Cycling

Sky team supports Froome in Tour de France bid

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LONDON (AP)

Chris Froome will be supported by a well-balanced Team Sky in his bid to succeed the injured Bradley Wiggins as Tour de France champion.

He finished second in last year's Tour following tense competition with Wiggins. This year, Froome will be Team Sky's sole leader after the time-trial Olympic champion pulled out of the 100th edition of the race because of health issues. The Tour starts on June 29 in Corsica.

''I'm delighted with the balance in this team and every one of these riders is going to play a pivotal role once the racing begins,'' Froome said. ''Most of us were at the Criterium du Dauphine and I was hugely impressed there with the way the team came together in control of the leader's jersey. It gave me huge faith and I could not be happier with the selection.''

Froome is the Tour favorite after an impressive season with wins at the Tour of Oman, the Criterium International, the Tour de Romandie and the Criterium du Dauphine. He will headline a Sky team featuring eight cyclists who rode together at the Dauphine, when Froome beat teammate Richie Porte.

Froome said recently he felt relieved by Wiggins' absence, although he acknowledged it would hamper the British team's chances to defend the title.

Relations between the two were frosty during last year's Tour, with Froome sometimes looking the stronger rider in the climbs but being thwarted by team orders to support Wiggins rather than attack him.

Despite Wiggins' withdrawal, the Sky lineup of nine riders announced on Thursday is still impressive, mixing experienced riders capable of helping Froome in high mountains and others in charge of protecting him on the flat stages.

''Making the final selection of riders has been especially tough this year, but we believe that we've found the right combination for the Tour de France,'' team manager Dave Brailsford said. ''We have a group of nine riders that are all in great form and ready for the challenge ahead.

''The Tour de France has been the main goal for Chris this season and he goes into the race in great shape. With four stage-race wins this year, Chris has not only grown as a rider but also, importantly, as a leader.''

The other riders selected for the Tour are Edvald Boasson Hagen, Peter Kennaugh, Vasil Kiryienka, David Lopez, Kanstantsin Siutsou, Ian Stannard and Geraint Thomas.

Even without Wiggins, Sky has been so dominant this season that the British squad can hope for another 1-2 finish in the grueling three-week race, led by Froome and Porte. The 28-year-old Porte won Paris-Nice in February and the Australian climber's strength was obvious during the Dauphine.

''In Richie we simply have one of the strongest climbers in the world,'' Froome said. ''He is another rider who's more than capable of winning a Grand Tour in his own right. Having him in our ranks gives us a number of different options to play.''

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