NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — A group of Kenyan riders in yellow jerseys stood with their arms held high and fists clenched in triumph on Sunday. Another performed a handstand on his bike in an acrobatic celebration along the dusty streets.
Passers-by looked on in astonishment.
Hundreds of riders in Chris Froome’s city of birth were already celebrating the Sky rider’s expected victory at the Tour de France with a procession of their own through Kenya’s capital, Nairobi.
Thousands of miles from Paris and the Tour’s final stage, around 300 cyclists were led on the parade by the dreadlocked David Kinjah, Froome’s earliest mentor when the soon-to-be Tour winner first got on a bike as a schoolboy in the hills just outside Nairobi.
Some, like Kinjah, wore helmets, sunglasses and sleek cycling clothes. Others were in shorts and sneakers. They were all smiling.
“It is not a race guys, OK?” Kinjah told the riders. “We are just celebrating the yellow jersey.”
The joyous procession reflected what’s expected to be a ceremonial ride for Froome and his Sky teammates to the Champs Elysees and his first Tour title later Sunday, the pinnacle for a rider who first learned his trade under Kinjah in the Kenyan hills and valleys surrounded by coffee and tea plantations, and who will reach the pinnacle of his sport on the famous boulevards of the French capital.
“It’s a great feeling, you know, and it is beyond what words can say. It is very humbling and it is great,” Kinjah said. “We can feel the energy all the way from France being transferred to us here in Kenya.”
Froome, schooled in Nairobi and then South Africa, first represented Kenya as a professional cyclist before taking the nationality of his British parents. But here in Kenya, where distance running and football far outstrip cycling for popularity, the riders are claiming Froome’s success for his first country.
“We are going to see the first Kenyan to ever win the Tour de France and this is a big celebration,” Kinjah said. “We are here to honor that and we are here for the yellow jersey ride.”
Kinjah and other riders will see the climax to the Tour on television having watched every stage of the race so far and cheered Froome through every time trial and climb of his dominant ride.
Only a major mishap can prevent Kinjah’s one-time protege claiming the Tour title in its 100th edition as Froome holds a more-than-five-minute lead over his nearest rivals.
The final stage is a 82-mile trip that starts later than usual and is expected to end with Froome’s overall victory as the sun sets in Paris — while Kenyan cycling also basks in the glow of its greatest success.