Tour countdown: three days to the Grand Départ
Chris Froome has come a long way in just five years. In 2008 he finished 84th in his debut Tour de France with Team Barloworld. Now he is the favourite to win the 100th edition of cycling's biggest race.
If he wins the Tour de France, Froome's expected new contract with Team Sky will make him one of the highest earns in the peloton with probable earnings of at least four million Euro.
Froome began cycling in the rarefied air of Nairobi as a teenager. The altitude of Nairobi perhaps helped him develop physically but his results were modest. His self controlled temperament hides his steely determination. He was hungry to race, hungry to test himself and hungry to find out just what he could achieve in cycling. More than the results and success, it was about the journey, and the challenge.
Froome used every trick in the book to compete in Europe and the 2006 world championships, blagging his entry, and pretending to be the Kenyan team manager in Salzburg. He embarrassingly crashed into a marshal in the time trial, revealing his poor bike handling skills but quickly got back up and carried on, in the race and in his desire for a professional contract.
Riding for the UCI development team at the 2007 Giro delle Regioni stage race in Italy, Froome went tantalisingly close to winning stage four in Tuscany, almost holding off the whole peloton after a long spell in the breakaway. At the time Luca Scinto was running the best Under 23 Italian team and immediately made Froome an offer. But Scinto had missed the boat. Froome was desperate for cash and a chance to ride some international races and so had agreed to join the Konica Minolta team. He refused to break his word, and went on to win stage five in Italy.
A stage victory at the Tour of Japan and his African roots helped him secure a place at the new Barloworld team in 2008. His salary was low and the racing was hard, but he had found his golden ticket to professional peloton.
Froome's mother died in June 2008 but he was selected for the Barloworld Tour de France team, turning his grief into motivation and determination to ensure he made it to Paris.
No room for a model girlfriend
Froome lived in the small Italian village of Chiari, near Brescia and the Barloworld Service Course in 2008 and 2009. His South African girlfriend at the time worked as model in Milan and turned all the heads in Chiari and at races. Rumours has it that Froome ended the relationship so that he could focus 100 per cent on his racing career.
Froome was signed by Team Sky for the 2010 season along with fellow Barloworld riders Steve Cummings and Geraint Thomas. He had also officially become a British rider after a slight tussle with the Kenyan Cycling Federation. He has always had a British passport because his mother is British but now he could ride for Great Britain at world championships instead.
Great things were expected from Froome, but just like Team Sky in the early years, he struggled. He didn't know it at the time but every race was a handicap race. While some riders boosted their performance by taking EPO, his riding was hampered by the Bilharzia -a parasite infection that destroys, rather than boosts, red blood cells.
When he got rid of the problem he was suddenly flying, taking the brakes of his career. The improvement in performance was huge.
He started the 2011 Vuelta Espana as a domestique, there to help Bradley Wiggins after he bounced back after breaking his collarbone at the Tour de France. He ended the Vuelta second overall and perhaps should have won.
It would be the start of the contrasts and power struggle between Wiggins and Froome. Froome followed team orders to help Wiggins and then gave his all when given his chance to go for overall victory. He attacked and cracked Cobo on stage 17 but the Spaniard managed to recover and limit his losses. He was crowned the winner of the Vuelta in Madrid, with Froome second and Wiggins third.
It was a career changing moment for Froome and again showed his character. During the final week of the Vuelta, as he fought for a Grand Tour victory for the first time in his career, he also negotiated his future with several teams. For several days he played poker with several teams, raising his contract value before signing a new three-year deal with Team Sky worth an estimated 700,000 Euro a season. Froome could have been an immediate team leader elsewhere but could perhaps see Wiggins would eventually be overthrown at Team Sky and so opted to strike a deal with Dave Brailsford.
The rest is recent history. Bilharzia affected the first part of his 2012 season but he bounced back in the summer and started the Tour de France as Wiggins' loyal teammate. He lost precious seconds in a crash on stage one but was arguably stronger than Wiggins in the mountains, winning the first mountain finish in La Planche des Belles Filles.
He could have also won stage 17 but was ordered to wait for Wiggins after flexing his muscles and showing his superiority. It was a rare show of emotion from Froome and publicly confirmed the internal spat between him and Wiggins. They finished first and second on the podium in Paris but their relationship and team leadership at Team Sky would never be the same.
Wiggins' victory, his sideburns and his enigmatic character elevated him to star status in cycling, especially in Britain. But Froome had also entered a new dimension and a new phase of career.
He wisely hired a serious agent to manage his interests and secure his role as Team leader for Team Sky at the 2013 Tour de France.
While Wiggins savoured the high point of his career, Froome looked to the future. He and not Wiggins is Team Sky's future Grand Tour contender. He is at his peak at 28, while Wiggins is in the autumn of his long career. Froome hopes to win the Tour de France for years to come, Wiggins has admitted he will probably never again target a Grand Tour.
Wiggins' career nose dived at the Giro d'Italia, while Froome's value and experience have now soared with wins throughout the 2013 season.
If he can stop Alberto Contador et al, at this year's Tour de France, he will be on track to win multiple Tours, possibly become one of the greatest stage racers in the history of the sport and earn the salary to match. He will have completed his evolution from cycling slum dog to Monte Carlo millionaire.
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