Reaffirmed Sky Tour de France leader Chris Froome will take more than a possible win from the Critérium du Dauphiné with his Tour title shot to commence in less than a month.
Froome will enter the Dauphiné on the back of training and alongside key lieutenants, some of whom are likely to support him at Le Grand Boucle where he hopes to go one better than his second place finish to teammate Bradley Wiggins last year.
The 28-year-old has won three out of the four stage races he has started this season and the immediate question is whether he can add to that near perfect tally from Sunday.
"I think the Dauphiné is probably the one that means the most out of all the races I've done so far this year because we're really heading up to the Tour now," Froome told Cycling Weekly from Monaco yesterday.
"I'm quite sure all the contenders there are going to be in 100 per cent shape already, or pretty close to their best.
"The course itself that we've got in the Dauphiné this year is almost like a mini Tour de France with the mountain-top finishes and the time trial. It's going to be a really solid race," he continued. "It's definitely one I'd like to be up there or thereabouts but I wouldn't say - going into it - that the goal is I have to try and win it. It's more of an indication of where I am at and if I do need to go away and do any extra work, anywhere specifically, between there and the Tour."
Froome has competed with more or less the same squad all season and the Dauphiné may also provide a sign to the make-up of Sky's Tour line-up that Wiggins, who has followed a largely separate programme, is set to play a support role in after his pink jersey shot at the Giro d'Italia. The latter has won the Dauphiné on the past two occasions.
"I think most of the guys who would be riding the Dauphiné should be part of the Tour team," Froome said. "That's going to be announced a bit later on but guys like Richie [Porte] I definitely expect to be there. He's going really well at the moment. [Vasil] Kiryienka, Geraint Thomas, David López - we've got a really strong team actually for the Dauphiné.
"I think this will be a good indication for everyone who is doing the Dauphiné as to if they're up for it [and] if they're going to be part of that Tour squad going forward."
Froome hasn't raced this month. Instead he completed a training block in Tenerife and has spent about 10 days at his Monaco base.
Froome demonstrated his climbing aptitude at the 2012 Tour in which he also won the seventh stage to La Planche des Belles Filles ahead of Cadel Evans (BMC). The Tour, as well as the road world titles, which could comprise Froome's major target for the second half of the season, is particularly mountainous this year. But the Olympic time trial bronze medalist doesn't see his ascending skills as a major natural advantage there.
"I'm not actually sure that my climbing would be necessarily better than any of my rivals," Froome said. "But the time trial is something I've been working on quite a bit. I went to the wind tunnel for the first time a week ago so that was interesting to see if there are any small changes I can make there to get a bit faster."
Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff), who was sidelined from the Tour last year due to a doping ban, was, by popular opinion, identified as the man to beat at the October Tour course presentation in Paris.
Read more about Chris Froome's Tour de France and UCI Road World Championship aspirations in next week's Cycling Weekly magazine, out Thursday.
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Sophie Smith is an Australian journalist, television reporter and presenter, who has provided coverage for Cycling Weekly from races across the world. She has covered eight Tours de France, as well as reporting for national and international newspapers as well as other magazines.
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