Superb time trial effort gives Team Sky domestique the red jersey
He still has yet to enjoy his first European professional victory, but Team Sky's Chris Froome will get to savour something perhaps more satisfying: wearing the race leader's jersey in a Grand Tour.
Froome, 26, came into the Vuelta a España as a support rider for the team's leader, Bradley Wiggins, but with a well-paced effort in the 47km individual time trial in Salamanca, he overtook his captain and donned the red jersey heading into the race's first rest day.
"When I realised where I was standing as Bradley Wiggins crossed the line I said 'I'm in trouble', but now the trouble will be to hold the jersey and ride hard for two more weeks," Froome said after the finish. "This situation was never the plan. I got the green light from the team to go for the time trial as hard as I could. I had a really good day."
'A good day' is an understatement: Froome came in just 59 seconds slower than stage winner Tony Martin (HTC-Highroad), and beat the reigning world champion Fabian Cancellara by almost half a minute. This from a rider whose previous top time trial performances were a second at the British championships in 2010 and ninth at the Tour de Suisse in June.
After slaying himself to pull Wiggins back to the head of the race on the final climb to Sierra de Béjar on stage 9, Froome was even more stunned that he could put in such a surprising performance in Salamanca.
"I think it was the updates from Sports Director Marcus Ljungqvist on the radio which kept me going. To be honest I felt pretty rough out there; I was hurting from yesterday's effort and just felt like I wasn't really going that fast," he said according to TeamSky.com.
"What really helped was Marcus in the team car edging me on, saying 'you're doing great', 'you've got a really good time', 'just keep going like you are' and so on. It was fantastic to have that information and encouragement – at least I knew I wasn't doing too badly!"
Many pundits are calling Froome the first African rider to wear a leader's jersey in a Grand Tour, but Froome said that while he was born in Kenya and went to school in South Africa, technically he's not quite African anymore.
"I've given away my Kenyan passport to get a British one. I don't regret it, even though I would have more opportunities to ride the world championship as a Kenyan, but the Kenyan cycling federation is almost non existing. I'm racing under a British flag but I have an unconventional cycling background."
Froome said he wants to use his new-found fame to inspire children to take up the sport even if they're from non-traditional cycling countries.
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