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Cycling: Froome seeks to defend Tour de France title

Chris Froome is determined to buck the recent trend and defend his Tour de France title when the Grand Boucle begins in Leeds on Saturday.

LEEDS: Chris Froome is determined to buck the recent trend and defend his Tour de France title when the Grand Boucle begins in Leeds on Saturday.

The official records show no-one has defended a Tour crown since Spaniard Miguel Indurain in 1995, but when asked whether that was due to the difficulty in repeating such a success in a new "clean" era, Froome denied that played a role.

"I'd have to disagree with you there, with the fact that if you've won it once then you're spent for years to come," said the Kenyan-born Brit.

"I don't agree with that principle, (but) I do believe that you have pressures coming back as a defending champion having won the Tour.

"You definitely have a lot more on your plate after winning the Tour; time between races just slips away from you, you end up doing a lot more in terms of media commitments, sponsor commitments.

"Life definitely changes after winning the Tour and if anything, that's probably a bigger factor compared to being wiped out after winning one Tour de France.

"For me that's a big goal: to come back and win it again. There's no guarantee that's going to be possible but I'm certainly going to try."

That statistic is somewhat affected by the sorry doping history that hit the Tour over the last 20 years.

Disgraced American Lance Armstrong defended the Tour six times but was stripped of his seven victories for doping.

Alberto Contador defended his crown in 2010 but again was stripped of that for failing a drug test.

Last year, Bradley Wiggins was denied the chance to defend his crown due to injury, although by then Froome had already replaced him as Team Sky's leader.

The main challenge to 29-year-old Froome's dominance comes from Spaniard Contador, 31, who has been in fine form this season.

Last year, he finished fourth after expending much energy attacking Froome while going out for overall victory, allowing Colombia's Nairo Quintana and Joaquim Rodriguez of Spain to sneak past him in the standings.

But he has had his best start to a season since 2010, winning two week-long stage races and finishing second in three others.

He beat Froome at both the Tour of Catalunya and last month's Criterium du Dauphine, although the Briton was leading the latter until a crash on the sixth of eight stages badly affected him.

Froome acknowledges Contador is his main rival but claims several other riders, such as last year's Giro d'Italia winner Vincenzo Nibali, Fleche Wallonne winner Alejandro Valverde, Dauphine winner Andrew Talansky or 2012 white jersey winner Tejay Van Garderen, could also cause problems.

"I think Alberto has shown he's definitely in a much more competitive position this year than he was last year," said Froome.

"His run-up to the Tour de France has certainly been a lot smoother, he's managed to get a lot more results in early season than he did last year.

"As with a lot of my main rivals and the main contenders here, everyone seems to have upped their game and again we're going to be looking forward to a really exciting Tour this year, and it's going to be a battle all the way to the end."

The 2014 course has been widely praised for offering a more complete test of a rider's ability.

There are five mountain-top finishes and one long 54km time trial.

But it is the challenging, undulating stages and one flat route that tackles 15.4km of cobblestones -- usually reserved for the prestigious Paris-Roubaix race -- that could provide several more unexpected opportunities to gain time.

Crosswinds could also be an issue on two flat, exposed stages in northern France, which visit the scene of some of the most important World War I battles.

As Froome himself says, it promises to be an exciting battle right to the end.

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