Chris Froome and Richie Porte will clash for the first time in 2017 at Sunday's Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, the first of several expected battles in 2017 before they both fight for victory at the Tour de France in July.
Porte heads to Melbourne for Sunday's one-day race as the winner of the Tour Down Under, while Froome will test his early season form in the newly upgraded WorldTour event after making his season debut at the Towards Zero Race Melbourne circuit race on the Albert Park motor racing circuit on Thursday.
Froome is targeting a fourth Tour de France victory in the summer, while Porte is hoping 2017 is his year after an excellent winter and strong start to the season. Porte left Team Sky and joined BMC in 2016 to have the freedom to target the Tour de France after helping Froome win two of his three Tour de France victories.
The two remain friends, with Froome quick to praise his former teammate as he talked about his form and Sunday's Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race.
"I've always had a lot of confidence in Richie's abilities and always said he's a Tour de France contender," Froome reaffirmed during the presentation of the race, sitting alongside Esteban Chaves (Orica-Scott) and Nathan Haas (Dimension Data), who are also contenders for Sunday's race.
"It's still very early obviously in the season and it's probably too early to be talking (about) favourites for the Tour. Certainly for Sunday, I'd expect Richie to be up there on that final climb, as I'd expect Esteban, and Nathan to be hanging on for dear life."
Froome's teammate Pete Kennaugh won the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race last year. He is not defending his title, with Froome leading a strong Team Sky squad that also includes Geraint Thomas, Ian Stannard, Luke Rowe and Sergio Henao. The 174-km race ends with three laps of a testing finishing circuit that includes the steep Chalambra climb.
Froome is unsure of his form so early in the year but seems ready to race.
"It's good to be down here. It's how I started my season last year, down in Australia, and I came out a bit earlier this year. I've just done a good training block before kicking off the racing," Froome said.
"My motivation is right up there. I'm certainly not in Tour de France shape, but I'm going to give it everything I've got and we'll see how it ends up."
"I've seen footage of last year and saw how Pete got away on that final climb. I guess every edition will be different, but I think the organisers have done a great job. You can see so many different scenarios unfolding out on the road. We've got a strong team out here and we have a few different cards to play."
Cyclingnews will have full coverage of Sunday's Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race and Thursday's Towards Zero Race Melbourne circuit race.
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