Chris Froome's journey from student to two-time Tour de France winner
By Matt Westby
Last Updated: 27/07/15 9:36am
Watching Chris Froome complete a second Tour de France victory in Paris on Sunday evening, it was easy to forget that he wasn't even a professional cyclist eight years ago.
Born in Kenya but schooled in South Africa, the then 22-year-old had his head in the books of an economics degree in Johannesburg and was destined not towards the Champs-Elysees, but instead a life of numbers, office blocks and the Monday blues.
Fate had other ideas, however, and a new door soon opened. A place in British cycling history was calling.
"I was 22 at the time, in 2007," Froome said. "I was offered the chance to spend a bit of time with the Konica Minolta team, which was a small continental team that was doing a few months in Europe.
"It was always hard for me trying to balance my studies and training. I thought, 'OK, let me put the studies on hold. I am going to go for the cycling, give it everything for one year and if I can make something of it, then great, but if not, hopefully I can come back to my studies and carry on'."
It proved a good decision. Almost immediately, Froome was winning on summit finishes and the heads of admiring sports directors were duly turned.
Under a recommendation from South African rider Robbie Hunter, he signed for the Barloworld team, which was also home to Geraint Thomas at the time, and the journey towards the podium in Paris began.
Froome rode the Tour de France for the first time in the colours of Barloworld, in 2008, and impressed to such an extent (he finished 11th in the best young rider classification) that coaches looking to assemble a new British road cycling squad wanted him on their books.
A then 24-year-old Froome signed for Team Sky ahead of the 2010 season, the team's inaugural year.
"When I first joined Team Sky, they asked me what my aspirations were and what I wanted to achieve," he explained. "We set out some shorter-term goals and some medium-term goals, and also some dream goals. Being able to target the Tour de France was one of those longer-term goals.”
At the time, leading the team at the Tour, let alone winning it, remained a long way off.
Sir Bradley Wiggins was the big-name grand tour rider for Team Sky and Froome's job for the indefinite future would be doing donkey work and fetching bottles.
Froome wasn't helped by the fact that his form was patchy at best, but that all changed when he was diagnosed with parasitic disease bilharzia in late 2010.
He underwent treatment for it over the next year and, now riding at somewhere near full health, his performances improved dramatically.
He was selected for the 2011 Vuelta a Espana in support of Wiggins but rode so strongly that he upstaged his more celebrated team-mate by finishing second overall, behind winner Juan Jose Cobo.
Suddenly, a switch had been flicked in Froome's psyche.
"I think the first time I thought that, realistically, I could become a GC [general classification] rider to contend in grand tours and races like the Tour de France, was during that 2011 Vuelta a Espana," Froome said.
"Up until then, I found it very difficult to keep my performances consistently high throughout a stage race.
"But that Vuelta a Espana in 2011 was the first time that I was able to do that, and that gave me a lot of confidence and belief in myself that, actually, I do belong in this group of riders at the front of the general classification."
The successes that have followed since then are common knowledge, yet Froome does not forget where he came from and holds a full appreciation of just how rapid his rise has been.
"When I first started watching the sport, it was only in 2003 or 2004, on television," he admitted
"I certainly feel I was quite late getting into the sport. It really has been a fast progression for me and each year I have taken so much away and I have learned so much."
Froome now has two yellow jerseys to his name and, aged 30, he is keen to win more.
"I would love to come back and keep contending for the Tour as long as I can and as long as I have the motivation,” he said.