NAIROBI (Reuters) - Tour de France winner Chris Froome plans to develop Africa cycling by focusing on Kenya’s rich talent pool of endurance athletes, the Briton said on Tuesday.
Kenya-born Froome said Kenya’s success in middle and long-distance running showed the east African nation was awash with gifted athletes capable of competing in the world’s toughest endurance races.
“It seems that there is so much talent here,” Froome told reporters in Nairobi as he sat next to Kenyan rider David Kinjah who was his childhood “mentor”.
“You just have to look at the natural ability of runners to see that Kenya has a lot of talent but in cycling it’s not going through, it’s being stopped.”
Froome won a medal for Kenya in the All Africa Games in 2007 but in 2008 switched allegiance to Britain after receiving little support from the Kenya Cycling Federation.
The 28-year-old said the same problems were now facing other Kenyan riders who seek help from the federation and Julius Mwangi, the organization’s long-serving president.
“Any cyclist you speak to in Kenya can tell you about some kind of story with Julius Mwangi or Kenyan Cycling Federation which is basically stopping them from developing and I find that very sad,” Froome said.
“That’s one of the things that will have to change in Kenya for cycling to develop.”
Froome fell in love with cycling when he met Kinjah and began criss-crossing Kenya’s lush highlands with his mentor’s team of young riders, mostly comprising teenage boys from the tiny village of Mai-I-Hii on the outskirts of Nairobi.
Froome said one of the reasons he returned to Kenya was to find a way to help cyclists like Kinjah who were working with young men who had no money but bags of talent.
“I would like to set up my own foundation to help cycling in Kenya and Africa but it’s not that simple just to set up,” he said.
“It’s something I have to make sure the structure is correct.”
The plan is to launch the foundation and start raising money over the next 18 months, Froome said.
Reminiscing with Kinjah inside Nairobi’s plush Tribe Hotel, a favorite haunt of African presidents and Western diplomats, Froome said his life had changed since winning Tour de France.
He added, however, that the success has made him even more determined to develop Kenyan cycling and help the likes of Kinjah as the country of his birth still holds a “very special place” in his heart.
“As a kid and as a young teenager, when I first met (and rode with) Kinjah, that was the highlight for me. Those were the times I looked forward to the most,” said Froome.
Editing by Ed Osmond