TOUR DE FRANCE: Froome worried about pure climbers

SAINT-LO, France (AP) Featuring two individual time trials and a lot of mountains, the Tour de France route suits titleholder Chris Froome very well. The British allrounder, however, believes pure climbing specialists will excel in the heat of the French summer.

''It's a route that is very much a climbers' route,'' Froome told The Associated Press in a TV interview ahead of the Tour starting at Mont Saint-Michel on Saturday. ''Even though we have two time trials, they are very hilly time trials.''

Those two stages take place in the second half of the 3,519-kilometer three-week race. The first one, on Stage 13, is on 37.5 kilometers of rolling terrain in the Ardeche region, and comes a day after the daunting ascent of Mont Ventoux, where Froome made his mark in 2013 for his first Tour triumph.

The second time trial, in the Alps, will be the Tour's first mountain time trial since the 2004 ascent of l'Alpe d'Huez.

''The guys who climb well should go right in them,'' Froome said.

Careful of maintaining a sense of suspense until the very end of the race, Tour organizers have chiseled a well-balanced route with many opportunities for Froome's main rivals, Nairo Quintana, Alberto Contador, and Fabio Aru, as well as the French duo of Thibaut Pinot and Romain Bardet.

The race features 28 mountain passes and four very hard stages in four days in the final week, where the trio of main contenders is expected to be among the leaders and on the attack.

In 2013 and 2015, Froome lost time to Quintana in the closing mountain stages. But he has slightly changed his schedule this year in order to maintain his peak longer, especially as he will be competing in the road race at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in August.

If that different approach bears fruit, Froome should be in a better shape come the third week of the Tour.

''He's coming up to top form a bit later, and he'll try to hold onto that through to the Olympics and the second part of the season,'' Team Sky boss Dave Brailsford said. ''He is in great shape.''

In his quest to become just the eighth rider to win three Tours, Froome will be helped by the strongest team of the field. Team Sky features Sergio Henao, Mikel Landa, Woet Poels, and Geraint Thomas, who will be key assets during the nine mountain stages.

''We've got a fantastic team. I've got a lot of confidence in my teammates,'' Froome said at his team hotel in Normandy. ''I feel privileged to be in a position to be leading a lineup of guys like that. Guys who can be leaders in their own right have come here to support me. It's something that gives me a lot of confidence coming into the Tour de France.''

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Associated Press writer Hernan Munoz Ratto contributed to this report.

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