LONDON - Britain's four-time Tour de France champion Chris Froome says he is entering unknown territory as he bids to add a fifth win in the world's greatest cycling race.
The 33-year-old Kenya-born rider -- who if successful would join Belgian legend Eddie Merckx as the only cyclists to win four successive Tours de France - earned a late reprieve to line-up when he was cleared on Monday of an alleged doping offence emanating from last year's Vuelta d'Espana, which he won. Froome heads the Team Sky line-up announced on Tuesday with faithful lieutenant Geraint Thomas -- perhaps in his final Tour with the team -- among the seven team-mates who will aid his challenge and add it to the Giro d'Italia crown he won in May.
Froome is targetting a record-equalling fifth Tour de France title -- joining Merckx, French duo Bernard Hinault and Jacques Anquetil and Spaniard Miguel Indurain -- as well as a fourth consecutive Grand Tour victory. "The last twelve months have been the hardest but also the most incredible of my career," Froome said in a statement released by Team Sky.
"I've never started the Tour de France after riding the Giro d'Italia and it has meant a completely different approach to my season. But I learnt a lot from riding the Vuelta straight after the Tour de France last year which has given me confidence coming into this race. I want to make history with a fifth Tour de France win and fourth consecutive Grand Tour. I am under no illusion about the challenge, but I am feeling ready and I couldn't ask for a better team to support me."
Dave Brailsford, the principal of Team Sky, said there would be no excuses if Froome comes up short as he is in peak shape and the team has been selected as the ideal one to adapt to the challenges of this year's route. "We go into the Tour with a lot of confidence," said Brailsford. "Chris is in great shape after the Giro -- mentally and physically -- and the whole team want to build on the success we had in Italy. Chris is already one of the greats of the sport. This is a chance for him to cement that reputation even further."
Brailsford, who prior to Froome's Vuelta controversy had to weather a storm over star rider Bradley Wiggins and the use of therapeutic use exemption (TUEs) forms, said he expected the two debutants in the team, 21-year-old Colombian Egan Bernal and Italian Gianni Moscon, 24, to shine. "It is a team of real versatility and one that balances youth with experience," he said.
"They (Bernal and Moscon) are both very talented bike riders and will have a lot to offer. It is also fantastic that Luke Rowe will be riding the Tour again as our road captain after his serious accident last summer (he suffered a double fracture of the leg last August while white water rafting). It is testament to his ability and determination that he has come back so strongly."