DUSSELDORF • Chris Froome is certain that he is ready to contend for a fourth Tour de France victory this month despite not managing to win the Criterium du Dauphine, traditionally his warm-up race for La Grande Boucle.
The Team Sky rider won the eight-day race in France each time before his Tour victories in 2013, 2015 and 2016, but this year he could finish only fourth to the Dane Jakob Fuglsang.
"I'm not the superstitious type, to think that winning the Dauphine is a precursor to winning the Tour," Froome said.
"It's certainly good for the morale and the confidence to win your last race before the Tour but I don't think it's a prerequisite."
Unlike in other years, the 32-year-old Briton has yet to score his first win of the season, but that barely seems to worry him.
He professes fascination with the radical route for this year's race that includes nine potential sprint stages and only two genuine mountain-top finishes - at Peyragudes in the Pyrenees and the Col d'Izoard in the Alps, with a third, smaller one at Plateau des Belles Filles in eastern France.
"I genuinely think this year's Tour route presents the biggest challenge to me that I've faced in my career to date," Froome added.
"It's an open course and the level of my rivals is higher than it has ever been. It will be a much closer race. I think what strikes me most is the lack of time-trial kilometres."
There are only two time trials in the Tour this year: the 14km opening stage today in Dusseldorf, Germany, and 22.5km in Marseille in the penultimate stage on July 22.
That is a massive contrast with the 1990s and the noughties when there might be two stages against the watch of up to 60km, a prologue time trial and possibly a team time trial.
If Froome wins this year's Tour, he will join the small club who have won three in a row - Eddy Merckx, Miguel Indurain, Louison Bobet and Jacques Anquetil.
"I'm aware of those numbers," he said.
"It's already been such a big goal to try and win back-to-back Tours as I did last year. To do it again would be massive for me."