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Froome aiming for third Romandie win

LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AFP) — After stretching his legs at Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday, Team Sky leader Chris Froome will be aiming for a third Tour de Romandie title this week.

Froome is one of three former winners at this year’s event, which begins Tuesday and ends on Sunday.

For many contenders, Romandie is an early preparatory race ahead of July’s Tour de France and defending Tour champion Froome will be joined by last year’s Tour runner-up Nairo Quintana (Movistar) with top French hopes Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) and Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) also taking part.

Surprise defending champion Ilnur Zakarin will also be on the start line Tuesday. He finished a strong fifth in Liège on Sunday. He’ll be joined by his Katusha teammate and 2010 winner, Simon Spilak of Slovenia.

The 70th edition of Romandie starts with a 3.95km prologue in Chaux-de-Fonds that won’t likely result in any major time gaps between the main contenders but will do enough to create an early pecking order.

Thereafter, the cold and possible snow could be a factor during the early days of racing.

Already last month, races had to be cancelled at both Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico due to snow creating dangerous conditions while Sunday’s Liège one-day classic course was altered after the race had begun in order to avoid treacherous road surfaces caused by snowfall.

The stage most at risk, perhaps, will be Thursday’s first summit finish at Morgins, although that is only 1,350 meters (4,429 feet) above sea level.

A 15km time-trial follows on Friday before the crucial stage on Saturday that includes two ascents of the first category Col de la Croix climb, the second time being an uphill finish.

Although this race comes two-and-a-half months before the Tour, it has recently provided a good gauge as to the form of Grand Boucle hopefuls. Australian Cadel Evans in 2011, Bradley Wiggins the next year, and his British compatriot Froome in 2013 all won in Romandie before claiming Tour glory.

Last year Froome seemed set to win Romandie for the third year in a row but produced an uncharacteristically poor final stage time-trial before settling for third overall, 35 seconds behind Zakarin.

Although he was far from flying in Liege — Froome finished 112th, more than 10 minutes behind his Sky teammate and winner Wout Poels — he was in good shape earlier in the year, winning the Herald Sun Tour in Australia in February.

Colombian Quintana was running well in March when he won the Volta a Catalunya but was only third earlier this month behind Spain’s Alberto Contador and another Colombian Sergio Henao in the Basque Country.

Pinot has also enjoyed success this year, in last month’s Critérium International, while also managing top-five finishes in the Algarve, the Basque Country, and Tirreno-Adriatico.