Critérium-du-Dauphiné-2016Chris Froome will be backed by a strong team as Sky bid for a fifth win in six years at the Criterium du Dauphine.

Tour de France champion Froome will have an early opportunity to stamp his mark on the race when it begins with an uphill 3.9km individual time-trial in Les Gets on Sunday.

The crucial stages will then come in the high mountains on June 10 and 11 when Froome will be able to test his climbing legs against the likes of potential Tour rivals Alberto Contador, Fabio Aru and even Australian former team-mate Richie Porte.

Tasmanian Porte told Cyclingnews that the short punchy stages suit him while Contador says he is feeling fresh having skipped the Giro d’Italia this year.

“I feel much better than last year. At this point I was destroyed, very tired because of the demands of the Giro d’Italia. I feel much better now,” he said.

Froome won this race last year and in 2013, going on to win the Tour a month later on both occasions.

Sky also triumphed at the Dauphine with Bradley Wiggins in 2011 and 2012, with the popular British rider becoming the first person from his country to win the Tour de France following the second of those two victories.

Froome will be supported by former world champion Michal Kwiatkowski, Liege-Bastogne-Liege winner Wout Poels and Spaniard Mikel Landa, who was third at last year’s Giro d’Italia.

His only major lieutenant missing is Welshman Geraint Thomas, who recently signed a new contract with Sky.

The Dauphine is ridden in the Rhone-Alpes region of France and with many high mountains on the course tends to be dominated by specialist climbers.

The fifth stage has seven categorised climbs while the sixth stage, although boasting only five categorised climbs, appears even tougher as three of those are first category ones and another is the hors category Col de la Madeleine which rises to almost 2,000-metres.

The Dauphine will be won or lost most probably on those two stages.

Home hopes rest on young pair Thibaut Pinot and Romain Bardet.

Pinot, 26, has been in good form this year, winning the Criterium International and finishing second in the Tour de Romandie behind only Nairo Quintana.

He’s also secured top five finishes in the tours of the Algarve, the Basque Country and Tirreno-Adriatico.

Bardet, 25, has had top 10 finishes in the last two editions of the Tour de France and was sixth at the Dauphine last year after finishing fifth 12 months previously.

With growing maturity, both are seen in their homeland as potential future Tour winners and a strong showing in the Dauphine would serve to heighten expectation ahead of July’s Grand Boucle. – Agence France-Presse

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