PARIS (Reuters) - Chris Froome struggled for form, then crashed but the Briton looks ready just in time to compete for a second Tour de France title although micro managers Team Sky will struggle to control the race like they usually do.
Froome, who claimed the 2013 Tour having won almost every race he entered in the build-up to the three-week extravaganza, took a rockier road this year before taking overall victory in the Criterium du Dauphine, the prestigious warm-up for the Tour.
A couple of trademark late attacks in the final climbs helped him beat American Tejay van Garderen while defending Tour champion Vincenzo Nibali was still struggling for fitness.
Before he got there, Froome was forced to skip the Tirreno-Adriatico week-long race in March because of illness and looked lost in the Tour of Catalunya later that month before crashing in the Fleche Wallonne classic in April.
“I definitely feel as if I had a slower build up to the Tour this year, I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing. I‘m exactly where I need to be,” said Froome, who achieved the Dauphine/Tour double in 2013.
He picked himself up in the Tour de Romandie, finishing third overall, and looked closer to his awe-inspiring best on the Dauphine.
“There are still one or two little things to touch on but things are looking good,” he said.
To help Froome win the Dauphine, Team Sky rode hard to contain attacks and provide their leader with the perfect launching pad for his late accelerations.
It may be not possible on the Tour, though, where a unique set of aggressive riders will assemble at the start in Utrecht.
He will face old rival Alberto Contador, who will use every opportunity to wear down the Sky machine, but also Colombian Nairo Quintana, France’s Thibaut Pinot and Nibali -- all offensive riders who have never been at their best all together at the start of the Tour, which should be the case this year.
Froome, who abandoned the race when he crashed in the fifth stage last year, was exposed on the Dauphine once when Nibali’s attacking flair meant he and Van Garderen missed the winning move in a rain-hit mountain stage.
When Sky are taken out of their comfort zone -- which does not happen very often -- they look more vulnerable and their rivals’ attitude should be key to Froome’s chances.
One thing he cannot rely on, however, is a private motorhome, which team mate Richie Porte benefited from on the Giro d‘Italia, to avoid dodgy hotels as the International Cycling Union (UCI) has banned its use “to reaffirm absolute fairness between all riders.”
Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Ken Ferris