Chris Froome on top of the world
CHRIS Froome completed his decade-long journey from the backroads of Kenya riding an MTB bike as a kid to the pinnacle of world cycling on Sunday as he claimed his maiden Tour de France victory - and Great Britain and Team Sky's second in a row.
A quick glance at the overall classification of the Tour de France confirms that - once again, as with Sir Bradley Wiggins last year - this was no opportunistic, flukey triumph. Froome's lead of five minutes and three seconds over second place Nairo Quintana, the dazzlingly talented Colombian climber who looks set to be one of his top challengers next year, is the biggest winning margin since 2004. But this time round, neither Quintana or Joaquim Rodriguez could challenge the 28-year-old Sky rider. The rider who arguably tried the hardest to meet Froome head-on, archrival Alberto Contador, paid the highest price for his refusal to conform with the Sky rider's domination - and finished fourth.
There are three stage wins, too, in the bag for Froome, one of them on the Mont Ventoux, France's single hardest climb where Froome effectively made the Tour his to lose. And even when he thought he would not have a chance of victory, in last week's time trial at Gap, Froome still won: he was that good.
Froome's domination was such that he came within a whisker of taking the King of the Mountains title, too. If there was a chink in his armour, it was the uneven support from his Sky team-mates, beset with injuries since day one and making one important tactical error when they failed to anticipate a collective ambush by Contador's Saxo-Tinkoff squad on the flatlands of central France.
And in the setpiece major challenge,s the mountain-top finish stages and the time trials, Sky have been un-matchable. Each time, Froome has gained a great margin on his main rivals, even when he had a rough day on Alpe d'Huez. A touted second place in Paris for Richie Porte - matching Sky's top two places on the 2012 podium with Wiggins and Froome may have gone up in smoke in the Pyrenees. But after a runner's up finish in the Tour de France 2012 and the Vuelta a España in 2011 already to his name, Froome, therefore, is confirmed as the new king of stage racing. And he is far from ruling out future Tours, either.
"This success here has set an amazing platform for me"; Froome said yesterday, "going forward the experience of everyting I've done building up to here has really been a massive learning curve, as much as this Tour itself has been. It would be a shame not to carry that experience forwards and use it in future editions.
"It is hard to talk too far in advance now, but if I look at my career now and at what my ambitions are as a pro cyclist, to come and target the Tour again has got to be my biggest goal. And to be able to do that year after year through your prime period has got to be my main focus."
"I'm pretty well balanced in terms of I can time trial pretty well, I can climb pretty well....I can't see what else they can put in the Tour that I would struggle with."
However, Froome is not the only rider to have had a breakthrough in terms of the term overall - and at his own level, the rider who stood closest to him on the podium, Colombia's Nairo Quintana was just as impressive.
The winner of the final mountain stage, second overall and winner of the Best Young Rider would be an impressive enough debut for the 23-year-old Movistar rider - the first rider to stand on the podium of the Tour in his maiden race since Jan Ullrich in 1996. But on top of that, Quintana is also the youngest rider ever to win the King of the Mountains jersey since legendary climber Charly Gaul in 1955, who won it aged 22. And Quintana is the first rider to net two second classifications, too, since a certain Eddy Merckx did so in 1969. Watch this space, then, with a capital w.
But if Quintana is the future - perhaps - of the Tour de France, there is no question as to who dominates its present. And on the wider scale, Froome's victory reinforces Great Britain's position as one of the super-powers in road-racing. This was not begun by Sky, but was a development initiated by Mark Cavendish when he won multiple stages of the Giro and Tour in 2008 and continued by Bradley Wiggins, with Garmin, with his podium finish in the Tour in 2009. Froome and Wiggins, with Britain's first ever 'double' podium on a Grand Tour in the Vuelta a España in 2011, then Wiggins Tour win in 2012, have now taken the sport to new heights.
On top of that, Froome's long journey from the Kenya backroads via a South African university education and racing in Italy in his early professional years prior to Sky is a story of what cyclng's bigwigs like to call mondialization - or the spread of interest and successful riders out of Europe and the USA into other corners of the globe.
Australia already had its first Tour winner in 2011, but that year there were just five African-born riders in the sport's top two tiers - ProContinental and ProTour divisions. By 2013, though, an African team had won a first major Classic - Milan-San Remo this spring for Gerald Ciolek the MTN-Qhubeka, and an African-born rider, who speaks Swahili and races with two Masai tribe spears painted on his bike, has taken the Tour.
If Quintana's second place sees Latin American return to cycling's blue riband race at its highest level ever, in the same Tour that saw a South African, Daryl Impey, in the race, leader Froome's victory, therefore, represents a huge breakthrough for a new continental player in the sport. For a centenary edition, then, something very special - and not just for British cycling.