Tour de France 2017: Chris Froome says Richie Porte is the man to beat

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Froome ready for 'biggest challenge'
Tour de France, 1-23 July
Coverage: Live text commentary of every stage on the BBC Sport website. Radio 5 live coverage on Sports Extra and/or website from 14:30 BST on every stage

Defending champion Chris Froome is "fresher" than he has ever been at the start of a Tour de France, but believes Richie Porte will be "the man to beat".

The three-week, 21-stage race starts in Dusseldorf, Germany, on Saturday.

Froome, who is seeking a fourth win in five years and third in a row, said he is "exactly where I need to be".

But the Briton added: "The level of my rivals is higher, and if the Criterium du Dauphine is anything to go by, Richie stands out as the strongest."

Australian Porte, who helped Froome win two of his three titles when he rode for Team Sky, finished second at the Dauphine earlier this month.

Froome heads into the Tour having signed a new three-year contract on Friday to stay with Team Sky until the end of 2020.

Tour could be 'free-for-all'

Porte, who now rides for BMC Racing, has been in good form this year, winning the week-long Tour Down Under and Tour de Romandie stage races.

"The season's gone well so far and this is the biggest race and the big goal," said the 32-year-old, who had his best Tour finish last year, taking fifth, a little over five minutes down on Froome.

"We'll do our best - that podium in Paris is the goal and I'm ready to do my best to get there."

Asked about being described as the favourite by Froome and Team Sky, Porte replied: "It's just one of the games they play.

"Chris is the one with the biggest target on his back. He's the defending champion but I don't think it's going to just be between Chris and me. It's more than a two-horse race."

With only three high mountain summit finishes and two short individual time trials, Porte believes this Tour could be a "free-for-all" rewarding aggressive racing.

Froome, also 32, finished fourth in the Dauphine, having won it in 2013, 2015 and 2016 - each time prior to winning the Tour.

He said: "The Dauphine was just what I needed to get that extra bit of race rhythm.

"I've been very light on race days up until the Dauphine, and I like to think I'll be fresher than I've ever been before. If numbers in training and feelings on the bike are anything to go by, I'm ready for the next three weeks."

Froome crashed into the back of Porte during last year's Tour while the pair were racing up Mont Ventoux, leading to the Team Sky rider running up the mountain.

Time for another Yates to shine?

Simon Yates
Simon Yates won a Grand Tour stage at the 2016 Vuelta a Espana and won a stage six of Paris-Nice this year

A British rider was involved in another farcical scene on stage seven of last year's race, when the inflatable banner marking 1km to go collapsed on Adam Yates.

The Orica-Scott rider, who went on to finish fourth and take the white jersey as highest-placed finisher aged 25 or under, is not racing this year, but twin brother Simon is.

Simon missed last year after a positive doping test - something for which his team accepted responsibility after failing to properly apply for a therapeutic use exemption (TUE) for his asthma inhaler.

The 24-year-old, who will lead the Orica-Scott team with Colombia's Esteban Chaves, is competing in his third Tour but says he is not feeling the pressure to match his brother's result.

"He always sets the bar pretty high," said Simon. "He just told me to do the best I can.

"I like aggressive racing. It's a different Tour to normal so a few surprises might happen."

The race for green

Peter Sagan is hoping to win a record-equalling sixth consecutive green jersey at the Tour.

The Slovak is odds-on favourite to match the achievement of Erik Zabel, who won the Tour's points classification every year between 1996 and 2001.

"I will try to do my best this year to get another one, and then next year another one, and after that maybe I'm bored," said the 27-year-old, who rides for Bora-Hansgrohe.

"It's a very hard Tour de France, with crazy competition, every day you have to be concentrated. To take green is a very hard thing and you have to fight for that from the first day until the last one."

Is Cavendish fit enough?

Mark Cavendish
Mark Cavendish was back to his best in the Tour de France last year. and is chasing the record for stage wins

Another man chasing a Tour record is Mark Cavendish.

The 32-year-old is four short of Belgian Eddy Merckx's record of 34 stage wins.

But Cavendish, who missed three months this year through glandular fever caused by the Epstein-Barr virus, admits he may not be at peak fitness.

"I think I could be fit enough to ride in the Tour. Whether I'm fit enough to win anything is a different thing," he told The Clare Balding Show on BT Sport.

The Manxman won four stages last year and wore the leader's yellow jersey for the first time before leaving the race early to focus on the Olympics.

"Even when these young guys were coming through and were beating me here and there, I always knew I was still the best," he said.

"I proved that last year. I don't want people to think last year was a fluke."

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