Froome expects tough defense of Sun Tour title

Three-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome said Tuesday he expected this year's Herald Sun Tour to be "even more competitive."

SYDNEY (AFP) — Three-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome said Tuesday he expected this year’s Herald Sun Tour to be “even more competitive” and a tough battle against local and international challengers.

The defending Herald Sun Tour champion — who is launching his 2017 season in Australia — said last year’s Giro d’Italia runner-up Esteban Chaves (Orica – Scott) and others were in “great shape.”

“This year’s going to be even more competitive with the likes of Chaves here,” Froome (Sky) said ahead of the tour prologue on Wednesday.

“Last year I saw that the level of racing here in Australia’s really high for the local level, and I think that there are more and more guys who wouldn’t necessarily be on our radars who we’re racing against here,” the 31-year-old Briton added.

Local star Simon Gerrans (Orica – Scott), who was second in Sunday’s Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race and has won the Herald Sun twice, said his major objective was to win the overall tour for the team.

“There are a couple of stages, possibly the one after Falls Creek that I think I can be a real contender for but the big objective this week is to win the overall,” he said.

“If stage 1 goes well and we’ve got Esteban right up there, hopefully we’ll be defending a lead from there on.

“Esteban’s looking really good. We’ve seen him perform well already on courses which really don’t suit his capabilities down to the ground.

“Once we get up in the big mountains, up in the Victorian Alps we’ll see Esteban come into his own.”

Colombian Chaves, 27, had a breakout 2016 season. Apart from the Giro d’Italia, he was third at the Vuelta a España and winner of Italian “Monument” race Il Lombardia.

The Herald Sun tour includes a prologue and four stages in Victoria state from Wednesday to Sunday.