PARIS• • Chris Froome struggled for form, then crashed, yet looks ready just in time to compete for a second Tour de France title.
The Briton, who clinched the 2013 Tour title after winning almost every race he entered in the build-up, took a rockier road this year before taking overall victory in the Criterium du Dauphine, the prestigious warm-up for the Tour.
A couple of trademark late attacks in the final climbs helped him beat American Tejay van Garderen, while defending Tour champion Vincenzo Nibali was still struggling for fitness.
Before he got there, Froome was forced to skip the Tirreno-Adriatico race in March because of illness, looked lost in the Tour of Catalunya later that month, and crashed in the Fleche Wallonne classic in April. However, he picked himself up in the Tour de Romandie, finishing third overall, and looked closer to his best on the Dauphine.
"I definitely feel as if I had a slower build-up to the Tour this year, but I don't necessarily think it's a bad thing. I'm exactly where I need to be," said Froome.
"There are still one or two little things to touch on but things are looking good."
To help Froome win the Dauphine, Team Sky rode hard to contain attacks and provide their leader with the perfect launching pad for his late accelerations.
However, they will struggle to gain control at this year's Tour de France, which starts on Saturday, as a unique set of aggressive riders from rival teams will assemble at the start in Utrecht, Netherlands.
Old rival Alberto Contador will use every opportunity to wear down the Sky machine, but Froome also has to contend with Colombian Nairo Quintana, France's Thibaut Pinot and Nibali - all offensive-minded riders.
When Team Sky are taken out of their comfort zone - which does not happen very often - they look more vulnerable, and their rivals' attitude should be key to Froome's chances.
One thing he cannot rely on, however, is a private motorhome, which team-mate Richie Porte benefited from on the Giro d'Italia, to avoid dodgy hotels, as the International Cycling Union has banned its use "to reaffirm absolute fairness between all riders."