Four weeks today some of the biggest names in cycling will travel through the roads of west Essex and East London as stage three one of the world’s great sporting events, the Tour de France, heads towards its climax on The Mall.
As part of our build up towards the big day, we will be profiling some of the star names on two wheels to look out for along the route. A look at the leading riders from overseas who are expected to be on the start line in Leeds on Saturday, July 5 will follow in the coming weeks, but we begin with the British contingent.
These profiles will be published alphabetically with the exception of today because there is only one rider to really start with, the defending Tour de France champion.
The concept of British rider winning the world’s biggest cycling race seemed fanciful at the turn of the Millennium, but if Chris Froome can successfully defend his Tour crown next month this country’s dominance of the top step of the podium in Paris will extend to a third consecutive year.
Born in Kenya and also raised in South Africa, the 29-year-old has been a professional since 2007 but his rise to global prominence began in 2011 when he finished runner-up in one of the sport’s two other ‘Grand Tours’, the Tour of Spain.
Sir Bradley Wiggins was to become Britain’s first Tour de France champion in 2012 but alongside him on the next step of the podium was Team Sky teammate Froome after a superb performance in the mountains in which he often looking stronger than the eventual winner.
Olympic time-trial bronze followed at London 2012, also behind gold medallist Wiggins, before Froome sought to go one place better than 12 months previously in the Vuelta a Espana, but he ultimately had to settle for fourth overall, more than ten minutes behind eventual champion Alberto Contador.
Froome's victory in the 100th edition of 'Le Tour' last year was founded on his climbing brilliance and his strength in the time trial.
He won the first mountain stage to Ax 3 Domaines to move into the overall lead, again rode superbly despite having no teammates to defend his position on the next stage before putting further time into his rivals by coming second in the individual time trial.
A second victory in the mountains followed at the summit of the legendary Mont Ventoux before underlining his supremacy by winning the second time trial of the race.
If you believe in omens then Froome’s route to this year’s Tour offers plenty of reasons for confidence. The defending champion has already won the Tour of Oman and Tour de Romandie this year, like he did in 2012, with the Sky star’s final warm up for last year’s assault on the most famous yellow jersey in cycling coming with victory in the Criterium du Dauphine.
Froome is again leading the way in this year’s Dauphine, following up yesterday’s win in the opening time trial stage by beating Contador in their first showdown in the race today to claim a second consecutive stage victory to extend his overall advantage.
The Spaniard, who has been the overall winner three times but was stripped of his 2010 title for a doping violation, is expected to be one of Froome’s main rivals for yellow next month but the indications are that it is a challenged the Brit is more than capable of meeting.
Don’t expect Froome to be in the reckoning for the stage win on July 7, although he could well feature prominently towards the front of the stage as it travels through west Essex and East London, looking to avoid trouble as the sprinters’ teams begin to crank up the pace ahead of the expected showdown between the fast men on The Mall.