• Dave Brailsford and Chris Froome at the Team Sky press conference (Getty)Source: Getty
Sky is unequivocally heaping the burden of Tour de France favouritism on Richie Porte in the lead-up to the 104th edition but is fooling few considering more than anything its supreme start-list.
Sophie Smith

Cycling Central
30 Jun 2017 - 10:00 AM  UPDATED 30 Jun 2017 - 2:10 PM

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There is a question as to whether rival squads will truly be able to challenge the line-up team boss David Brailsford has assembled to support defending and three-time champion Chris Froome.

True, Porte is certainly the favourite on paper with several title victories to his name this season, and second place overall at the Ctritérium du Dauphiné, compared to Froome’s winless run. The Tasmanian is also racing on increased confidence, a stronger mind and now with full team support.

But whether his teammates will match or better Sky’s cool and confident assembly that includes Geraint Thomas, Mikel Landa, Sergio Henao, Vasil Kiryienka, Christian Knees, Michal Kwiatkowski, Mikel Nieve and Luke Rowe, remains to be seen.

Froome said he had less involvement in selecting the Tour squad this season, perhaps an indication of trust in a race and outfit he has come to own. Sky is notorious for only ever having a Plan A with Froome at the Tour, and Bradley Wiggins before him, which has gone some way to its four maillot jaune victories in five years.

This season will be no different. Sky has no apparent Plan B should Froome lose to misfortune, despite having riders including Thomas and Landa who entered the Giro d’Italia in May as co-captains with title aims, as well as the consistent Henao.

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“I think the previous years, that’s been one of Froome’s strengths, is having guys he can really rely on getting through those hard moments," Thomas said. "Whether it’s giving him a bike or being there on the last climb, he’s always had a solid team around him. Look at the last mountain stage last year, I think there was maybe five of us on that last climb. For sure, it’s a great strength.”

Thomas faltered in his Giro endeavour, abandoning due to crash-related injuries, but the interruption has not been perceived as a weakness to the Welshman, who was modest about accepting a leadership role in unforeseen circumstances.

“We know myself, Landa and Sergio aren’t just going to lose time for the sake of losing time,” Thomas said. “For me, I’ve got to feel my way into it confidence-wise and consistency wise. It hasn’t been the ideal prep.

"Going into the Giro I was ready, knew I was there and just wanted to get going whereas now it’s been trying to play catch-up a bit. So maybe on the first rest day, I’ll know a lot more.”

Froome in a pre-race press conference was settled with Brailsford on his right-hand side, resting on merit which overtaken his dry spell, and the comfort of a long contract extension currently being negotiated. In a slight demarcation to approach, the 32-year-old has trained more over racing this season.

“I feel I’m exactly where I need to be,” Froome said. “I think the Dauphine is just what I needed to get that extra bit of race rhythm. I’ve been very light in race days up until the Dauphine and I’d like to think that means I’m coming into the Tour fresher than I’ve ever been before.

"Certainly, if numbers in training and feelings on the bike are anything to go by I’m ready for the next three weeks.”

Sports director Nicolas Portal told Cycling Central last month a punchier Tour course, with fewer summit finishes, could work more in favour of Froome’s rivals, including Porte, and make for a more open race. But Brailsford, speaking on Tuesday, countered that his outfit can respond to both.

“We’ve come up with a game plan we’re looking forward to trying to roll-out. It’s pretty obvious whoever is going to win this race is going to have to be offensive,” Brailsford said.

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