Chris Froome realizes he’s on the cusp of greatness.
The British rider already has two Tour de France victories and a third win in cycling’s biggest event – which starts Saturday – would make him the most dominant rider of his generation.
Another yellow jersey would also put Froome into an elite club of just seven riders who have won the Tour at least three times.
“Every rider obviously starts every new Tour equal and what has gone before counts for nothing,” Froome said. “This year I am hungrier than ever for success.”
Froome’s top challengers will likely be two-time runner-up Nairo Quintana of Colombia and Alberto Contador, the Spaniard who has won the Tour twice but took his last victory in the Grande Boucle back in 2009.
Froome is the defending champion and also won in 2013.
“There are a number of riders in other teams capable of putting in a challenge for overall victory,” said Dave Brailsford, team principal of Froome’s Team Sky. “That’s great news for cycling fans, who can look forward to seeing some really competitive racing.”
The 21-stage race opens Saturday at Mont-Saint-Michel, a World Heritage Benedictine abbey perched on a rock off the Normandy coast. The picture-postcard starting stage ends at Utah Beach, where Allied troops landed on D-Day in 1944.
The 3,519-kilometre race scales the Pyrenees before the Alps, just as the Tour did last year, again going counter-clockwise around France. That breaks with tradition because generally the Tour alternates between clockwise and counter-clockwise.
With neither a prologue nor a team time trial, the route could favour climbing specialists. Still, there are two individual time trials in stages 13 and 18 totalling 54 kilometres (34 miles).
The 103rd Tour will visit three neighbouring countries – Spain, Andorra and Switzerland – and pass through 16 sites and stage cities unseen in previous editions.
The most difficult stage on paper appears to be the eighth leg, a challenging 183-kilometre route through the Pyrenees from Pau to Bagneres-de-Luchon that features the legendary Col du Tourmalet plus three more serious climbs.
Another serious test comes in Stage 12 with an ascent of Mont Ventoux on Bastille Day, July 14. Froome was the stage winner when the Tour last scaled Ventoux’s barren, 1,909-metre peak in 2013.
Ventoux was also the site of an epic battle between Lance Armstrong and Marco Pantani in 2000, and where British rider Tom Simpson died in 1967 after he used a lethal cocktail of amphetamines and alcohol.
After all the climbing and time trials, though, the race could be decided on a dangerous and technical 12-kilometre finishing descent to Morzine in the penultimate stage.
After this, all that will remain is the traditional – but mostly ceremonial – finish alongside cheering crowds on the Champs-Elysees on July 24.
Security will be tight, with France in a state of emergency since attacks on Paris in November killed 130 people.
The Tour will be protected by an unprecedented force of 23,000 police officers, including SWAT-like intervention squads.
The Tour will also hope to attract overlapping audiences from the European Championship soccer tournament hosted by France, which ends July 10.
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