Chris Froome: This Tour de France route is biggest challenge of my career

Chris Froome, the three-times Tour de France winner, feels fresh and not perturbed by failure to win the Critrium du Dauphin, he tells William Fotheringham

Chris Froome is certain he is on track to contend for a fourth Tour de France victory next month despite his not managing to win the Critrium du Dauphin, traditionally his warm-up race for La Grande Boucle . The Team Sky leader won the eight-day race in France each time before his Tour victories in 2013, 2015 and 2016 but this year could finish only fourth to the Dane Jakob Fuglsang.

Im not the superstitious kind, to think that winning the Dauphin is a precursor to winning the Tour, Froome says. Its certainly good for the morale and the confidence to win your last race before the Tour but I dont think its a prerequisite.

The 32 -year-old Briton added that. if he was not at his peak in June, that might be explained by the need to keep his powder dry for later in the season. I have been very light on race days this year going into the Dauphin I was on 19 race days but that has been a conscious decision to keep me fresher for whats to come.

Potentially with the Tour and the Vuelta a Espaa afterwards it could be a busy summertime of racing. Its worked in the past going into this part of the season fresher. I feel the Dauphin was just what I needed in terms of intensity and it was a very intense Dauphin especially the back end of it. When we make the mountains it was a full-on race and it will have moved me on, condition-wise, a lot.

Unlike in other years Froome has yet to score his first win of the season but that scarcely seems to worry him. However, he professes fascination with a radical road for this years race that includes nine potential sprint stages and only two genuine mountain-top finishes, at Peyragudes in the Pyrenees and the Col dIzoard in the Alps, with a third, smaller one at Plateau des Belles Filles in eastern France.

I genuinely think this years Tour route presents the biggest challenge to me that Ive faced in my career to date. Its an open course and the different levels of my contenders is higher than it has ever been. It will be a much closer race in July, more hard fought than weve seen in the last few years. I think what strikes me most is the lack of time-trial kilometres.

There are only two hour trials in the Tour this year: 13 kilometres on the opening stage, this Saturday in Dsseldorf, and 22 kilometres in Marseille on the final Saturday three weeks later. That is a massive contrast with the 1990 s and the noughties when there might be two stages against the watch of up to 50 or 60 kilometres, a prologue period trial and perhaps a squad time trial.

It follows a recent trend, as the 2015 Tour won by Froome had an even smaller quantity of individual time-trialling. This year, however, the race is short of obvious set-piece stages, as Froome notes. Its not as if its been made up for with mountain-top finishes, its also very light on those. Its a very open race. Of course there are some mountain-top finishes the Izoard stage, for example, thats going to be a straightforward general classification race up to virtually 2,500 m. Youve got a very open course, nearly praying for riders to be more aggressive, to take opportunities to create situations on the road that will lead to exciting racing.

It will be interesting to see if that happens or if its a more controlled race, because the guys are watching and waiting because there are so few typical general classification days, the[ favourites] will get their teams to ride and wait for those rather than going for it. It will be interesting to see who is going there with what kind of tactics.

That is far from the only source of supposition. Froome will race this years Tour against the backdrop of an eight-month long investigation by UK Anti-Doping into accusations of possible wrongdoing at Team Sky in the wake of the Jiffy bag saga. That culminated in the revelation that the team had acquired 55 doses of the corticosteroid triamcinolone between 2010 and 2013, with no paper trail to explain what it was used for. Triamcinolone is banned, unless used under certain conditions with a therapeutic employ exemption, and is known to enhance performance.

There have also been reports of dissent within Team Sky over the affair, with the role of the Sky principal, Sir Dave Brailsford, called into question after his appearance in front of the House of Commons culture, media and sport committee in December. When Team Sky members expressed their support for Dave B on social media in March, Froome was far from the front of the queue. His contract with the team expires at the end of 2018 and he is in the process of negotiating a new deal.

If Froome can win this years Tour, he will join the smaller club who have won three in a row Eddy Merckx, Miguel Indurain, Louison Bobet and Jacques Anquetil and the even more exclusive club to have won four. Im aware of those numbers. Its already been such a big goal to try and win back- to-back Tours as I did last year. To do it again would be massive for me. It seems to be becoming a bigger challenge every year and this year is no different.

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