As Britain continues to hail Tour de France winner Chris Froome, his Kenyan mentor David Kinjah was regretting the lost opportunity the East African nation had to claim the glory.
Kenyan-born Froome was confirmed as the Yellow Jersey winner of the most prestigious cycling race in the world on Sunday as Kinjah, his first coach, led the celebrations at his nation of birth by leading fellow riders to cycle around the capital Nairobi on Monday, reports Xinhua.
Kinjah explained the circumstances that led to Froome changing his citizenship to Britain in 2008 as he called on sports authorities in Kenya to stem the loss of such talent to other nations willing to offer the required support.
“Froome has done us all proud, not only here in Kenya but Africa as a whole. He started cycling here, he grew up with cycling in South Africa and now he is a Briton.
“We are hoping to see new young riders take the sport and being inspired by his development,” Kinjah remarked in Nairobi.
Despite the joy Kinjah and his cycling group Safari Simbaz felt at seeing the rider who was introduced to him by his mother at 12 years of age being confirmed as the Tour de France winner, he is downcast that it was the Union Jack that was waved to celebrate the epic win instead of the Kenyan flag.
The mentor told how Froome was compelled to change his nationality after belligerent Kenya Cycling Federation (KCF) officials curtailed his development.
“For Chris, it was most important that what he had built with challenges did not disappear and the British were already knocking on the door.
“They had already seen the problems, frustrations and mismanagement here and they showed him his future is not here. It was up to Chris to make up his mind and they asked him, ‘Do you want to stay a Kenyan and lose it all or do you want to go ahead and get support?’ He chose the B option and to me, he made a good choice. He had nothing to lose,” the veteran rider and coach explained.
He added, “His last outing for Kenya was in 2007 when he won the silver medal at the All Africa Games in Algiers. There was already a lot of frustration and a lot of politics in the federation.
“All his friends in the team, including myself and other top riders, had been disqualified from the selection event and we could not support Chris and it was frustrating.”
He admonished KCF officials by claiming they were out of touch with the sport and their continued stay at the helm would cost Kenya’s other talented riders of the Froome ilk.
“I don’t believe they understand very well what happens in the cycling world. And even though there are a few of them who are willing, but when you put little issues and make them big politics, you lose friends with the riders.”
Despite changing his nationality, Kinjah disclosed Froome was still in regular touch with the nation of his birth, and that is why his Tour de France success felt like a home victory for those who trained with him.
“Authorities should respect their athletes, it doesn’t matter what sport it is. Champions are not necessarily born, they don’t just happen, there is a lot of hard work, persistence, patience and love and if that is missing out, sports will remain politics.”
“Seeing somebody we know winning Tour de France, somebody we nurtured when he was young — and he is like my brother — is unbelievable. What I used to dream as a young rider, the Yellow Jersey is in our hands, it’s amazing.”