After being cleared of doping, Chris Froome is ready "to make history" in France.
Froome will be on the starting line of the Tour de France on Saturday in the western region of Vendee, aiming to join Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain in the elite club of five-time champions of cycling's biggest race.
"The last twelve months have been the hardest but also the most incredible of my career," Froome said on Tuesday in a statement submitted by Team Sky, a day after cycling authorities cleared him of any wrongdoing despite an abnormal doping test result.
Froome has raced all season under the cloud of a potential ban after a urine sample provided during his victory at the Spanish Vuelta in September showed a concentration of the asthma drug salbutamol that was twice the permitted level. The International Cycling Union ruled on Monday that his sample results did not constitute a breach to the anti-doping rules and closed all proceedings against the British rider.
The decision also meant Froome will be able to hold onto the Giro d'Italia trophy he won in May, which gave him three straight Grand Tour titles.
"I've never started the Tour de France after riding the Giro d'Italia, and it has meant a completely different approach to my season," Froome said. "But I learnt a lot from riding the Vuelta straight after the Tour de France last year, which has given me confidence coming into this race."
Team Sky will again field a very strong team in support of Froome, including Egan Bernal, Jonathan Castroviejo, Michal Kwiatkowski, Gianni Moscon, Wout Poels, Luke Rowe and Geraint Thomas.
"I want to make history with a fifth Tour de France win and fourth consecutive Grand Tour," Froome said. "I am under no illusion about the challenge, but I am feeling ready and I couldn't ask for a better team to support me."
Aged 21, Bernal will make his Tour debut and will play a key role in helping Froome in the mountains alongside Poels and the experienced Castroviejo, who is also a strong climber. Kwiatkowski, a versatile former world champion, was impressive last year in helping Froome to a fourth title in France, while Thomas can also aim for the yellow jersey if Froome can't live up to expectations. Moscon is also a Tour debutant who rode in support of Froome at the Vuelta last year.
"We go into the Tour with a lot of confidence. Chris is in great shape after the Giro, mentally and physically, and the whole team wants to build on the success we had in Italy," Team Sky principal Dave Brailsford said. "Chris is already one of the greats of the sport. This is a chance for him to cement that reputation even further."
The Tour starts on Saturday from the island of Noirmoutier-en-l'Ile.