He showed just a smidgeon of what is to come the next three weeks, but it was enough to send a none too subtle message to his rivals, writes Anthony Tan from Ajaccio.
He wanted to show how easily he could gap those seven or eight so-called contenders; he wanted to send a message: don’t mess with the Froome-dog.
Apparently, Chris Froome is beatable.
That’s what the “seven or eight riders who really stand out as potential winners”, as mentioned by Froome last Friday, would like to think. But the reality is, provided the man from Nairobi does not crash, or fall ill, the quizzical, lanky-looking lad will become the hundredth man to stand on the Tour’s final podium come July 21.
Sky Procycling will employ the same tactics to win this year’s Tour. It worked last year for the mercurial Bradley Wiggins, and it will likely work better still for Froome.
Why? For a start, Froome is a self-made man; Wiggins is a product of a system, albeit a very good one. This means that the former is able to think for himself a little more, a little better, and having experienced more varied situations throughout his life, as opposed to being cossetted by the folk at British cycling, he isn’t as easily flummoxed by things new or unusual.
And just look how he climbs.
When asked to compare Wiggins and Froome as leaders, team-mate Richie Porte said the former “climbs totally different to Chris… Chris is a bit of a thrash machine”. Sunday, on the Côte du Salario, a kilometre-long pinch that averaged 8.9 per cent, positioned 12km from the second stage finish in Ajaccio, Froome demonstrated just that. He didn’t need to, but he wanted to – he wanted to show how easily he could gap those seven or eight so-called contenders; he wanted to send a message: don’t mess with the Froome-dog.
Ian Chadband, one of my two travelling colleagues on this Tour, and chief sports correspondent for The Telegraph in London, recently interviewed David Kinjah, the man responsible for grooming the Froomey from pup to pit-bull. In his pre-teens, Froome was already doing rides up to 200km long, furiously pedalling – “thrashing”, even – his battered mountain bike over the Ngong hills in Kenya, “camping out in the bush on maize, mangos and big dreams”, wrote Chadband whimsically.
“We tried not to be soft on him or have sympathy for him,” Kinjah recalled.
“We always counted ourselves as hard-core. We have drudge, we have hard life here. So we’d say: ‘Chris, this is African life, my friend! Too hard for you!’ But he wouldn’t take that. He’d stand up and growl: ‘I’m one of you guys and whatever you do, I do it too!’ If we tried to stop him, he protested, thought we were being unfair and said: ‘I’m going to finish!’ He always had courage.”
Walking along the beach one day, a metal spike went straight through Froome’s foot, his brother Jeremy remembers. “It needed a hacksaw to cut it off and though it must have been excruciatingly painful, he never complained, just stayed quiet. That’s Chris. People see a quiet, polite soul but inside he’s fiery and strong.”
As for the unfounded innuendo that Froome was a nobody before joining Sky in 2010 and so ‘he must be on something’, there is a reason why his formative years as a pro were curtailed: the dams and rice paddies where he fished and hunted were entrenched with the debilitating parasitic virus known as bilharzia, which hampered all three brothers Froome and, said Chadband, “seriously stunted Chris’s first years as a professional”.
Before the Tour began in Porto-Vecchio, Kinjah told ‘Chad’ that he was trying to get enough money together to buy a decoder to access cable TV, so he can show Kenya’s next big cycling things daily highlights from this year’s Tour. He’s also hoping Froome can send him a maillot jaune to auction off, so that, once sufficiently motivated by what they see, he has the funds to allow his protégés to follow in his erstwhile understudy’s footsteps without the need to change passports, as Froome had to do five years ago.
I’d say there’s reason aplenty to beware the Froome-dog, wouldn’t you?