Ireland's Nicolas Roche omitted from Team Sky line-up for Tour de France
Published 22/06/2016 | 13:29
Chris Froome's attempt to win a third Tour de France title in four years will be backed by a powerhouse Team Sky line-up next month.
Joining the 31-year-old star on the starting line at Mont St-Michel on July 2 will be three other British riders: Welsh pair Luke Rowe and Geraint Thomas and Englishman Ian Stannard.
Spanish duo Mikel Landa and Mikel Nieve will provide plenty of climbing support, as will Colombian Sergio Henao and Dutchman Wout Poels, with Belarusian time-trial specialist Vasil Kiriyenka picked for his all-round ability.
There is no place for Ireland's Nicolas Roche.
"The Tour de France will always be the pinnacle of our sport," said Froome, who is aiming to be Britain's first back-to-back Tour champion.
"I feel in good shape coming into the race this year and am fortunate to have a strong team around me - both on and off the bike.
"Every rider obviously starts every new Tour equal and what has gone before counts for nothing. This year I am hungrier than ever for success."
When you are blessed with as strong a squad as Team Sky can boast, there will always be a few surprise omissions for the cycling season's biggest race but it is difficult to pick faults with this selection.
Henao and Landa are the only Tour debutants in the line-up but both could be leaders on other teams.
Henao would surely have ridden a Tour for Sky before but for injury and a now resolved issue with his blood values, and Landa's inclusion is a result of him having to pull out of last month's Giro d'Italia with illness, which was unlucky for him but could prove to be a stroke of fortune for Froome.
Nieve has not gone to the Tour since 2014 but claimed the King of the Mountains jersey at the Giro and won a stage, while Poels claimed Team Sky's first win in one of cycling's big one-day races at Liege-Bastogne-Liege in April.
Rowe and Stannard, like last year, will be expected to do most of the grunt work for Froome during the flat stages and early on in the mountains, while world time-trial champion Kiryienka will get a couple of chances to show his prowess against the clock.
There may be a few eyebrows raised at the absence of new signing Michal Kwiatkowski and the experienced Nicolas Roche but the Polish all-rounder has struggled with illness and the Irishman has not quite shown last year's form this term.
The only real doubt going into the race will be how Team Sky use the 30-year-old Thomas, who was one of the revelations of last year's race before fading slightly in the last couple of mountain stages to slip back to 15th.
That showing encouraged the former track star to dedicate himself to stage-racing this season, compromising his speciality in the one-day classics, and he has been rewarded for his efforts with two big early season wins.
But Thomas' most recent outing at the Tour of Switzerland did not go to plan as he struggled with the bad weather and finished the week-long race in 17th place.
Team Sky boss David Brailsford has tended to avoid talk of back-up plans and deputy leaders in the past, opting to put everything behind the team's designated leader, so Thomas could find himself in a supporting role again, unless calamity strikes Froome.
That, of course, happened when he crashed out of the 2014 race, but the Kenyan-born rider was dominant in 2013 and did just enough in 2015, having helped Bradley Wiggins to Team Sky's first Tour win in 2012.
Froome also appears to have timed his arrival at peak form to perfection again, having beaten many of his Tour rivals at the Criterium du Dauphine race earlier this month.
Trailing in his wake in France that week were Spain's Alberto Contador, rising Italian star Fabio Aru, former Team Sky colleague Richie Porte and French threats Romain Bardet and Thibaut Pinot.
There was one major absentee at Dauphine, though, and Nairo Quintana is expected to be the main obstacle to Froome's hopes.
The 26-year-old Colombian climber finished runner-up in 2013 and 2015 but he very nearly reeled an ailing Froome in on the final climb last year. He too has been in good form this season.
"Every Tour is different, so that means choosing the team we believe is best equipped to deal with the many different challenges of this race," said Brailsford.
"We have selected a talented group of riders with Chris as the leader once again. I know they will do everything they can to help him try to win yellow.
"Of course there are a number of riders in other teams capable of putting in a challenge for overall victory. That's great news for cycling fans, who can look forward to seeing some really competitive racing.
"We are as excited as the fans about what's to come and we're looking forward to getting started next Saturday."
The three-week, 2,200-mile epic starts in Normandy and finishes in Paris on July 24.