How the world of road cycling needed a Chris Froome. In a sport which in the past year has had its reputation perhaps irrevocably tarnished by the shameful truths about drug-cheat Lance Armstrong, who was stripped of all 7 of his Tour de France titles, the rise of Great Britain’s latest cycling superstar and his domination of this year’s Tour was a pure breath of fresh air.
Froome’s achievement was not just an example of another all-conquering British cyclist. His performance gave road cycling, in its darkest ever hour and at its greatest time of need, what it had so desperately yearned for. In the 100th edition of this historic sporting event, and the first since Armstrong’s web of lies spectacularly unravelled, it had a true and deserving champion. And 12 months after Sir Bradley Wiggins made British sporting history by becoming the first from these isles to win the tour, we had our second British winner in as many years.
The 28-year old man born in Kenya and educated in Johannesburg, who was the leading star of the supporting cast to Wiggins last year, came into the final stage with a massive five minute lead, allowing him to bask in the splendour of his achievement on the way to the finish line with his loyal Sky team mates. His eventual winning margin was 4 minutes and 20 seconds. It had been his first real opportunity to cement his status as Sky's leader for the Grand Tours – it was one he fully grasped and never relinquished.
Froome had dominated the preceding 20-stages of the race, taking three stage victories – one at the distinctive Mont Ventoux mountain top in Provence to clock up the biggest winning margin in 16 years. It was a fitting reflection of the form book, with Froome having excelled in multi-day cycle racing this season, winning four major events before a Tour for which he was the clear favourite.
He came to this tour physically near his peak and had finished in the top four in three Grand Tours in the last two years, subsequently having the perfect blend of form, experience and patent talent. He controlled the race from start to finish in a more mountainous tour that was perfectly suited to his strengths. As an older generation including Alberto Contador have gradually faded into the sunset in a time of transition for cycling, Froome has come to the fore.
The 2012 runner-up won this year’s event at a canter. The pressures of wearing the yellow jersey could have been too much for Froome. Yet it fitted him perfectly. The constant questioning about doping could have distracted him. It didn’t. Top riders like Contador, Quintana, Kreuziger and others attacked him remorselessly. He out-performed them. It wasn’t an uncomfortable battle to victory, it was a glorious procession. He pedalled uncompromisingly and ruthlessly through the 2115 miles towards a famous win.
It was a staggering triumph which many hope will help mark him out as a fitting new champion - inspiring, clean and breaking new international barriers. He is a perfect ambassador for the sport: courteous, sincere, tremendously gifted and, most importantly, someone the fans can trust. His accomplishment is even predicted to have a positive effect on the sport in Africa.
Unfortunately, Froome had to face pointed questions from the media throughout the tour on the subject of doping and about whether he was clean, given Sky’s recent success, especially after his runaway win on stage 15 on top of Mon Ventoux. Perhaps the small number desperate for him to fail or be found to have gained an unfair advantage just could not believe what they were seeing. Froome has repeatedly spoken out against the use of drugs within his sport and is passionately against it. He can lead the peloton in the new era of drug-free cycling.
We have become rather used to seeing British success at this most gruelling of sporting spectacles during an astonishingly successful period for all forms of British cycling. Whether Froome’s, and Britain’s, dominance continues in what could at present be more conveniently called ‘Les Tours Anglais’ remains to be seen.
Yet, what cannot be doubted is that after the devastation wrought by Armstrong and the others who sought a short cut to glory, the healing process for world long-distance cycling has now begun. And Chris Froome has been the perfect remedy.
Cycling is in desperate need for a new hero in whom to invest some faith in the post-Armstrong age. It is looking for a new poster boy. As Froome, the man whose cycling career began back on the dirt roads of Nairobi at the age of 12, stood illuminated on top of the podium in yellow in front of the Arc de Triomphe, you couldn’t help but feel that that search can now be called off.