Chris Froome: Tour winner is Britain's unlikely new hero

 

After so many years of betrayals and drugs revelations, the winner of the first Tour de France since the Lance Armstrong doping scandal was always going to be greeted with a mix of cynicism and celebration.

From the moment Chris Froome claimed the yellow jersey after stage eight, he has faced difficult questions about his extraordinary performances.

Trust is in such short supply that it's inevitable the alarm bells will start ringing every time a new rider emerges as a dominant force in cycling's toughest race.

The French newspaper Liberation ran a front page last Thursday posing the question: "Le Tour du doute - miracle ou mystification?"

Chris Froome

"I understand where the scepticism is coming from and why people have doubts... But I really think cycling has turned a new page."

Tour de France winner, Chris Froome

L'Equipe, the sports newspaper, was equally sceptical.

"Froome naturellement" was the headline the day after the 28-year-old had destroyed his rivals during the ascent of Mont Ventoux.

Even when there is nothing to hide, sport's first reaction to scrutiny is often to run for cover. But throughout it all, Team Sky have refused to duck the issue.

In a shrewd move they handed over details of blood profiles and results to L'Equipe's anti-doping expert who concluded the performances were plausible without drugs.

They also invited David Walsh, the Sunday Times journalist who pursued Lance Armstrong for a decade, into the camp here, giving him access to the team's sports scientists, coaches and riders. Yesterday he concluded that those who dismissed his doping allegations about Armstrong were as wrong as those who doubted Froome and Team Sky.

I put to Froome questions about the subject in Paris on Monday - questions which he has been fielding all Tour. At no stage did he bristle or try and avoid them.

He told me: "I understand where the scepticism is coming from and why people have doubts. It is really sad for us to have to answer these questions when we've worked extremely hard to get here.

Listen to Froome's Tour de France win

"But I really think cycling has turned a new page. That was 10 years ago and it was a completely different era when all that was going on."

Having been burned so many times, the questions will probably never go away.

"Some people will never believe," he added. "We will just have to accept that because they have been betrayed in the past. But I know what I'm doing."

Cycling experts say they are increasingly confident about the state of professional cycling. Unlike Tours in the doping years, the top riders had good and bad days. Even though Froome dominated the race, he was not invincible.

In many ways, the Kenyan-born cyclist is an unlikely new hero for British sport.

He lacks the swagger of Sir Bradley Wiggins, who won the Tour last year, and while totally at ease in the spotlight, Froome doesn't seem to crave it.

His girlfriend Michelle Cound says he doesn't like to drink much and rather than jet off for a long holiday now the race is over, he is actually heading to Belgium to race some 100km circuits. "It's a good way of getting the Tour out of my legs," he said.

Froome inspires his team-mates through actions rather than words. It was his idea to join arms with his colleagues as he crossed the finish line. And he gave away all except the last of his 13 yellow jerseys - awarded after each stage in which he finished the leader.

And yet he wasn't afraid to show the more steely side of his personality during the debate about whether he or Wiggins should be Team Sky's lead rider.

Despite Wiggins claiming he may have raced his last Tour de France, that discussion has already begun with team principal Sir Dave Brailsford saying he wants Wiggins back in the team next year.

British cycling - and British sport - is lucky to be burdened with such a problem.