Chris Froome says he has the strongest team possible behind him as he attempts to win the Tour de France and rescue Britain’s summer of sport.
A nation growing used to memorable moments after London 2012 and Andy Murray’s Wimbledon win last year have had little to cheer so far this summer.
Murray is out of Wimbledon, England’s football team were home before their postcards from Brazil while our rugby team was whitewashed by New Zealand and the cricketers are showing no signs of shaking off their Ashes hangover.
Contrast that with this weekend last year when Froome took the yellow jersey for the first time, Murray won Wimbledon and the British and Irish Lions thrashed Australia to clinch a series win.
As the Tour de France begins in Leeds today before sweeping through Yorkshire on what promises to be a momentous occasion for sport in this county, Froome declared himself ready to put the smile back on the face of British sport.
“The team that I have got around me is probably the strongest team that Team Sky has fielded at the Tour de France,” declared Froome, who is hoping to win a third successive Tour de France crown for the British outfit. “We are ready for this.
“I know each and every one of us are going to give it our absolute all for the next three weeks.
“I am in a very similar position to last year at this stage. There is really not much in it with regard to sensations and numbers.
“I feel like I’m in a really good place.
“I will certainly be giving these next three weeks my absolute everything. I have trained for this.
“We have been sleeping up on volcanoes getting ready for this, we have done all the altitude camps, done all the recons, seen what we are up against.
“I’m just so happy that we’re here now, we’re on the start line ready to go. There are some nerves there; we wouldn’t be human if there weren’t any nerves. It’s really exciting.
“Basically, the whole season has been geared to this Tour de France.
“It’s quite a relief now that we’re going to be standing on that start line.”
Froome will be supported in Yorkshire and into France by Australian Richie Porte and fellow Briton Geraint Thomas, with the rest of the team comprising expert climbers, including Spaniards David Lopez and Mikel Nieve and Vasil Kiryienka of Belarus.
An Austrian, American and another Spaniard complete the line-up for a squad Froome describes as the best yet.
Whether he meant to or not, that does not reflect well on Sir Bradley Wiggins, the headline omission from Sir Dave Brailsford’s selection.
With the face of British cycling absent, the door is open for Froome to raise his popularity among British fans, particularly in Yorkshire this weekend, and from Cambridge to London on Monday.
Already amenable with the media and eager to sign autographs, Froome acknowedged he is excited about representing the host country of the Grand Départ as their defending champion.
“For me, this is going to be an amazing opportunity to connect with those people, sign a few autographs and shake a few hands,” said the 29-year-old, who was born in Kenya.
“At the end of the day, I enjoy racing my bike, but I do understand where I am in the sport given that I won the Tour last year. It’s a very different situation that I find myself in and it’s a role I’m growing into. It comes with its ups and downs, but I want to make sure my bike riding doesn’t suffer as a consequence.
“A lot of people look up to me, especially here in the UK, where the team and myself have a lot of fans and people can relate to us.
“Popularity is not the reason we race, but it is amazing to see the inspiration that comes out of the riding that we do, and you can directly see the people you touch through the racing.
“I don’t think many Tour champions get to come back as defending champions and can start in front of their home crowd like that. It really will be special.
“To be in front of that home crowd and have their support is second to none. Even stepping off the plane earlier in the week, just the number of people who came up to me and said ‘Chris we’re with you all the way’, ‘good luck’, ‘we’ll be watching you the next three weeks’.
“Even when we came up and did the recon, the interest and the reception we received from the people here has been amazing.”