22 July 2013
The 100th edition of the world’s most famous cycle race, the Tour de France, which ended in Paris on Sunday, had a distinctly African flavour to it, with Daryl Impey becoming the first South African to pull on the yellow jersey, and overall winner Chris Froome having strong Kenyan and South African connections.
Froome, born in Kenya, educated in South Africa and now a British citizen riding for a British team, became the first rider from Africa to win the race since its founding in 1903.
Impey made history early in the race when he became the first South African to pull on the maillot jaune after the sixth stage. He held onto it the following day, but conceded it when the race headed into the mountains for the first time, which was where Froome put his stamp on the race by winning the stage by 51 seconds over his Team Sky team-mate Richie Porte.
Despite coming under severe pressure the rest of the way to the finish in Paris, Froome never conceded the lead and added two further stage victories.
Born in Kenya, he first rode a mountain bike in the highlands above Nairobi under the direction of a dreadlocked mentor by the name of David Kinjah. Then, after finishing primary school, Froome attended St Andrews School in Bloemfontein before moving to Johannesburg to be with his father and continued his schooling at Saint John’s College from 2000 to 2003. After completing school, he studied at the University of Johannesburg.
Froome’s love of cycling, though, was evident while he was still in school and it was in South Africa that his professional career began.
He was part of the amateur Super C team before joining an under-23 team at the Hi-Q cycling academy in Johannesburg. Later, in 2007, he signed his first professional contract with Team Konica Minolta, which was at that time one of South Africa’s leading cycling teams.
A major break came his way in 2008 when he joined Team Barloworld, a British registered but South African sponsored UCI Professional Continental cycling team led by South African sprinter Robert Hunter.
It was with Barloworld that Froome first experienced the Tour de France in 2008. It was, however, a very tough introduction as the team lost the 2007 Tour de France King of the Mountains Mauricio Soler on the fifth stage following a first stage crash. Three more riders pulled out with injuries and Moises Duenas tested positive for EPO and was withdrawn before the start of stage 11.
Only four Barloworld riders completed the race, including Froome. He placed 84th overall and finished 11th in the young riders’ category.
In 2010, Froome joined Team Sky, a British team.
His breakthrough year was 2011 when he finished second in the Vuelta a Espana. After the race, it was revealed that Froome had been struggling with bilharzia for three years, which reduced his red blood cells, the opposite effect than the one sought by doping cheats. Once treated, his trajectory was up.
In 2012, he helped Bradley Wiggins become the first British winner of the Tour de France. Many believed Froome could have won the race had he been given free rein, but he wound up as the second place finisher behind his team-mate.
Later in the year, representing Great Britain, Froome won bronze in the time trial at the Olympic Games.
On Sunday, watched on the Champs Elysees by his South African fiancee Michelle Cound, who was incidentally introduced to Froome by Daryl Impey, he won the biggest cycling race in the world.
Froome trained for the Tour de France in South Africa and is set to return to his home in Johannesburg in November.