As Chris Froome raced on to the Champs-Elysées proudly clad in yellow yesterday, there was at last one wish that remained sadly unfulfilled: that his mother Jane, who died of cancer in 2008, was not there to see him do it.
“I’d give anything to see her smile with me coming into Paris [today], I know she’d be chuffed to bits,” Froome said before yesterday’s concluding stage.
The Kenyan-born Briton also revealed that his mother was pivotal to his cycling career taking off, encouraging him to quit his economics degree, for which he was studying in South Africa, to start racing in Italy in 2007. The rest, as they say, is history.
“Cycling was a hobby and I really loved it, but I was training to go into the corporate world... and when I made that decision to go and spend six months in Europe she was behind me 100 per cent, saying ‘Go for it, do what makes you happy, there’s nothing worse than being in a job you’re miserable in and you’ll be forever asking yourself, what if...’”
Even now, he says, his mother remains a “huge inspiration and motivation for me to be as successful as I can on the bike. She always encouraged me to follow my dreams.”
The Tour is one dream accomplished, but Froome revealed he has another for 2013: to win the world championship in Florence on 29 September. “I’d like to try and stay on it, try and see the season through and not just switch off after the Tour,” the 28-year-old Sky rider said. “It’s a good course for the climbers this year, which doesn’t happen very often, and I’ve got to make the most of that – and that’s an opportunity to make this the focus of the second part of my year.”
The last British winner of the world title was Mark Cavendish, on a completely flat course in Denmark in 2011.
Froome will not take part in the worlds’ time trial, which remains the big target of Sir Bradley Wiggins, a silver medallist in the category in 2011. “It’s a very flat course and will suit Brad better than me, so I will focus my energy on the road-race,” Froome said. “My focus has just been on the Tour up to now, but being world champion is probably the second biggest thing after wearing the yellow jersey.”
The advantage by which Froome finally held the Tour winner’s yellow jersey, five minutes and three seconds, is the biggest in 10 years. But – perhaps inevitably for a rider leading the Tour de France for the first time – he said he never felt certain his margin would be sufficient.
“I never thought I’d have won it by so much; it’s a really significant gap. But every night I’d be going to bed thinking, ‘Okay, I’ve got this lead but at any second something’s going to challenge that’. I’ve been so fortunate not to have had a mechanical [fault] at the wrong time, a crash, anything going wrong in that respect. It’s been great having had that five-minute advantage but it was pretty hard work to get it.”
The moment when Froome came under most pressure was arguably on stage nine through the Pyrenees, just 24 hours after taking the yellow jersey for the first time. With his team scattered, he had to resist a prolonged temptation to panic as he braced himself for attacks over 100 kilometres and four mountain passes.
“It would have been easy to sit in the bunch and not follow the attacks of guys like [Nairo] Quintana,” he reflected. “But I thought, ‘I’ve worked bloody hard to get here, I’m not just going to let this race ride away from me because I’m on my own. I’ve got two legs, I can do just as well as the rest of the guys in this front bunch’.”
Froome’s resilience may have surprised some, but not Sky’s team principal, Sir Dave Brailsford. “There is a point with Froomie where he won’t be pushed around,” Brailsford says. “There’s a fighter in there, [but] because he has this fantastic polite sheen, when it does come out you don’t expect it. He’s so polite but all of a sudden he’ll just be very committed – if you push him too hard he’ll just say ‘No, I’m not doing that’.”