Compared to 2016, Chris Froome will have two race days in his legs before lining out at the five day Jayco Herald Sun Tour in Victoria, Australia. The three-time Tour de France champion won the queen stage of last year's race to secure the overall victory and ensure a winning start the season that was highlighted by the defence of title at the French Grand Tour in July. Froome is back Down Under, aiming to replicate his February success and build the platform for a fourth Tour title later this year.
"Thrilled to be back. It definitely worked for me starting off the season down here. I find it easy to get the miles in, I find it a great atmosphere out on the roads and a really competitive level of racing as well," Froome told reporters a day out from the race on the banks of the Yarra River.
Since 2013, the Team Sky rider has started his season with a stage race and emerged victorious at the Tour of Oman and Ruta del Sol prior to his Australian success last year. While there is familiarity to Froome's season start Down Under, the fact the race immediately heads to the Victorian Alps after the short 2km prologue meant the 31-year-old wanted an early hit out at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race. He finished 49th but regularly animated the race.
"We'll find out. It kicks off pretty quickly up Falls Creek on stage 1 so that is certainly going to kick things off pretty quickly for the GC guys," he said of the early climbing test. "I rode in Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race last weekend and that was a good test to blow out the cobwebs and hopefully put me in better shape for this week ahead.
"Personally I would have liked to have seen another two laps," he added of the one day race which featured three finishing circuits around Geelong with sprinter Nikias Arndt claiming the win. "I felt like I was getting better and better the more laps we were doing. I felt like people were starting to slow down and I was keeping the same speed. The training is there, I still have a long way to go for sure until I am in Tour de France shape but feelings are good and that is the main thing at this point."
While his Tour de France form still "two or three months" away, Froome is still promising to give it his all despite being a man down due to Owain Doull's appendicitis.
"This year is going to be even more competitive with the likes of Chaves here. It looks like he is great shape after a block of racing already. We have a good team down here as well, unfortunately one rider short, but what we lack there I think we make up with quality with the rest of the guys," he said of the rider who finished on the Vuelta a Espana podium with him last, before adding that he believes stiff competition will also come from the local Continental teams.
"Last year I saw that the level of racing here is Australia is really high for the local level and I think there are more and more guys who wouldn't necessarily be on our radars who we are racing against here that I have no doubt that will be up there this week," he said. "It is a good field and a good opportunity for them as well I think to test themselves against us and vice versa."
Going in as the marked man and defending champion, Froome explained that he isn't thinking about becoming the first rider since Gerrans in 2006, and second since Graham McVilly in 1974, to win consecutive titles.
Simply, that he wants to start off the season on the right foot and like Richie Porte at the Tour Down Under and Bauke Mollema at the Vuelta a San Juan, send a message to his rivals that he once again he is the man to beat in stage races.
"It is an interesting one because people ask me the same thing about the Tour de France going to the as the defending champion. Personally, I don't like to look like that. I look at it as a clean slate each time you go one and you have everything to gain, apposed to going in there with the defensive mind-set," he said. "Every edition is different and again, I am here to race to the best of my ability."
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