The three-time Tour de France winner will compete in his first stage race of the season while Chaves has already ridden the Tour Down Under

Team Sky’s Chris Froome says he is ready to take on Esteban Chaves (Orica-Scott) this week in Australia for a second Herald Sun Tour title.

The stage race around Geelong kicks off with a prologue on Wednesday. Froome will ride with race number one as defending champion.

“Personally I don’t like to look at it like that [a defending champion],” Froome said. “It’s a clean slate each time you go in and you’ve got everything to gain as opposed to going in there with a defensive mindset.

“Every edition’s different and I’m here to race to the best of my ability. This year’s going to be even more competitive with the likes of Chaves here. It looks like he’s in great shape after a good block of racing already.”

The 27-year-old Colombian races for Australia’s Orica-Scott team, who will be looking to make their mark on home soil.

Luke Rowe leads Chris Froome during the 2017 Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race (Watson)

Chaves last year placed runner-up to Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) in the Giro d’Italia and third behind winner Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Froome in the Vuelta a España.

Orica has yet to confirm its Grand Tour plans with the Yates twins and Chaves, but it seems that Chaves may debut in the Tour. He will want as much experience as possible racing against Froome before the July 1 start date in Düsseldorf.

Chaves began his 2017 campaign already in the Tour Down Under. He placed second overall behind a dominate Richie Porte (BMC Racing).

Froome began with an unclassified race in Melbourne and the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race on Sunday. He has the disadvantage of starting one team-mate down since Owain Doull abandoned Sky’s Australian group for surgery to remove his appendix.

“I think we’ve got a strong team out here,” Froome continued.

“Unfortunately, we’ll only start with six riders due to Owain Doull’s illness, but I’m very confident in the remaining five guys I’ll have around me.”

Froome won the race last year by 29 seconds over team-mate Pete Kennaugh and 1-01 minutes over Damien Howson (Orica-Scott).

The race’s roster includes WorldTour teams Sky and Orica-Scott, four professional continental teams including Aqua Blue Sport, and nine continental teams including JLT Condor.

Chris Froome and Esteban Chaves last faced-off at the 2016 Vuelta a Espana (Watson)

“Last year, I saw that the level of racing here in Australia’s really high for the local level and I think that there are more and more guys who wouldn’t necessarily be on our radars who we’re racing against here,” added Froome.

“I’ve got no doubt they’ll be up there this week. It’s a good field and a good opportunity for them to test themselves against us and vice versa.

“I’d love to retain my title, but I know it will be very tough. It’s very early in my season and there’s some really stiff competition.”

Froome left Monaco for Australia early. He passed the last two weeks training in Australia to prepare for the season ahead.

“I came out a bit earlier this year and just did a good training block,” he said.

“What’s driven that is just to soak up the good weather and get the miles in which are hard to do at this time of year if you’re over in Europe.”