Team Sky has announced its squad for next week's Herald Sun Tour in support of defending champion Chris Froome who is once again aiming to start his season with an overall stage race victory. Due to Owain Doull's appendicitis that saw him miss the Tour Down Under, Team Sky will only field a six-man squad but are confident in Froome becoming the first rider since Simon Gerrans in 2006 to successfully defend his title.
"I can't wait to return to the Herald Sun Tour," Froome said. "It was a great way for me to start my season in 2016 and I was keen to ride it again this year after completing my training block in Australia. "I'd love to retain my title, but I know it will be very tough. It's very early in my season and there’s some really stiff competition. Plus, just like last year, the course looks challenging."
"Unfortunately we’ll only start with six riders due to Owain Doull’s illness, but I’m very confident in the remaining five guys I'll have around me."
Froome won the title last year to set up his season that saw the 31-year-old defend his Tour de France title in July and finish second overall at the Vuelta a Espana.
Race director John Trevorrow has designed a course to bring out the best of Froome and Orica-Scott's Esteban Chaves that includes a new final day stage in Kinglake and the challenging stage 1 climb up to Falls Creek.
Team Sky director sportif Brett Lancaster explianed that he sees the Colombian as a key rival but believes the squad he has on hand for Australia's oldest stage race can get the job done.
"[Esteban] Chaves is probably the main rival," said Lancaster. "The first stage after the prologue has a 20km climb and that will suit Chaves, but it will suit Sebastian [Henao] for us and maybe Kenny [Elissonde] too, so we’ll have some numbers.
"Froomey has been training in Australia and will be going well. He loves coming out here and racing, it’s nice and relaxed for him on a beautiful parcours. We’ve got a good little team and we’ll give it everything," he added of the three-time Tour winner who has spent the last few weeks in Queensland.
While the team is focused on winning the overall with Froome, Danny van Poppel leads the line for the sprint stages and will keen to open his 2017 account after podium placings at last week's Tour Down Under.
The 64th edition of the Herald Sun Tour starts with an inner-city prologue along the banks of the Yarra River, before heading north for the four road stages.
Team Sky for the Herald Sun Tour: Chris Froome, Kenny Elissonde, Sebastian Henao, Luke Rowe, Ian Stannard, and Danny van Poppel.