Froome targets record fourth Criterium

Paris (AFP) –


Chris Froome embarks on Sunday on the mountainous eight-day stage race of the Criterium du Dauphine, the race traditionally seen as a litmus test for July's Tour de France.

The four-time 'Grande Boucle' winner Froome can test his prowess against most of the Tour's pretenders in Adam Yates, Richie Porte, Tom Dumoulin and Romain Bardet in a highly competitive field attracted by a tough route.

"It's difficult to say exactly where I am with my form because I haven't raced recently," Froome said this week.

"But I'd like to be fighting for the win here. It's a good, balanced route," he said of the course considered averagely mountainous, but tightly packed with challenges.

The race has two summit finishes on the final two days, it traverses relentlessly through rolling terrain and features what promises to be a hotly-contested 26km time-trial on Wednesday.

"There are a few lumpy days, a time trial and then some big mountain days. We?ll definitely get a good gauge of where we are after doing this Dauphine as there's a bit of everything there," Froome added.

Should Froome actually emerge as the winner at the Swiss ski resort of Champery next Sunday he will claim the record as the only man to have won the title four times.

He will have to do so without the help of reigning Tour de France champion Geraint Thomas, who is set to race the Tour de Suisse, starting next weekend.

Froome will also need to show some real form for the first time this season.

"I went a bit too far in Colombia in the early season and I should have been more patient.

- 'Perfect Tour preparation' -

Dutch 2017 Giro d'Italia champion Dumoulin will be trying out the knee he hurt in a fall early on at this year's race but will also try out his new slimline frame on the summits.

Ireland's Dan Martin also expects to be in the mix.

"Racing on the French roads against a high-level competition is the perfect preparation for the Tour de France," Martin said this week.

"I've performed well in the last few years at the race, so I am just aiming to enjoy the race and hope the legs are there to be aggressive at some point in the week," said the UAE Team Emirates captain.

Liege-Bastogne-Liege winner Jakob Fuglsang won here in 2017 and his Astana team have major ambitions for the Tour de France.

In the home camp Thibaut Pinot was talking up a fight ahead of the race.

"I won't be holding myself back. My plan is to go on the attack, jump from the front and race aggressively. I want to win. If I can do this, the general classification will follow.

Five of the past seven Dauphine winners have gone on to win the Tour de France.

"We will know much more about from where we are coming with this Dauphine," Froome said ahead of his bid for a record equalling fifth Tour de France win in July.