UTRECHT, Netherlands (AFP) — Chris Froome (Sky) said he was feeling more relaxed ahead of the Tour de France this year than he was 12 months ago as defending champion.
In 2014, Froome crashed three times in two days and left the race during the fifth stage with a broken wrist. But now that Italian Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) has eclipsed him as holder of the Tour’s yellow jersey, Froome is feeling more at ease.
“That’s definitely a big factor [not being defending champion] in how I’m feeling at the moment,” he said on Friday, on the eve of the Grand Départ in Utrecht. “On a very personal note, I’m expecting a baby toward the end of the year and personally that puts me in a really good place.
“I’ve been here and done this now a few times. I’m getting into the routine. It doesn’t feel like such a burden having this pressure any more. Certainly not coming in as defending champion, I’ve got everything to race for this year.”
Froome is one of the ‘fantastic four’ expected to compete for the title alongside Nibali, Giro d’Italia winner Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Colombian climber Nairo Quintana (Movistar), who finished second to Froome in 2013.
Measuring up his rivals, Froome said he expects Nibali to come out fast, Quintana to be strong in the mountains, and Contador to perhaps struggle at the end.
“Especially how it panned out last year, Vincenzo [Nibali] is someone to really watch within the first week. He will be looking to make his mark on the race early on with that classics-style racing,” said the Kenyan-born, 30-year-old Brit.
“Alberto [Contador], I have no doubt he’s in amazing shape after winning the Giro d’Italia. He’s set himself obviously the big task of the double, that’s the big challenge for him, and it’s going to be interesting to see how he pulls off in the third week given that he’s already got a grand tour in his legs this season.
“Nairo [Quintana], we haven’t seen too much of him this year. I have no doubt that he’s going to be up there in the mountains, perhaps for him the most challenging part will be this first week.”
Team Sky manager Dave Brailsford said he can’t wait to see the race get underway, particularly after the disappointment of last year — after Froome crashed out, Australian Richie Porte proved a long way off being up for the challenge, and the team ended the Tour without even a stage win.
“We’re all very, very excited; we have all the best riders here, it’s a great race, a tricky race, it’s very varied. The big riders are all on form, it’s box office time, there’s a lot of expectation and anticipation.
“We’re really looking forward to getting involved and getting started and playing a role in this race.”
This year’s course has come in for a lot of praise for the variety and challenges it offers, particularly in the first week with wind, cobbles, sharp uphill finishes, and the probability of crashes.
Far from being daunted by that, Brailsford says it’s what everyone wants to see.
“What we want in sport is suspense, variation, riders to be challenged in different ways. So different types of stages with a lot of variety is a good thing.
“Some [stages] represent more risks than others, but it’s the same for everybody, and I think it’s quite healthy — the way the race has been designed this year is very interesting, it’s made for a great race.”