Chris Froome's Tour de France title defence in 2014 couldn’t have gone much worse as a series of crashes forced him out of the race with a broken wrist and hand, just five stages into the race. A little under 12 months on, the Team Sky rider was lining up in Utrecht at the team presentation. After falling short last season, Froome is raring to get racing under way.
"It feels great that we're here now, I'm in great shape, I've got such a strong team of guys around me – probably the strongest team we've ever had at the Tour de France. I'm just looking forward to getting started now," Froome told the press during the team presentation in Utrecht. "It's been such a long time getting ready for this year's Tour de France. Obviously after the disappointment of last year I've spent a whole year basically just trying to get ready for this point.
"We've got such a tight-knit group of guys here, some of whom have been riding together for the last 10 years. That group dynamic is really important. We all absolutely trust each other and I know the guys are going to give it absolutely everything. That gives me a lot of confidence coming into this race."
A challenging opening week lies ahead of all the contenders, with yet another trip over the cobbles. It was the pavé stage at last year's race that spelled the end for Froome, although he didn't actually reach the cobbles. There is also the preceding day's stage to the Mur de Huy to contend with. Froome got himself into difficulty when he rode Flèche Wallonne, where the finishing circuit has been taken from, earlier this season when he crashed in the final 10 kilometres.
Froome knows that the opening few days could be almost as important as the final. "The first week is going to be like running the gauntlet," said Froome. "Anyone who doesn't make it through there isn't going to make it into the GC race later once we hit the mountains. That first week is going to be all about trying to stay safe, stay out of trouble, and hopefully all of the contenders can get up into the mountains so that it can be the race that it’s shaping up to be."
One of the riders hoping to help Froome to his second title will be Tour de France debutant Luke Rowe. The 25-year-old Welshman has impressed in his last two classics campaigns and will be key in the first week. Rowe has Grand Tour experience with two Vuelta a España's but he's learning that the Tour de France is a different beast.
"It's blown out of all proportion. It's on a big scale, a lot of people, a lot of faces, a lot of happy fans," said Rowe. "As far as the racing side of my debut goes, we've got so many experienced guys here and I've spoken to quite a few of them, picked their brains, and ultimately it's like any other bike race. You're racing against the same guys, but with extra pressure and stress and with a lot more people watching worldwide.
"The morale in the team is really good. We got together for the first time yesterday and it was like a big reunion, a big happy family with all the boys back together, a bit of banter around the dinner table. We're just looking forward to getting the ball rolling now."
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