Leeds, United Kingdom - Defending Tour de France champion Chris Froome is feeling the pressure ahead of the start of the biggest cycle race on the planet on Saturday in Leeds.

Froome was peerless last year in winning his first Grand Tour ahead of Colombian debutant Nairo Quintana, who will not race the Grand Boucle this year.

But ahead of the this year's 'Grand Depart' in his home country, the Kenyan-born 29-year-old Team Sky rider admitted things feel different.

“There definitely is an increase in pressure element coming back as defending champion, given that we're starting on home soil,” said Froome.

“We've got huge crowds out here but I think it's all very warm, positive energy for us. We couldn't be asking for much more as a team, starting in that way and giving us that launch pad going into the Tour de France.”

This year's race is widely expected to be a straight shoot-out between Froome and Spanish former two-time winner Alberto Contador.

Froome agrees that the Tinkoff-Saxo rider, who was fourth last year, is the man to watch but insists that others could also challenge.

“I think Alberto has shown he's definitely in a much more competitive position this year than he was last year,” added Froome.

“His run-up to the Tour de France has certainly been a lot smoother, he's managed to get a lot more results in early season than he did last year.

“As with a lot of my main rivals and the main contenders here, everyone seems to have upped their game and again we're going to be looking forward to a really exciting Tour this year, and it's going to be a battle all the way to the end.”

Froome has struggled with injury and illness at various points this year and has won only two stage races coming into the Tour, compared with four at the same stage last year.

But Froome still insists that his form is as good as ever.

“Every season comes with its own set of challenges and this year's been no different,” he said.

“I've had issues with my lower back early season, I've had chest problems this year, I had a crash at the (Criterium du) Dauphine which definitely set me back a little bit.

“But the last week of training, building into coming here, has been really good and I feel like I'm in a very similar platform to where I was last year.”