LEEDS, United Kingdom, July 03, 2014 (AFP) – Defending Tour de France
champion Chris Froome is feeling the pressure ahead of the start of the
biggest cycle race on the planet on Saturday in Leeds.
Froome was peerless last year in winning his first Grand Tour ahead of
Colombian debutant Nairo Quintana, who will not race the Grand Boucle this
But ahead of the this year’s ‘Grand Depart’ in his home country, the
Kenyan-born 29-year-old Team Sky rider admitted things feel different.
“There definitely is an increase in pressure element coming back as
defending champion, given that we’re starting on home soil,” said Froome.
“We’ve got huge crowds out here but I think it’s all very warm, positive
energy for us. We couldn’t be asking for much more as a team, starting in that
way and giving us that launch pad going into the Tour de France.”
This year’s race is widely expected to be a straight shoot-out between
Froome and Spanish former two-time winner Alberto Contador.
Froome agrees that the Tinkoff-Saxo rider, who was fourth last year, is the
man to watch but insists that others could also challenge.
“I think Alberto has shown he’s definitely in a much more competitive
position this year than he was last year,” added Froome.
“His run-up to the Tour de France has certainly been a lot smoother, he’s
managed to get a lot more results in early season than he did last year.
“As with a lot of my main rivals and the main contenders here, everyone
seems to have upped their game and again we’re going to be looking forward to
a really exciting Tour this year, and it’s going to be a battle all the way to
Froome has struggled with injury and illness at various points this year
and has won only two stage races coming into the Tour, compared with four at
the same stage last year.
But Froome still insists that his form is as good as ever.
“Every season comes with its own set of challenges and this year’s been no
different,” he said.
“I’ve had issues with my lower back early season, I’ve had chest problems
this year, I had a crash at the (Criterium du) Dauphine which definitely set
me back a little bit.
“But the last week of training, building into coming here, has been really
good and I feel like I’m in a very similar platform to where I was last year.”