Chris Froome (Team Sky) heads into the Critérium du Dauphiné looking to make history and become the first rider to win the prestigious race four times. The defending champion isn't hung up on victory, however, well aware that a super competitive field will be aiming to test themselves against him as part of their final Tour de France preparation. The long-term aim for the Team Sky leader is to ensure he peaks in July, when it really matters.
"I'm here to go for it. I've won the Dauphiné three times before going on to win the Tour so it's a big goal for me. At the same time it's a big test for me to see where I'm at and what work I need to do before July," he told Cyclingnews on the start line of stage 1 in the centre of Saint-Etienne.
Froome has taken a far more gradual approach to this campaign as he bids to win the Tour de France and Vuelta a España in the same season. It's a feat he has not yet conquered, with second place his best result in Spain. He has not won a race in 2017 and was off the pace in his last outing – the Tour de Romandie in April – partly due to a small back injury. The back has now healed and Froome has spent several weeks at altitude in order to find his best form ahead of July.
"I don't feel like I'm here to prove anything or send a message to anyone," he said when asked about his dry run.
"It's more for myself and trying to gauge where I'm at, but for sure a victory is always good."
Stage 1 of the Critérium du Dauphiné will see the peloton tackle eight categorised climbs before finishing back in Saint-Etienne. The stage is a stark contrast to last year's Dauphiné opener, in which the riders faced a short uphill time trial.
"It's a tricky one because it's the first stage, so you're not too sure who will control the race. There are a lot of big GC guys here and a lot of sprinters who might want to go for it today. It's going to be an open race."
Looking ahead, the race also holds a key individual time trial on stage 4 before three days in the mountains. Richie Porte, Alberto Contador, Simon Yates, Dan Martin and Romain Bardet are all expected to challenge for the podium.
"There are some really tough stages. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday we have three pretty big mountain stages, all back-to-back. That will be a big test for us. I'd love to try and win but it's not easy. There are a lot of GC contenders here and I'll have to see how the racing goes. The whole mental aspect [ed. before the Tour de France] is important. I'm looking to leave this race with good feelings and knowing that I'm in the right form heading into July."