When Chris Froome’s Tour de France rivals roll up to the start line in Dusseldorf on Saturday, they will be worrying not only about how to beat the Briton, but also his Sky team.

Sky have won four of the last five Tours and in each the team, as much as the victor (Bradley Wiggins in 2012 and Froome three times since) have proved too strong for the opposition.

Never was that more evident than last year when Sky managed to all but kill any suspense and drama by taking a stranglehold of the race from start to finish.

Froome only looked vulnerable twice during that race, once after being knocked off his bicycle on Mont Ventoux by a photographer’s motorcycle, and then after crashing on a wet and slippery descent on the 19th stage.

However, he hardly lost any time from either incident while he usually had his all-powerful Sky team-mates surrounding him to keep him out of trouble.

On that 19th stage when disaster could have struck, Dutchman Wout Poels remained alongside Froome to guide him safely to the finish.

On the 11th stage he had Welshman Geraint Thomas to thank for helping him latch onto an attack from Peter Sagan to take advantage of crosswinds and steal some time on his rivals.

Once again Sky look to be bringing a formidable force to the race, even if the injured Poels is not amongst them.

“Not having Wout here is a big change, he was a big part of my victory last year and certainly we’re going to miss him,” said Froome.

Former world champion Michal Kwiatkowski of Poland will be riding as a domestique for Froome while Thomas and Spaniard Mikel Landa, who had led the team at May’s Giro d’Italia, will provide chief support in the mountains.

Those two suffered from crashes at the Giro that wrecked their overall hopes and have quickly switched to domestique duties.

– ‘Extremely strong’ –

Alongside them, Froome will also be able to count on Spanish veteran Mikel Nieve and Colombian talent Sergio Henao to help him negotiate the toughest climbs.

“We have an extremely strong team in the mountains, if you look at the other GC teams, I definitely feel confident going into the climbs.”

On the flat, former world time-trial champion Vasil Kiryienka of Belarus, Briton Luke Rowe and German Christian Knees will supply the power to keep Froome out of trouble.

It is a imposing outfit which the French describe as a “steamroller”.

And while Sky’s strength may not make for great racing, it is crucial to helping Froome dominate.

“It’s true that Team Sky’s most common tactic is to impose a tempo at the front of the peloton that discourages my rivals from attacking me,” said Froome in the official race guide.

“This doesn’t necessarily produce the best spectacle but, from our point of view, it’s the ideal way to keep events under control.”

Last year Sky sucked the life out of the race but despite their strength, there are at least enough unknowns in bike racing to keep things interesting.

In 2014, for example, Froome’s team could do nothing as he crashed three times in the wet over two days and was forced out of the race with a broken wrist.

He was also badly exposed once in 2013 when he lost all his team-mates on a crazy stage, although his rivals failed to capitalise as they raced each other for the minor placings rather than trying to put Froome under pressure.

If Froome’s rivals are going to have a chance this time around, they need to first find a way to negate the strength of Sky, and that’s not something that has happened often these last five years. –  Agence France-Presse

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