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KIKUYU, Kenya (AFP) — As Britain’s Chris Froome (Sky) pedals towards a Tour de France victory, far away in his birthplace of Kenya he is being cheered on by the cyclist who first trained him.
Outside his simple tin-roof house on a dirt road, David Kinjah, 43, Froome’s mentor when he first took up the sport, says he will be one of the loudest shouting support.
“We are greatly honored knowing that Froome, who is now at the top of the world, was one of us,” said Kinjah, his dreadlocks swept back beneath his cycle helmet.
Froome, 28 and born in Kenya, names Kinjah as his “inspiration.”
“Training together in the rural highlands north of Nairobi is what ignited the passion for cycling which Froome has today,” the cyclist’s website reads.
Froome’s mother asked Kinjah to mentor his riding when he was 11.
“She needed somebody to tap his prodigious energy, and somebody had told her that I could handle him,” said Kinjah. “The first time Chris came here with his BMX bike he was very shy … but he was also a very determined young boy.”
The tough Kenyan pushed young Froome as he developed his cycling strength pedaling on back roads in the hills and coffee farms around the capital Nairobi, one of the highest altitude capitals in the world.
“Kinjah helped me see you didn’t need the best bike or perfect conditions,” Froome told Britain’s Guardian newspaper in January. “You can just get on a bike and go — no matter where you are.”
Froome has notched up a string of stunning performances on this year’s Tour, from his mountaintop wins at Ax-Trois-Domaines and on Mont Ventoux to his victory in Wednesday’s individual time trial in Chorges.
Kinjah still trains young athletes, with his 20-strong Safari Simbaz team — in Swahili, the “traveling lions” — aiming to use cycling to help bring “young athletes out of poverty.”
The Simbaz, who modestly list Froome as their “most successful export,” continue their work to develop Kenyan cyclists, or as they put it, to “cut the rough diamond of these future champions.”
Kinjah and Froome cycled together for Kenya during the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.
“His success will serve as an inspiration to these youngsters,” added Kinjah, who also raises funds for young Kenyan cyclists through bike tours for tourists. “It is very encouraging for the work we are doing with the underprivileged youth in the villages. They will get motivated to cycle.”
Should Froome win, Simbaz plans to hold a Nairobi lap of honor, cycling the streets in celebration, before roasting a goat at night for young cyclists to feast on.
Froome later moved to South Africa as a teenager. He qualified for British nationality because his father and grandparents were born there, and he began to ride for Britain in 2008.
Despite never having been to the United Kingdom until he competed in the Tour of Britain in 2007, speaking earlier this week he made it clear that he was “extremely proud” to represent Britain.
But to his Kenyan friends shouting support from afar — watching on a small television in a cramped room — Froome is one of them.
“The whole of Africa is honored … there will be a lot of young Africans who will want to follow him,” Kinjah said.