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Chris Froome’s successful Tour de France bid was always going to be a test, but the Kenyan-born Briton’s head, more than his legs, arguably took the biggest beating on the race’s 100th edition.
“It’s definitely been a challenge,” said Froome as he reflected on three weeks in which his success has been scrutinised the world over by sports scientists and a growing army of armchair experts.
Froome ultimately savoured his maiden victory in the world’s greatest bike race on the Champs Elysees after finishing 4min 20sec ahead of Colombian climbing specialist Nairo Quintana.
Having already finished runner-up on the 2011 Tour of Spain and second best to compatriot and teammate Bradley Wiggins in Paris last year, Froome is already being regarded as the man to beat for years to come.
Tour legend Eddy Merckx suggested as much when he told French television: “I don’t see who can beat him in the coming years, unless Quintana significantly improves his time trialling.”
And Sky team chief Dave Brailsford certainly believes the “rough diamond” that joined Sky in 2010 has come through the polishing process admirably.
“He’s one of, if not the best rider in the world right now and there’s no reason to think that couldn’t continue,” Brailsford said.
Froome says he is not about to let up.
“I’m 28 now… and most cyclists come into their prime in their thirties. I’d love to come back and keep contending for the Tour de France as long as I can and as long as I’ve got the motivation.”
Froome’s triumph came with the biggest winning margin since disgraced American Lance Armstrong, stripped of his record seven crowns earlier this year, won the 2004 edition with a six-minute lead on German Andreas Kloden in 2004.
Along with some blistering performances in the mountains, where he spun away from rivals in impressive fashion, that statistic is unlikely to appease the sceptics who believe Froome’s displays have been enhanced artificially.
But supporters, like journalist David Walsh — who spent much of the past decade trying to expose Armstrong as a drugs cheat — believes Froome’s success has been earned through honest, hard work.
Froome only started watching cycling on television in 2004 as a drugs-addled Armstrong powered his way to a record-breaking sixth yellow jersey.
And after taking the yellow jersey on stage eight, he was subjected to daily scrutiny by the world’s media.
“I’m 100 percent clean!” proclaimed Froome after his stage eight win at Ax-Trois-Domaines prompted comparisons with Armstrong’s charged-up US Postal team.
A day later, former drugs cheats David Millar spoke out in defence.
“The general public don’t know how the sport has changed and what Sky are actually doing. There is a massive difference between them and Postal,” said the Scot.
The doubts continued, however, and on several occasions Froome got emotional as he was asked to explain his spectacular displays.
A day after his stunning win atop the Mont Ventoux, one of the race’s legendary climbs and arguably its hardest, Froome was uncharacteristically defiant.
“To compare me with Lance… Lance cheated, I’m not cheating. End of story,” boomed the British rider at the press on the race’s second and final rest day.
“Quite frankly… my teammates and I have spent months away from home, slept (at high altitude) on volcanoes to get ready for this race… training together, just working our arses off.
“And here I am, sitting here being accused of being a cheat and a liar. That’s just not cool.”
It took years for the truth about Armstrong, once billed as having completed the greatest sporting comeback of all time, to emerge. And when it did, it was ugly.
But as Froome stood on the podium in Paris and paid tribute to his mother, who died only weeks before his first participation on the race in 2008, he insisted he is a clean champion.
“I’d like to dedicate this win to my late mother. Without her encouragement to follow my dreams I would probably be at home watching on TV,” said Froome.
“It’s a great shame she never got to come the see the tour but I’m sure she would be extremely proud if she was here tonight.
“This is a beautiful country with the finest annual sporting event on the planet. To win the 100th edition is an honour beyond any I’ve dreamed. This is one yellow jersey that will stand the test of time.”
Text via AFP.