16 riders in contention for the nine places on the team

Team Sky are building the group of riders to support Chris Froome in his bid for a fourth Tour de France title, but must whittle down a long list before the race starts on July 1 in Düsseldorf.

The top brass, including boss David Brailsford and Froome’s trainer Tim Kerrison, must go down a list that includes Peter Kennaugh, stage winner in the Critérium du Dauphiné, Mikel Landa, Ian Boswell and Ian Stannard, picking out eight riders to start alongside Froome.

Leader(s)

Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas on stage two of the 2016 Volta a Catalunya (Watson)

Froome had his least successful spring campaign since he became a Grand Tour star, but still stands tall above his rivals. The 32-year-old will lead the nine-man squad, this year wearing white instead of black, for the three weeks.

Brailsford stopped short of giving Welshman Geraint Thomas the title of co-captain or plan B leader, but Thomas should fill that role. If something goes wrong with Froome, as was the case when he abandoned in 2014, Thomas should lead the team.

He had his chance to win a Grand Tour cut short in the Giro d’Italia this May due to a crash on stage nine. Making sure he would be ready for the Tour, the team pulled him from the Giro and let him rest, rebuild and race again with the Route du Sud.

Mountain domestiques

Mikel Landa on the attack at the 2017 Giro d’Italia (Sunada)

The British super team has no shortage of mountain helpers to fill its roster for July. The problem is, just like at a school dance, a few unlucky ones will be left watching from the side.

Spaniard Mikel Landa, who crashed with Thomas in the Giro, said that he should race the Tour if all goes to plan. He finished the Giro in good shape with the mountains jersey and a stage win and already showed the ability to help Froome last year.

Almost guaranteed spots are Colombian Sergio Henao and Spaniard Mikel Nieve, both helped in the 2016 campaign and both have dedicated their springs and early summers to Froome’s fourth title.

Beyond those three Spanish-speaking mountain helpers, uncertainty reigns. Could Wout Poels support Froome? If the Dutchman races, he certainly will not be the same right-hand man as he was throughout 2016.

A knee injury has kept him out of competition since mid-February, when he raced the Ruta del Sol. He is now racing in the Route du Sud with Thomas to prove himself Tour-fit.

Wout Poels was a vital domestique at the 2016 Tour (Watson)

Italian Diego Rosa or Frenchman Kenny Elissonde, both new Sky riders who raced the Giro, could fill any gaps. The former indicated early on this year that the Vuelta a España seems more likely. Elissonde could likely miss his home tour and follow Rosa to the Vuelta.

Pete Kennaugh, Ian Boswell and Michal Kwiatkowski instead seem more likely to stand side by side with the Spanish speaking trio in Froome’s title defence. Kennaugh, there for Froome in 2013 and 2015, bolstered his chances with his Alpe d’Huez stage win in the Critérium du Dauphiné.

Michal Kwiatkowski, winner of the Milan-San Remo this spring, has been racing with Froome and training in the June build-up. The Polish cyclist will almost certainly make the nine-man team.

Less certain, but not less deserving, is American Ian Boswell. Boswell cut his teeth in Sky’s Giro and Vuelta campaigns leading to this moment. This year, his schedule was built around him leading smaller stage race teams, leaving the door open for a possible Tour debut.

Flat stage helpers

Ian Stannard and Luke Rowe have helped to keep Froome out of trouble on flat stages in past Tours (Watson)

Alongside the climbing domestiques, Brailsford and head Tour sports director Nicolas Portal will select a few riders specifically for the work they can do to protect Froome on flat stages, as well as helping out early on in mountain stages.

German Christian Knees, who has been training with Froome near Sestriere, and Belarusian Vasil Kiryienka can fulfill this role perfectly. Knees more than Kiryienka, who raced the Giro, should receive the Düsseldorf green light from Sky’s Manchester offices.

It would be a just reward for Knees to start the Tour in his home country after years working for Bradley Wiggins, Froome and Sky’s other leaders.

Kiryienka may get the nod depending on Ian Stannard‘s status. Stannard fell sick last week and pulled out of the Dauphiné early. If he is back up to speed, then he will be one of Froome’s muscle men.

Both Stannard and Welshman Luke Rowe led the team through the spring cobbled classics and backed off to be ready for the July appointment. They, if all goes to plan, should make the cut.