Team Sky has announced the line-up that it hopes will help Chris Froome succeed Sir Bradley Wiggins as Tour de France champion, with the race starting on Corsica a week on Sunday. All seven men who helped Froome to a convincing win in the Critérium du Dauphiné earlier this month make the squad, plus Kanstantsin Siutsou.
Including Froome himself, four Britons will feature in the nine-man team for the 100th edition of the Tour - the others are Geraint Thomas, who skipped last year's race to focus on the Olympics, Ian Stannard, who defends his national road title in Glasgow this Sunday, and Peter Kennaugh, making his debut in cycling's biggest race.
Australia's Richie Porte will be a key support rider for Froome and also gives Sky a credible GC option should the latter's challenge hit a problem, while Edvald Boasson Hagen, who rode strongly for Wiggins last year, is a two-time former stage winner himself.
The Norwegian had to shoulder a heavier-than-expected burden in the mountains last year after Siutsou crashed out with a broken leg in the opening week.
The team is completed by two experienced riders making their first participation in the race for Sky having joined it at the start of this season - the Spaniard, David Lopez, and Vasil Kiryienka, like Siutsou from Belarus. Both Lopez and Kiryienka rode strongly for Froome during his successful pre-Tour campaign.
In terms of supporting an assault on the GC, it's arguably a much stronger line-up than 12 months ago, when Sky had to accommodate Mark Cavendish, and his minder Bernie Eisel, into the squad, even though the team made it clear that helping Cavendish defend the green jersey he'd won a year earlier was not a priority.
Team Principal Sir Dave Brailsford commented: "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. 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.
“Around him are eight quality riders who have each earned their place in the team. They will add the climbing ability and the engines to provide the perfect support for Chris, especially in the crucial mountain stages.
“We've seen what this group are capable of at the Dauphiné and all have raced with Chris successfully at some stage this year.
“We have got a very strong squad for the Tour and we’re all looking forward to getting underway.”
Froome added: “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. Most of us were at the Critérium du Dauphiné 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.
“Ian, Vasil and Kosta each possess huge engines that you can’t go into a Tour without. They will be controlling things on the front for long periods of the race and pacing me once the climbing begins. Geraint, David and Pete will then take up the reins. Those guys have really improved their climbing abilities and will be a massive help when the pace really ramps up in the mountains.
“In Richie we simply have one of the strongest climbers in the world. 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. The same applies with Edvald – he is flying after his victories in Norway and the Dauphine, and he has already proved he can win stages at the Tour.
“We’re ready, excited and can’t wait to get going,” he concluded.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.