In 2010, Sir Dave Brailsford stated that his newly-formed Team Sky would win the Tour de France within the next five years.
Many scoffed at the proposition. In that very year, the highest-placed Sky finisher was Thomas Lofkvist in 17th: hardly champions-elect.
But now the team have won two successive Tours and seem likely to establish a legacy in the tainted world of cycling. Sir Bradley Wiggins’ fine triumph in 2012 has been replicated – many would argue surpassed – by a 28-year-old Kenyan-born British superstar.
Chris Froome is ostensibly an anonymous figure. His low-key personality does not invite publicity, and the national fervour which surrounded Wiggins last year has been more muted this time (probably because of his Kenyan heritage).
But perhaps it is best not to look at Froome in nationalistic terms. Perhaps it is better to see him as a saviour for cycling as a sport.
The impact that Sir Lance Armstrong’s confession to doping has had on the sport is immeasurable. Armstrong was its figurehead, named Tour de France champion a record seven times between 1999 and 2005, and verbally leading a bellicose crusade against drugs in cycling.
Froome won the Tour the moment he won the battle with Mont Ventoux
His abdication has left a yawning chasm at the summit of cycling. Wiggins, with his affable manner and down-to-earth personality, had the potential to become the sport’s talisman, but an injury sustained at the Giro D’Italia left his hopes of achieving successive Tour triumphs in tatters.
Even before that, though, there were murmurs that a new champion was on the horizon. Froome finished second in 2012, and Brailsford confirmed that he would lead the Tour in 2013. Not many men depose a Tour de France winner, but Froome justified the hype in style.
He eventually won the Tour by an impressive four minutes and 20 seconds ahead of second-placed Nairo Quintana of Movistar, dedicating his triumph to his late mother Jane, who he cited as his inspiration through the long hours of training. Brailsford immediately announced that Froome was capable of winning several more Tours.
Very few doubt Froome’s ability, most stunningly showcased by his triumph on the notoriously judgmental Mont Ventoux, Stage 15. The 242.5km climb makes or breaks Tours, taking previously imperious riders out of contention but rewarding those who conquer it with ultimate glory. Froome won the Tour the moment he won the battle with the mountain.
But Froome is a saviour for cycling in sport because of the way he handled the constant inquisitions about drugs. Aside from one brief outburst, he calmly batted the questions away, understanding the need for the questions to be asked whilst internalising his resentment at his hard work being undermined by suspicion.
Team Sky bowed to pressure by releasing Froome’s power data, and the French psychologist Fred Grappe endorsed its legitimacy, stating that it had been ‘consistent over the past few years’. Whilst Brailsford was understandably reluctant to part with the information, it does prove that Froome is an outstanding cyclist operating at his full potential rather than a good cyclist propelled to stardom by illegal means.
Froome is not the only elite performer around. Two-time winner Alberto Contador of Saxobank will return stronger after a disappointing tour, while Quintana suggested that he will be a threat for the foreseeable future.
But the tangible light at the end of a particularly long and complex tunnel, offering hope of salvation for cycling, comes in the unassuming but formidable shape of Chris Froome.