Team Sky unveils squad to support Chris Froome at Tour de France

Landa, Henao, Poels, Nieve, Thomas all in

Team Sky has unveiled the eight riders who will support Chris Froome’s bid for a third Tour de France title, with Mikel Landa part of a climbing-oriented squad.

Landa was Sky’s leader at the Giro d'Italia but pulled out through illness on stage 10, causing him to restructure his season – much like Sergio Henao, who was sidelined while the UCI looked into his biological passport data but who makes the Tour team having been cleared.

More support in the mountains comes in the form of Wout Poels, who played a valuable role for a weakening Froome on Alpe d’Huez last year as Nairo Quintana went on the offensive, and Mikel Nieve, who rode the Giro and proved a solid plan B by winning a stage in the mountains.

Geraint Thomas, one of the revelations of last year’s Tour, returns and should be one of the last men with Froome on the key stages, as he hopes to be a protected rider in his own right and chase a strong GC result himself. If that materialises, he may become a useful card for Froome to play, though Landa and Henao are both also capable of high overall placings at Grand Tours.

Last year, Froome had plenty of protection for the Classics-flavoured opening week but this year he has just two true domestiques for the flat. They are the British duo of Ian Stannard and Luke Rowe, both diesel engines capable of spending plenty of time in the wind.

Vasil Kiryienka, the final name on the list, is a domestique deluxe, able to put in a shift on any terrain but, as world time trial champion, he'll also be eyeing up the 37km stage 13 chrono to complete a full set of Grand Tour wins. 

"It was pretty difficult, this one," team principal Dave Brailsford said of his selection. "As always, the first names go down pretty quickly but then you start to think about the architecture of team. We’ve based the team towards climbers. 

"I’m absolutely confident they will pull together and give everything they can to win this race. There will be no cracks in the team, there will be no squabbles. The feedback will be fantastic. If something hasn’t worked, they’ll say it. In terms of the support they can give Chris, I’ve got absolute confidence."

No room for Kwiatkowski or Roche

The strength of Sky’s squad is perhaps best illustrated by some of the names that have been left out, including former world champion Michal Kwiatkowski and the experienced Nicolas Roche.

Braislford said it was a “difficult decision” to omit Roche, a veteran of 16 Grand Tours who has ridden for Alberto Contador in the past, while a bout of illness at the Critérium du Dauphiné put paid to Kwiatkowski’s hopes of selection.

"He's unfortunately suffered with laryngitis in the last couple of weeks and that’s just knocked the edge off him," said Brailsford of the Pole. "He’s not quite as fit as he needs to be and that’s ruled him out. Leaving a guy of his calibre out of the team is not easy. But you’ve got to go with form and performance - that leads the way in selection."

Peter Kennaugh, who has supported Froome in both of his Tour victories – in 2013 and 2015 – is not part of the plan this year, nor is Leopold Konig, who has endured an injury-plagued season.

“I feel in good shape coming into the race this year and am fortunate to have a strong team around me - both on and off the bike,” said Froome in a statement from Sky.

"There is not a trace of complacency in the team. We know how hard this race will be and how much we will have to give if we want to win it again. But we have trained hard. We're ready for the challenge and can't wait to get back racing in front of the millions of people in France who make the race so special."

Team Sky for the Tour de France: Chris Froome, Sergio Henao, Vasil Kiryienka, Mikel Landa, Mikel Nieve, Wout Poels, Luke Rowe, Ian Stannard, Geraint Thomas.

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