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MONT-SAINT-MICHEL, France (VN) — Chris Froome (Sky) made a big move toward wearing yellow in Paris on Wednesday, but it was a middle-of-the-road time trial back in 2006 that helped put him on the path toward Tour de France glory.
Froome has lived a well-documented, remarkable journey from Kenya to South Africa to Europe and eventually to the maillot jaune. The 28-year-old confirmed that progression Wednesday by tightening his grip on yellow, widening his gap to a perhaps insurmountable 3:25 lead over Alejandro Valverde (Movistar).
Froome’s journey out of Africa is one that will surely fill a book some day and one of the most critical chapters came when Froome unknowingly made an impression on Sky principal Dave Brailsford at the 2006 Commonwealth Games. That impression would later have major impact on his professional trajectory.
Brailsford told VeloNews that he saw a “diamond in the rough” in his first glimpse of Froome during the elite men’s time trial in Melbourne, Australia.
“He didn’t have the best equipment. I watched his time trial; this was a guy from nowhere, he did this phenomenal performance,” Brailsford told VeloNews. “I was like, ‘bloody hell, who is this guy?’ That was the first time I ever saw him.”
Brailsford clearly saw something that no one else did that day.
The winner on the 40-kilometer course was U.S.-based Australian Nathan O’Neill, with compatriot Ben Day second. Canadian Svein Tuft was seventh, at 2:32, and England’s Steve Cummings was 14th, at 3:33. Froome, riding for Kenya, was 17th, a distant 5:20 off the winning pace and roughly 10 kph slower than his blistering 33km ride in Mont Saint Michel on Wednesday.
What did Brailsford see that so enthralled him with the then-unknown rider?
“The performance he did, on the equipment he was on, that takes some doing. We thought, ‘that guy’s got something, for sure,”‘ Brailsford said. “We always thought he was a bit of a diamond in the rough, who had a huge potential.”
By 2006, Brailsford was already beginning to work on the idea of creating an elite men’s professional road team. After leading British track cycling to world prominence, Brailsford huddled with key advisors to begin to lay the groundwork to create what would become Team Sky, which would ultimately debut in 2010.
Brailsford had his antennae tuned in for young British talent.
Froome would eventually venture to Europe via Barloworld, the South Africa-backed team for whom he raced in 2008-2009, and Brailsford continued to watch.
The first wave of British riders to join Sky in 2010 included Cummings, Geraint Thomas, and Froome, each from Barloworld, as well as Bradley Wiggins, Ben Swift, Russell Downing, Ian Stannard, and Peter Kennaugh. It had been nearly four years since their first introduction when Brailsford was finally able to bring Froome into the fold on his new project.
“From [the Commonwealth Games], we opened lines of communication with him. It went from there,” Brailsford said. “Right from the early days, he was on Barloworld with Geraint and Cummings, so when we started to talk about Team Sky, he was always on the list of riders we wanted to get.”
Since joining Sky in the team’s inaugural 2010 season, Froome has emerged as one of cycling’s most consistent stage racers.
For Brailsford, it all started with that Commonwealth Games back in 2006.
“That really caught our eye, and made us start talking,” he said. “Then we found out he had a British passport, and the rest is history, as they say.”
Now that Brailsford has helped transform the diamond in the rough into a possible Tour winner, he’s not keen to let him go. La Gazzetta dello Sport reported Wednesday that Sky has signed the current maillot jaune to a contract extension through 2016 — a term that will keep the pair together a full decade after that inauspicious ride in Melbourne.