Froome is happy to be under an intense spotlight

Team Sky cyclists Richie Porte and Chris Froome ride up the cobbles in Haworth on a recce for Stage 2 of the Tour de France in Yorkshire. TJ100380b Picture: Tony Johnson
Team Sky cyclists Richie Porte and Chris Froome ride up the cobbles in Haworth on a recce for Stage 2 of the Tour de France in Yorkshire. TJ100380b Picture: Tony Johnson
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Peter Smith spoke to the defending champion when he arrived in Yorkshire at the end of May to get an early look at the first two stages.

EXPECT spills as well as thrills when the Grand Depart finally hits Yorkshire’s roads this weekend.

That is the message from reigning Tour de France champion Chris Froome as the home hero prepares to defend the title he won in Paris last July.

The opening stages of any Tour de France – before the full field of 198 thins out and with every rider harbouring hopes of wearing the leader’s yellow jersey for at least one day – are notoriously tricky.

Narrow, winding and undulating roads in the White Rose countryside will add to the drama and Froome is expecting a tense couple of days when, for the race favourites at least, survival and not losing time on their rivals, will be the name of the game.

Froome said: “It’s going to be a tough start to the race – quite tricky, especially stage two.

“The racing will be full on from the start and quite stressful, with so many guys in contention for the yellow jersey and all starting on the same time.

“There’s a lot of pushing and shoving and guys taking risks they would not normally take, to try and get well-positioned.”

Froome and his Sky team-mates spent time training at altitude in Tenerife last month, before heading to Yorkshire to ride the opening two stages and then taking a look at some of the key France-based legs.

He said: “It has been really important for us to come over and see exactly what we are up against for the first few stages.

“We have been looking at the key stages, stage one and two, the cobbled stage up in northern France and the mountain-top finishes.

“I am really, really happy. If the figures in training are anything to go by, I am in a really good place. I managed to beat a few of my personal records in training and it is shaping up really well.”

For Froome, the start line and chance to concentrate on what he does best will be a welcome relief after the pressures of going into the world’s most famous bike race as its most recent winner.

The 29-year-old – who was born in Kenya, but races for Great Britain – has been in the headlines since his scouting mission in the Broad Acres last month.

He led the Dauphine – regarded as a dress rehearsal for the Tour – from the opening stage to the penultimate day, before fading to finish a disappointing 12th.

Froome, who was defending his title, stormed to victory in the opening time trial, but was badly affected by a crash on stage six.

While Froome was riding the Dauphine, a row blew up over his victory in the Tour de Romandie earlier in the season.

Media reports in France questioned a special exemption given to Froome, allowing him to take steroids to treat a chest infection ahead of the race.

The Briton was granted a thereputic use exemption (TUE) after a request by Team Sky to cycling’s governing body the International Cycling Federation UCI.

A French newspaper claimed the UCI failed to refer Sky’s request to the relevant committee, but Wada – the World Anti-Doping Agency – ruled correct procedures had been followed and declined to take the matter further.

All that has stoked up the anticipation ahead of the Grand Départ and highlighted the pressure piled on the defending champion.

Team Sky are aiming for a third successive Tour de France triumph after Bradley Wiggins’s win in 2012 and Froome’s success 12 months ago.

Froome was a marked man last year when he entered the Tour as favourite but that was nothing compared with the spotlight he is under now.

“I am in a little bit of a different situation this year. I feel the pressures are different. There is more pressure coming in this year as defending champion and more to deal with on a day-to-day basis in terms of media and public exposure and things going on in the background.

“It has been a busy period for me. It has been more of a challenge to stay focused, but I am extremely eager to get back and try and defend my title.”

Froome was dominant in 2013, winning by four minutes and 20 seconds from Nairo Quintana, who will not be riding this year.

Can Froome improve on that? “I did come into cycling relatively late and it’s not as if I came through a clear-cut academy into the sport.

“I feel I have got huge improvements to make still, in a lot of aspects. One thing I have been working a lot on this year is getting more stability on the bike, working on lower back muscles.

“I have been having a few problems with my back also, but I feel as though I am getting that more under control and that is beginning to show through the numbers in training, which is a really positive sign for me.”

Froome has identified two main threats.

“One is Alberto Contador, who came fourth last year,” he said of his leading rivals.

“He has had a good season to date and shown he is definitely up for the fight.

“And the second biggest contender, I think, will be Vincenzo Nibali, who won the Giro d’Italia and came second in the Vuelta Espana last year.

“He didn’t do the Tour de France last year, so it will be interesting going up against him. But at the end of the day there’s still quite a few other guys to think about.

“There’s a couple of Spaniards, Alexandro Valverde and Joaquim Rodriguez, who crashed out of the Giro d’Italia and so will be coming into the Tour de France again now.

“Rodriguez came third last year. I think until people actually lose time in the general classification you have to take everyone seriously and expect that they are going to be going for it.”

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