Team Sky has confirmed the riders that will support Chris Froome as he targets a fourth Tour de France victory, with Geraint Thomas, Mikel Landa, Milan-San Remo winner Michal Kwiatkowski, and Paris-Nice winner Sergio Henao all in the British team's strong line-up. However, there is no place for Wout Poels or Britons Pete Kennaugh and Ian Stannard.
Team Sky are targeting a fifth Tour de France victory after first winning the race in 2012 with Bradley Wiggins, with Froome going on to win it in 2013, 2015 and 2016.
Team Sky arguably has the strongest team for the Tour de France and is hoping Froome can find his best form in July after a failing to win a race so far this season. Froome faces a serious challenge from former teammate Richie Porte (BMC), Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo), Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Romain Bardet (AG2R-La Mondiale).
"The Tour de France is a special race and it would just be incredible to win it for a fourth time. Aiming for that fourth victory has given me a lot of motivation," said Froome in a statement announcing Sky's line-up on Thursday. "We’re ready as a team and I can't wait for the Tour to start now. Honestly, I just love it. It's a feeling that you don't get from any other race."
Geraint Thomas targeted the Giro d'Italia as team leader but was forced to quit due to the injuries he sustained in a crash sparked by a police motorbike on stage 9. He has now recovered and recently raced the Route du Sud as a final test of his form. He is expected to be Froome's co-captain as well as a possible Plan B leader for the overall classification if Froome struggles or is injured.
Team Sky has again opted for a mixed team of support riders to help and protect Froome on the hectic flat stages and in the mountains. Seven of the riders rode the 2016 Tour de France, with Kwiatkowski arguably replacing Poels and Knees replacing Stannard. The average age of the squad is an experienced 30.8. As statistician Cillian Kelly pointed out on social media, five riders at Team Sky have all finished in the top 15 overall at the Tour de France: As well as Froome, these are Kwiatkowski (11th), Henao (12th), Nieve (12th) and Thomas (15th). Landa has also finished third overall in the Giro d'Italia.
The Team Sky riders will race in a new white kit at the Tour de France, produced by Castelli.
"We've selected a strong and experienced lineup who will support him, and we'll be looking to use the strength of the team to our advantage," said team principal Dave Brailsford.
Landa, Henao and Spain's Mikel Nieve are considered key mountain domestiques, with Kwiatkowski also ready to provide support whenever needed. Kwiatkowski finished second in the Amstel Gold Race and third in Liege-Bastogne-Liege but he is also a talented stage racer and has trained at altitude for the Tour de France alongside Froome, along with riding the Critérium du Dauphiné.
Landa impressed in the mountains at the Giro d'Italia and is in the team despite reports he may join Movistar in 2018.
Rowe is again Team Sky's road captain as he helps protect Froome and direct the team out on the road, while Belarusian Vasil Kiryienka will provide plenty of horsepower and a calming presence whenever needed.
Kennaugh rode the Tour de France alongside Froome in 2013 and 2015 but missed out again despite winning the Alpe d'Huez stage at the Critérium du Dauphiné earlier this month.
Poels had been hoping to secure a place in the final nine after recovering from a troublesome knee injury. However, he only returned to action last week at the Route du Sud and Team Sky management have opted for Landa instead of the Dutchman.
There is no place for Stannard, with Germany's Christian Knees securing the final domestique role in the team after a solid season. Stannard has helped Team Sky win the Tour de France four times but has been struggling with illness and quit the Critérium du Dauphiné due to a virus.
Team Sky for the Tour de France:
Chris Froome (GBr), Geraint Thomas (GBr), Mikel Landa (Spa), Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol), Vasil Kiryienka (Blr), Mikel Nieve (Spa), Sergio Henao (Col), Luke Rowe (GBr) and Christian Knees (Ger).