Cycling: Froome boosts Tour de France hopes with Dauphine win

RISOUL, France (AFP) - British rider Chris Froome reinforced his status as favourite for this year's Tour de France on Sunday when he won the testing warm-up race, the Criterium du Dauphine.

The 28-year-old, second behind Team Sky team-mate Bradley Wiggins in last year's Tour de France, claimed victory after Italian Alessandro de Marchi won the 155.5km eighth and final stage from Sisteron to Risoul.

Froome, Kenyan-born and brought up in South Africa but who has ridden with a British licence since 2008, was followed in the overall standings by Sky team-mate Richie Porte of Australia, who finished 58sec in arrears.

However, Froome, who said that the whole week had gone like a dream, dismissed suggestions he was favourite for the Tour.

"No, I do not consider myself the 'favourite' for the Tour," he said.

"I have won the Dauphine, and other races before, but the counter is back to zero when the Tour starts. There will be six to seven main contenders for overall victory."

"The names? Contador, Valverde, Rodriguez, Evans, van Garderen, Quintana, Porte...," added Froome, who said he would not be contesting the British national title race prior to the Tour.

He said that the thing that struck him the most about the present era of cycling compared to the drug-filled years of Lance Armstrong and others was that he was able to win races.

"Cycling has definitely changed," he said. "The proof is that I am able to be up with the leaders. I remember the years of 2003/04 of Armstrong and Ivan Basso... the sport has changed a lot in 10 years.

"What is shocking is that all the riders are all seen in the same light after the revelations. But one learns from the past and my win proves that things can evolve."

Froome's victory was the third successive British win in the race, Wiggins - who is not defending his Tour de France crown this year - having won it in the past two years.

Froome, who had already been designated as Sky's leader for this year's Tour de France before Wiggins announced he was not going to compete because of injury, had effectively clinched victory in the Criterium with his victory in the first mountain stage on Thursday.

Sunday's stage saw five riders approach the final climb with a lead of more than three minutes and it was de Marchi who was to prove the strongest as he broke free of Belgian Tim Wellens in the final 5km.

The 27-year-old Italian came home 24sec ahead of Froome and American Andrew Talansky.

Spain's two-time Tour de France champion Alberto Contador had a miserable stage, falling on the descent from the col de Vars before sacrificing his chances for a consolation stage win by waiting for Australian team-mate Michael Rogers, who was third overall going into Sunday's final stage, when he got into difficulty on the final climb.

Dreadful weather had prompted many retirements during the stage, including French quartet, national champion Nacer Bouhanni, Thomas Voeckler, Pierre Rolland and Sylvain Chavanel.

Froome was oblivious to their difficulties as he rode serenely on to record his ninth win of the season, including the Tour of Romandie and the Criterium International.

His only significant defeat came in March in the Tirreno-Adriatico at the hands of Italian ace Vincenzo Nibali, who went on to win the Giro d'Italia.