for Team Barloworld. He competed in his first Giro d'Italia, finishing 36th overall and 7th in the young riders' category: an improvement, for sure. Froome signed for Team Sky in time for the 2010 season, in which he partook in a number of races, including the Giro d'Italia again (from which he was disqualified), as well as representing Britain in the Commonwealth Games, banking a respectable fifth finish in the time trial. 

The 2011 and 2012 seasons witnessed Froome's breakthrough, and was when he began to become a familiar name and a certain presence in the cycling community despite his parasitic illness returning. He acted mainly as Bradley Wiggins' understudy and domestique in races like the Vuelta a España; the most obvious example of this was in the 2012 Tour de France when he finished as runner up behind Wiggins and went on to win bronze at the Olympics. He may have been overcast by bigger goings on around it, however his constant hard work, from when he used to follow the diet of Lance Armstrong as a young man in aid of improving his cycling to the race wins (the Tour of Oman, the Criterium International, the Tour de Romandie and the Critérium du Dauphiné) earlier this year, has paid off.

It has all lead to this. 

By now, it is nearing darkness in France as the first ever 'night' stage of the Tour ends, and the summer sun resides rather low in the sky, elongating the shadows of the trees which line the crowded Parisian streets and boast many iconic landmarks: the Louvre nestled in one corner, the Arc de Triomphe around another bend, the silhouette of the Eiffel Tower in the distance. The presentation ceremony has me in a dream-like state of pride as the moment we have all waited for, the emotional conformation of Froome's success, is unfolding before our eyes as his thin frame stands tall atop the podium as well as the UCI World Tour rankings.

Paris is alight in the darkening atmosphere after the yellow jersey bearer crossed the finish line, mainly due to the flashes of the cameras which swarm him: the winner of the Tour de France 2013. However, despite the artificial fireworks, the flashes of the cameras, the twinkling of the Eiffel Tower and the lit windows along the Champs-Élysées, the real light stands in the form of this lanky, beaming, Kenya-born 28 year-old whose sheer determination and drive has established him as one of the world's great cyclists, and a figure to admire in the sport's new, clean era. "This is one yellow jersey that will stand the test of time", said he: and in more ways than one, the iconic Chris Froome, a gentle beacon of hope, is perfectly right. 

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