Chris Froome is relaxed, ready and raring to begin his bid to reclaim the Tour de France title after a preparation he described as “perfect”.
The 30-year-old Team Sky leader crashed out of the 2014 race, which began in Leeds, having won the 100th edition 12 months earlier.
Froome is one of four favourites for the fabled yellow jersey, alongside defending champion Vincenzo Nibali, Giro d’Italia winner Alberto Contador and Nairo Quintana, who was runner-up to Froome in 2013.
“Not coming in as defending champion I’ve got everything to race for this year,” said Froome, who won traditional Tour warm-up the Criterium du Dauphine last month.
“It doesn’t feel like such a burden, having this pressure, any more.
“From a personal point of view I’ve got to the start of this race in perfect condition.
“The journey for me started a year ago when I crashed out of this race.”
Three crashes in two days – resulting in a fractured hand and a broken wrist – accounted for Froome 12 months ago prior to the cobbles on the fifth stage.
The bone-rattling stones return this year, but Froome – one of 10 Britons to start the race – is unconcerned.
“I didn’t even see a cobble in last year’s Tour. I didn’t make it that far,” said Froome, who has four British riders for support in his Team Sky squad: Geraint Thomas, Ian Stannard, Pete Kennaugh and Luke Rowe.
“I’m actually quite looking forward to that stage.”
For Froome the battle for the general classification begins today with the opening 13.8-kilometres time-trial in Utrecht.
“Even though it’s such a short distance, just under 14km, there can be time gaps of at least up to 20 seconds between GC contenders,” he added.
The race lead could change throughout a frantic and potentially fractious opening nine days with the race for yellow to begin in earnest in the Pyrenees.
Froome anticipates “the most contested Tour de France that we’ve seen in years”.
Froome appraised his rivals, with one question mark over Contador, who is attempting the rare double of winning the Giro and Tour in the same year and holding all three Grand Tour titles after his Vuelta a Espana win in September.
“Vincenzo is someone to really watch in the first week. I think he’ll be looking to make his mark early on with that classics-style type racing,” added Froome, who finished second to Contador in the Vuelta.
“Alberto: I’ve no doubt he’s in amazing shape after winning the Giro d’Italia.
“He set himself the big task of the double. That’s a big challenge for him and it’s going to be interesting to see how he pulls up in the third week given he’s already got a Grand Tour in his legs this season.
“Nairo: we haven’t seen too much of him this year. I have no doubt he’s going to be up there in the mountains.”