Tour de France: Froome ready for toughest ever challenge

'This year the level of competition is higher than ever'

He may be the favourite to win the Tour de France with the bookies but Chris Froome (Team Sky) isn’t taking anything for granted as he searches for this third title.

At Team Sky’s pre-race press conference at Omaha Beach in northern France it felt like business as usual for the defending champion as he faced the media. It was your archetypal Sky press conference with Dave Braislford opening proceedings before Froome offered his prepared thoughts.

“I’m in a privileged position to be leading such a great group of guys,” he said.

“I’ve got all my bases covered with the guys we have here. I’m coming here off the back of the Dauphiné, which was a good confirmation of where I am. I feel as though I’m ready for the Tour de France.”

One of the areas in which Froome excels compared to his rivals is his support crew. That was abundantly clear at the press conference with Wout Poels, Geraint Thomas, Sergio Henao, Mikel Nieve, Mikel Landa, Luke Rowe and Ian Stannard on his flanks.

This is arguably the strongest squad Team Sky have ever selected for a Grand Tour – stronger, even, than their 2012 incarnation when they bossed proceedings with Wiggins and Froome finishing first and second. Six of the nine in this year’s team could consider themselves top-ten contenders in their own right. Whether they’ve arrived at the Tour and its tricky first week with too much of a climbing nucleus, only time will tell, but the fact that riders of Mikel Kwiatkowski’s qualitiy have been left out speaks volumes.

That said, Froome reminded the gathered press that Team Sky could not let complacency creep in.

“I’m ready for this year’s Tour but I know we can’t take anything for granted and there a lot of factors outside of our control but we’ve got the potential to get the job done. This is the toughest challenge of my career to date, trying to come here and target a third Tour de France but with this group around me I feel like I’ve got a lot more confidence and hopefully a team I can rely on when the chips are down.”

The Tour route itself suits Froome in many respects but ASO have also created a parcours that offers opportunities to the purer climbers, like Nairo Quintana and Alberto Contador. The time trialing has been reduced this year and ‘Froome Day’ – typically the first mountain summit stage after a rest-day – has been modified.

“This is a climber-based route. Even the two time trials, one is uphill and the other has two climbs on it. The time trials will see the climbers do well," said Froome. "The amount of climbing does outweigh previous editions. Everyone here can go uphill, including Stannard. It’s a climber's Tour de France and that’s how we’ve selected the team.

“Since I’ve come into the race and looking to win it’s become much more of a climber-dominated race in the last few years. I just feel that this year, more than ever, the level of competition is higher than ever. I have more rivals and the level of them is that much stronger.”

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