One Year On Froome’s Tour de France Victory Still Inspires Young African Riders

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Written by Lyn Eyb

One year on from Kenyan-born Chris Froome’s Tour de France victory, AFKInsider looks at the impact his win has had on the cycling industry in southern Africa.

Even before he crossed the line in Paris last July to become the first African-born cyclist to win the Tour de France, Chris Froome had pledged to ensure his success reverberated around the continent.

“I would like my performances here to help inspire and motivate a lot of youngsters, especially young Africans who find it very hard to believe that they can get out of Africa and get on to the European scene, or make it into a pro peloton,” he said during the 2013 Tour de France.

“My experiences are an example that if you really want to make something happen, you will find a way. You will make an opportunity yourself.”

Nairobi-born Froome was introduced to cycling in Kenya, before moving to South Africa, where he spent his formative years in Johannesburg, attending high school and, later, university.

He competed for Kenya at the 2007 All Africa Games before switching to ride for Britain, the country of his father’s birth.

After finding support at Team Sky – the bosom of British cycling –Froome’s career flourished.

He may have represented Great Britain at the 2012 London Olympics and he may have won the world’s most prestigious cycling event for a British team, but in Kenya and South Africa, he is still very much seen as the local boy made good.

His success has sent rippled across southern Africa, where a new generation of cyclists is taking to two wheels.

Dave Bellairs, director of the Cape Town Cycle Tour Trust, which runs the annual Cape Town Argus Pick’n’Pay Momentum Cycle Tour – the largest timed cycling event in the world – says it’s an exciting time for the African bike industry.

Bellairs, who knows Froome personally, says the Tour de France win has led to a surge in leisure cycling in South Africa.

“I can only describe the effect Chris has had in one word and that’s ‘profound’,” he told AFKInsider.

“Chris winning the yellow jersey has had a tremendous effect. Certainly we’ve seen this in road cycling – while it wasn’t necessarily waning it, it had reached a plateau, but since his win we’ve seen a renewed energy in the number of people who are taking to and riding on the roads.

“What is evident here in South Africa is that there are a lot of armchair riders who follow the Tour de France now as a result of the number of African riders who have achieved success at various levels – the likes of Chris Froome and also Daryl Impey, the first African rider to ever wear the yellow jersey.

“What we are seeing is a lot of these armchair riders are now getting up and participating, and I think that is down to an African doing well in the Tour de France.”

These thoughts are echoed by James Walsh, a filmmaker who has spent the last three years documenting the development of the Kenyan national cycling team.

“I think most Africans who know about Chris are proud of him and now have added interest in tuning into broadcasts of the big cycling races,” he says.

“Five years ago, the Tour de France would have been the only cycling-specific broadcast. Now we get the classics and many of the week-long races in the build up to the Giro (Tour of Italy) and the Tour de France broadcast on SuperSport, which is pan-African.”

Perfect Ambassador 

Bellairs says it helps that Froome is a gentle, likeable man, someone he describes as the “perfect ambassador for the sport”, and the man least likely to forget his roots.

Walsh agrees, citing a post-Tour visit Froome made to Kenya.

“He has been a huge role model for many African athletes,” he says.

He visited the subjects of our film, the Kenyan Riders,at their base in Iten last November during his off season and Sky produced a documentary on him.”

Walsh says that if Kenyan cycling can harness the talents of its riders the way athletics officials have nurtured the talents of middle and long-distance runners, then the future is bright for cycle sport on the continent.

“Africa has so much physiological potential when it comes to cycling,” he says. “If the continent can get access to quality instruction, equipment and world class racing, I think it has the potential to be a player on the international scene, which would obviously translate into success for the local bike industry.

“The Tour of Rwanda could be called Africa’s Tour de France. We filmed in Kenya and then the Tour of Rwanda in November 2012, and nearly six million people turned out to watch the race come by during the eight-day event.

“We (now) have a pro-continental team, Team MTN-Qhubeka, the first such team to be based in Africa, competing at the best races in the world.”

That team – sponsored by Samsung and made up of riders from Eritrea, Rwanda, Algeria, Ethiopia, South Africa, Lithuania, Spain, Germany and Italy – will make its Grand Tour debut at this year’s Vuelta (Tour of Spain). Its team ethos is based on the ambitions of Qhubeka, a community initiative that works to distribute bicycles to rural Africans to improve mobility.