Froome Rides to Tour de France Win From Potholed African Road

Chris Froome won the Tour de France to crown a journey that began with him riding a mountain bike on a potholed road near Kenya’s capital Nairobi with his mother driving alongside him.

Froome crossed the finish line in Paris yesterday to win the centenary edition of the race by 4 minutes, 20 seconds. Nairo Quintana of Colombia was second in his first Tour, and Spain’s Joaquim Rodriguez was third.

The son of a Briton who ran a safari tour operator in Nairobi in the 1980s, Froome is the second straight U.K. winner of the race with Team Sky, which is bankrolled by British Sky Broadcasting Group Plc. He was runner-up last year, when he helped teammate Bradley Wiggins win.

“It’s funny to think where I came from, it’s a very special feeling,” Froome, 28, told reporters.

Froome dominated the 21-stage Tour, holding the race-leading yellow jersey since winning the first mountain stage to Ax-3-Domaines on July 6. A week later, he left rivals including Alberto Contador trailing on a climb atop Mount Ventoux. Froome extended his lead by winning one individual time trial and coming second in another.

Six months after Lance Armstrong confessed to doping in winning seven titles, Froome has received numerous questions from media at the race about whether he too was cheating. Antoine Vayer, a former trainer of the Festina team, wrote in Le Monde newspaper on July 9 that according to his calculations Froome’s power output to Ax-3-Domaines was similar to Armstrong’s in 2003, describing it as “almost mutant.”

‘I’m Not Cheating’

Team Sky released Froome’s physiological data from climbs at this month’s Tour and other races to a trainer on the Francaise des Jeux team, who said he saw no anomalies in his performance, according to L’Equipe, the sports daily owned by the Amaury family which controls the Tour. Froome said July 15 his success is down to hard work.

“Lance cheated, I’m not cheating, end of story,” Froome told reporters. “I’m being accused of being a cheat and a liar and that’s not cool.”

Froome’s earning potential from endorsements the next year may be less than $1 million because of cycling’s association with doping and his “incredibly quiet” personality, Simon Chadwick, a professor of sports business strategy at the U.K.’s Coventry University, said.

“You’re up against it in cycling,” Chadwick said. “Companies are very cautious, and the amount of money is absolutely small.”

As a child in Nairobi where he went to a private school, Froome wanted to be a cyclist, according to Liz Tsakiris, a lifelong friend of his late mother, who died of cancer in 2008. Froome’s mother would drive in a Mitsubishi Pajero while he rode on a tarmac road to Lake Magadi, Tsakiris said.

‘Wiry Fellow’

“He was a wiry little fellow, who was very determined about everything,” Tsakiris, 67, said by phone from Naivasha, Kenya.

Froome’s mother, Jane, noticed a cyclist in his 20s riding a smarter bike and asked him to coach her son, Tsakiris said. The man, David Kinjah, encouraged Froome and took him for rides during school vacations.

“I probably ended up getting pushed most of the way home,” Froome told reporters. “I didn’t like to think that because I was younger I couldn’t do what he was doing.”

At age 14, Froome went to South Africa’s St. John’s College, where tuition and boarding fees top $16,600 per year. His father had by then separated from his mother, who remained in Kenya, where she was born. Froome had a roller-trainer in his dormitory, and a Kenyan national flag on the wall, former housemaster Allan Laing said. Froome, who lives in Monaco after a stint in Italy, says he feels British “100 percent.” His two elder brothers went to a U.K. boarding school.

Lucky Break

After leaving school Froome gave spinning classes at a Johannesburg cycling club, according to former teammate Ben Mwanje, who raced with him on amateur squads at the time. Froome abandoned an economics degree to try to become a pro cyclist, Mwanje said by phone.

In 2008, he rode his first Tour de France, finishing 84th, on a team sponsored by Barloworld Ltd., a machinery distributor near Johannesburg. Another recruit was South African Daryl Impey, from whom Froome took the yellow jersey at this month’s race. Barloworld’s decision to sponsor a team was a lucky break for the two riders, Impey said.

“It’s tough finding a team in Europe from South Africa, and hard to get visas to race,” Impey said in an interview last week.

Career Setback

In Froome’s first year with Team Sky in 2010, his career was set back when he contracted schistosomiasis, a parasitic disease also known as bilharzia, from drinking contaminated water on a visit back to Africa, VeloNews website reported in September 2011.

The disease, which went undiagnosed for a year, affected his performance and he was initially offered less than 100,000 pounds ($152,670) -- below the average pro rider salary -- to stay at Sky in 2012, according to Richard Moore, author of a book about the team, “Sky’s the Limit.”

Froome said last week he had the parasite that carries the disease in his system in January. The illness is kept at bay by a drug that kills the parasite, Froome said, adding he plans another check-up next month.

After a breakthrough second at the Vuelta a Espana in late 2011, Froome negotiated a 1.2 million-pound salary, 12 times Sky’s first offer, Moore said.

A Tour de France winner might get a $1 million bonus, former Euskaltel squad manager Miguel Madariaga said. Traditionally, the winner splits the 450,000-euro ($591,000) race prize money with teammates. For Froome, his achievement may beat any cash windfall.

“He said he wanted to be a cyclist when he was little but nobody took him very seriously,” Tsakiris said.

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