Tour de France: Chris Froome's journey up cycling's ranks comes to glorious end in Paris
From amateur to winner of the yellow jersey in just six years
By Matt Westby in Paris. Last Updated: 09/12/13 2:15pm
Chris Froome completed his remarkable journey on the Champs-Elysees
As he rode into Paris this evening, his sequined yellow jersey glittering under the floodlights, it seemed incomprehensible that only six years ago Chris Froome wasn't even a professional cyclist.
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.
Yes, he was an amateur cyclist, and yes, he was pretty good, but life had a different path mapped out back then.
Fate sometimes has other ideas, though, and a new door soon opened. A place in British cycling history was calling.
"I was 22 at the time, in 2007," Froome explained after wrapping up overall victory in this year's Tour de France. "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 - in the same manner we have seen over the last fortnight - 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 turned professional with Barloworld
"As it turns out, I came over to Europe for my first stage race, which was the Giro delle Regioni, and I ended up winning a mountain-top finish there and coming second on another mountain-top finish," Froome added.
"That is probably what secured the offer from Barloworld the year after, which inevitably started my pro career."
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, but to be sitting here, three years after joining the team, in yellow, I can't say I would have seen that coming."
Froome made his Grand Tour breakthrough at the 2011 Vuelta
Back then Froome had no idea of the limits of his potential. Bradley Wiggins was the big-name Grand Tour rider in Team Sky and as far as he could see, his job for the indefinite future would be doing donkey work and fetching bottles.
It wasn't for the lack of trying, but Froome simply could not find the sort of consistency he needed to catapult himself up the team's ranks.
That all changed in 2011, though, when he rode at the Vuelta a Espana in support of Wiggins but ended up upstaging 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 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. I would have good days and showings of what I was able to achieve, but I would never be able to back it up all the way through.
"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."
Froome finished second to Bradley Wiggins at the 2012 Tour
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. I have only been a professional for five [full] years since turning professional with Team Barloworld. This is my sixth year.
Still more to come
"It really has been a fast progression for me and each year I have taken so much away and I have learned so much."
And so the question now is, can the rise continue?
"I refuse to accept that I don't still have improvements to make - in every aspect," Froome stated somewhat bafflingly given his displays during this Tour.
"My climbing, my time-trialling, my descending, which everyone seems to think is so terrible - there are lots of things I can keep working on.
"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."
Good luck, then, to anyone else wanting to win the Tour any time soon.