Poels upbeat about securing a place in Team Sky's Tour de France squad

Wout Poels is optimistic about securing a place in Team Sky's Tour de France squad after returning to racing at the Route du Sud in the Pyrenees following a knee injury.

The Dutchman had not raced since the Ruta del Sol in early February. His knee pain meant he was unable to defend his 2016 victory at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and his chances of riding in support of Chris Froome initially seemed slim. However, Poels is considered one of Froome's key support riders in the mountains after helping him win the Tour in 2015 and 2016.

Poels has now been back in full training for several weeks and is hoping the Team Sky management will trust him to come good in the mountain stages of the Tour de France.

"I confident that I'm in [the Tour de France squad]. The progression I've made in recent weeks is clear to see. As a domestique for Froome, I don't need to be good from the first day. I need to be fresh to work in the third week, in the Alps," Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf report Poels as saying after he finished 41st overall at the Route de Sud.

Competition for the nine places in Team Sky's squad for the Tour de France is intense, with 13 riders on a long list. Chris Froome is targeting a fourth victory and will need strong support as he competes against Richie Porte (BMC), Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo), Romain Bardet (AG2R-La Mondiale) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar).

Geraint Thomas and Michal Kwiatkowski are expected to play key supporting roles for Froome, with Peter Kennaugh, Sergio Henao and Mikel Landa all under consideration as mountain domestiques. Luke Rowe, Ian Stannard, Christian Knees, Vasil Kiryienka and several other riders are in line for domestique duty on the flatter stages.

Team Sky is likely to confirm its final line-up after next weekend's national championships races.

Poels explained that he has not felt any pain in his knee for several weeks. In the spring, he felt what he described as a sharp pain, forcing him to make a very gradual recovery. He will continue to train in the Pyrenees in the hope of securing one of the nine places in the squad.

The Tour de France starts in Dusseldorf, Germany on Saturday, July 1.

"I'm going to continue training in the Pyrenees to study some of the climbs," he said. "These are signs that the team has confidence in me. We've also spoken about the Vuelta a España. I think I can do well after three months out. I'll still be fresh. But first, I'm hopeful of riding alongside Chris at the Tour."

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