With several riders nipping at his heels and questionable form throughout this season, the intensity and pressure have tightened around Chris Froome, but at his Tour de France press conference he spelled out that the desire to win his fourth title was unequivocal and absolute.
Flanked by his eight teammates, and with a surprise appearance from Team Sky Manager Dave Brailsford, the British rider acknowledged that this year's Tour could be his greatest challenge yet as he seeks a third straight win that would put him just one Tour victory behind Eddy Merckx, Miguel Indurain, Bernard Hinault, and the late Jacques Anquetil.
"The hunger hasn't got any less for me," he said. "I'm as motivated as ever. I've got so much more to race for. It's potentially a fourth Tour de France title. It's a massive challenge, the level of my rivals is higher and on a difficult course as well. I'm here with the same motivation as before, if not more."
Froome's season began back in February, but he has not won a competitive race since last year with several low key performances over the spring culminating with fourth overall at the Criterium du Dauphine – a race he has won before each of his previous Tour victories. At the same time, ex-teammate Richie Porte has progressed with a number of dominant rides and the Australian is many peoples' favourite for the overall win. At the Dauphine, Porte dropped Froome in the mountains and put him away in the individual time trial. Although the BMC Racing leader missed out on the overall win, he heads into the Tour brimming with confidence.
While Froome has eased into the year in order to hold his peak condition back for July and then a more consistent bid for the Vuelta a Espana, it has left him vulnerable at times.
When asked if there was any weakness on his side, Froome admitted that his rivals may be spurred on by both their performances at the Dauphine and his own build-up but that he still had confidence in his own form.
"Potentially. Potentially. If the Dauphine is anything to go by, then Richie is going to be the man to beat in terms of form and condition, and he stands out from my rivals," Froome said.
"Having a victory coming into the Tour de France is always great for morale and confidence, but I think I can take a lot of confidence from having won three Tours already. When I feel ready I can take confidence from that.
"I feel as if I'm exactly where I need to be. The Dauphine was just what I needed to get that extra bit of race rhythm. I'd been very light on race days up until the Dauphiné. I'd like to think that means I'm coming into the Tour fresher than I've ever been before, and certainly if numbers in training are anything to go by, I'm ready for the next three weeks."
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Froome also confirmed that he is even closer to signing a new contract extension at Team Sky – news Cyclingnews first broke during the Dauphine. His Tour team is missing Ian Stannard and Woet Poels but is still stacked with riders who could lead a squad at the race in their own right. Geraint Thomas, Mikel Landa, Mikel Nieve, Sergio Henao and the in-form Michal Kwiatkowski will protect Froome in the mountains, while Vasil Kiryenka, Christian Knees and Luke Rowe will shepherd Froome through the flat first week.
"This year in general I haven't been quite as involved in team selection as I was in the past," Froome said. "I don't have doubts about the eight guys around me. I'll definitely feel confident going into climbs with them around me. Of course not having Wout [Poels] is a huge shame. He was a big part of my victory last year, but I know he needs time to get himself right after his injury."
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