Froome faces tough ride for Tour hat-trick

Thu Jun 30, 2016 1:23pm EDT
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By Julien Pretot

MONT ST MICHEL, France (Reuters) - Defending champion Chris Froome looks set for a rocky ride with an army of hungry rivals trying to prevent the Briton becoming the first rider for over 20 years to retain the Tour de France.

"This is the toughest challenge I've faced in my career, to target a third Tour de France," Froome, who prevailed on the French roads in 2013 and 2015, said.

The 31-year-old will hope that his performances are not scrutinized with the same negativity as last year when he faced a barrage of doping insinuations after smashing his rivals in the first mountain stage.

Team Sky's Froome, who won the Criterium du Dauphine warm-up race earlier this month, proved last year that he could be impervious to outside pressure, hanging on to his lead despite the media attacks and those coming from the crowd, which included having urine thrown at him during one stage.

A race that never ceases to throw up controversy will also be keen to stamp out rumors of illegal mechanical assistance.

It is a threat so serious that organizers and the International Cycling Union (UCI) announced they would use thermal cameras to detect and deter hidden motors.

To help Froome succeed, Sky have assembled arguably the strongest squad around their leader, with Geraint Thomas, Mikel Landa, Sergio Henao and Wout Poels earmarked to protect him in the mountains.

"It's not just about beating Froome. It's about beating the whole Team Sky," Alberto Contador (Tinkoff), also gunning for the third Tour title that would cement his status as the greatest grand tour rider of his generation, told L’Equipe.   Continued...

Cycling -  Tour de France cycling race - Training session ahead of the weekend's start - Port-en-Bessin-Huppain, France - 30/06/2016 - Team Sky rider Chris Froome of Britain during a training session - REUTERS/Juan Medina