Chris Froome is ready to target the 2013 Tour de France as sole leader of Team Sky, without the support or distraction of Bradley Wiggins, confident that he has the form and ability to take on rivals who have already won Grand Tours.
The Kenyan-born Briton is an obvious favourite to win this year's Tour de France after finishing a close second to teammate Bradley Wiggins last year. Yet he is also the outsider, the underdog - as he describes himself - after rising from his humble beginnings in African cycling to the top of the sport in just five years.
While Alberto Contador and Cadel Evans have years of Grand Tour wins and podium spots on their palmares, Froome is relatively new to cycling's top table. Froome turned professional in 2007 with Team Konica Minolta before joining Barloworld in 2008. However, he only broke through in 2011 when he finished second in the Vuelta a Espana.
Speaking to Cyclingnews during a special media day in Nice, Froome is still hesitant but is also confident of his chances of victory at the Tour de France.
"If I look back at the last five seasons of my career as a professional, it’s really daunting how far I've come," Froome told Cyclingnews.
"Each year has been a massive learning experience and now I'm in a position to lead the team that won the Tour de France last year. That's mind boggling in a way. But at the same time I feel I'm ready for it and the team's ready for it, too. The final names have still to be announced, but we've got a strong team and that boosts my confidence even further."
While Wiggins is considered high maintenance as a team leader because of his insecurity and character, Froome seems unruffled and unperturbed about the clamour and media frenzy that the Tour de France manages to whip up every summer. He is hoping to even find time to enjoy moments of the event.
"I hope we can come out of the race successful and have some great war stories to talk about, too," he said.
"It'll be a special edition of the Tour de France because it's the 100th edition. It'll go down in history in lots of way. I feel ready. I'll be giving it everything to do my best. I won’t be holding back."
Froome seems to have few scars left from his leadership battle with Wiggins. It is almost unheard of that the previous year's Tour de France winner is left at home, even if he is troubled with a knee problem. Froome has outmaneuvered Wiggins with ease in recent months and inspired loyalty and support from his teammates and the management. He now represents the future of the sport's biggest team, while Wiggins has quickly slipped to become just part of its past.
Of course Froome follows the carefully crafted message about Wiggins. He will probably wear number one dossard in Corsica and so has the need to set the record straight on what happened on the Team Sky bus in the last 12 months.
"It's a shame we don’t have Bradley's big engine for the team time trial and his support in the mountains, but I think we've got all the bases covered," he said diplomatically.
"From the media point of view, there's a lot of talk about team leadership, but it’s a relief that the team is so strong."
Froome knows he can count on and trust his training partner and now close friend Richie Porte.
"Richie won Paris-Nice this and so showed he's got the ability. It helps my confidence knowing he can be there to help me in the finale of the big climbs. [There are] not many guys left on the big climbs, but I know that Richie will be there," Froome said.
Identifying the key moments of the 2013 Tour
Like all his yellow jersey rivals, Froome has carefully studied the key stages, the toughest climbs and the important time trials of this year's Tour de France.
He admits it is impossible to identify one key point that could decide this year's race. As in every three-week Grand Tour, this year there are several moments that will be decisive on the long road to Paris.
"Uhmm…. It's pretty difficult to pick just one decisive stage. There are going to be a few: For sure Mont Ventoux will be decisive after racing for 240km. Then the double climb of L'Alpe d'Huez will also be a special day in the mountains. It could see gaps of several minutes open up between the overall contenders," he said.
"The time trials are of lesser importance this year but they will be factor. Some people will lose several minutes if they aren't TT specialists and any time is important in the Tour de France."
A confident underdog
Froome and Team Sky face a major challenge from several teams this year: BMC has both Cadel Evans and Tejay an Garderen, while Saxo-Tinkoff has Contador, Roman Kreuziger and support from Michael Rogers and Nicolas Roche.
Froome warns not to forget about Movistar but does not seem worried about taking them on.
"I can see that we'll face some big teams that will have some big riders as leaders. I think we should also include the Movistar team in the mix because they'll have Quintana and Valverde," he said.
"I'm perhaps still the underdog in that respect, compared to them. I haven't won a Grand Tour yet. I have led the Vuelta a Espana but I'm still a bit of a novice I suppose."
"But I'm quietly confident. I've been able to settle into the role of being a favourite and a big race contender this year in the build-up to the Tour. Hopefully that will be useful and be enough to help win the Tour de France for the first time. That's my goal. That's what I want to achieve."