Paris, Jul 22: One down for Tour de France winner Chris Froome, how many more to go?
Having crushed the opposition at the 100th Tour, the British rider is looking ahead. And the French may need to get used to hearing the British anthem ring out again and again on the Champs-Elysees.
Froome's prowess in time trials and on mountain climbs—vital for any modern winner of cycling's premier race—plus his age, 28, and his hunger for more success give him the makings of a multiple champion.
Rivals, be warned.
“As long as I'm hungry for it, as long as I've got the motivation and the physical ability, I'll go for it,” he said. “To come and target the Tour, that's got to be the biggest goal and to be able to do that year after year through your prime period, I think that's got to be what my main focus is on.”
“I can time trial reasonably, I can climb pretty well,” Froome added, in typically understated fashion. “I can't see what else they are going to really put in the Tour that I would struggle with. So I would like to think that I can come back every year.”
Froome is a less flamboyant character than some of the other riders who have seared the 110-year-old race with their larger-than-life personalities and stories.
Riders like five-time champion Bernard Hinault, France's irascible “Badger” who liked to impose his will on the race, or Lance Armstrong, the cancer survivor with a childhood chip on his shoulder who tarnished the Tour with his serial doping, lies and bullying—which all caught up with him when he was stripped of his seven wins last year.
In the post-Armstrong era of suspicion, with many fans and critics now convinced that they shouldn't believe what they see, Froome faced intense scrutiny and dealt adroitly with it.
Unlike some other riders who cut short questions about doping and bristled, Froome said he was happy to discuss the issue that has so poisoned his sport.
He insisted he rides clean and said he, too, feels let down by the succession of cheats.
He also argued that his success demonstrates that cycling's anti-doping system—now among the most rigorous, invasive and sustained of any sport—must be working, because otherwise he wouldn't be able to win.
“This is one yellow jersey that will stand the test of time,” he vowed on the podium on Sunday.
None of 100th Tour's podium finishers—Froome, Colombian Nairo Quintana and Spaniard Joaquim Rodriguez—have failed a drug test or been directly implicated in any of cycling's litany of doping scandals.
That is a notable departure from the era of Armstrong, whose name has literally been crossed out of the Tour's history book, and from many other Tour podiums before and since then.
As for results that will be enduring, Froome said “I know mine will.”
“It's definitely going to paint a good picture for the sport,” Froome said in an interview on the eve of the last stage to Paris, “and I think that's what we need.”
The closest Froome came to a flash of anger in the race was when he slapped a spectator who got too close running alongside him in the last big climb.
He proved cool under pressure—not panicking when he found himself alone with his rivals in the Pyrenees. Froome takes time to think before he speaks, often preceding answers with “umm.”
His teammates describe him as invariably polite. He regularly thanked them publicly for shepherding him up mountains, across plains and protecting him from crashes.
In the Alps, Froome left his spot tucked safely in the pack to pedal level with teammate Geraint Thomas.
Putting his arm across the shoulder of the Welshman, who rode most of the Tour with a small fracture in his pelvis from a crash.
Thomas later recounted Froome telling him: “Good job and take it easy, you know? You've done enough.”
Froome is too ambitious to rest on his laurels. Rather than succumb to the temptation to “just fly home and switch off for a few months,” he now plans to focus on the world championships in September.
He believes the course in Tuscany, Italy, is suited to riders who can climb and he doesn't want to miss the “great opportunity” to achieve what would be an “amazing” Tour-worlds double.
“Being world champ, that's probably the second biggest thing in cycling—isn't it? -- after the yellow jersey,” he said.
Froome was born in Kenya. His mother, Jane, died in 2008 shortly before he raced in his first Tour. “She always encouraged me to do what makes me happy, to follow my dreams,” he said.
When he quit his studies to move to Europe to race bikes, “she was behind me 100 percent in saying, ‘Go for it. Do what makes you happy. There's nothing worse than being in a job that you're miserable in. You'll be forever asking yourself, what if?”'
In Froome, the Tour also got a winner who isn't a cycling geek. By his own admittance, his knowledge and interest in cycling history is patchy.
On Mont Ventoux, he wasn't aware until told that he was the first rider since legendary five-time Tour champion Eddy Merckx in 1970 to win a stage on that mammoth climb in Provence while also wearing the race leader's yellow jersey.
Froome only started watching the Tour in the Armstrong era.
“I definitely have taken more of an interest to the past,” he said. “But I still am very weak, I'll admit it, on knowing exactly what (five-time champion Miguel) Indurain did, what Merckx did or who their biggest rivals were. I just completely missed that era. I literally just turned it on for the first time when it was Lance and (Ivan) Basso.”
“I'm more focused on the future,” he concluded. “I'm not really someone that dwells too much on the past.”