Pre-race press conferences have started ahead of the 104th Tour de France with Chris Froome expressing his ambitions to win his fourth title and German riders emulating children as they expressed their passion for cycling. The teams’ presentation will take place on Thursday, June 29, from 6.30pm to 8pm on the Burgplatz in the centre of Düsseldorf.

Chris Froome: “I’m ready”

Speaking in a Team Sky press conference at the Tour de France headquarters in Düsseldorf, defending champion Chris Froome declared: “In terms of form, I feel I’m exactly where I need to be. At the Dauphiné, I got the race rhythm I needed. I’m light on race days so I feel fresher than I have ever been before at the start of the Tour de France. I’m ready for the next three weeks. My hunger to win hasn’t got any less but the challenge is bigger this year because the level of my rivals is higher. If Richie [Porte] is as strong as at the Dauphiné, he’s gonna be the man to beat. I haven’t won a race yet this year but I can take confidence from the three wins I already got at the Tour.”

Kittel to the children: “Enjoy the Tour!”

Following the opening ceremony of the media center by Düsseldorf Mayor Thomas Geisel and Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme, the first press conference of the 104th edition of the race was conducted in French and German languages by thirty children, some of them coming from the French high school of Düsseldorf. Riders in attendance were Marcel Kittel, André Greipel, Nikias Arndt and Simon Geschke. The key word was “Spaß”: pleasure. Arndt, a newbie at the Tour de France, declared: “I can’t tell much about a race I haven’t taken part in yet but obviously, the fun the spectators seem to have makes this event special. Regardless of the rivalry between Düsseldorf and my city, Cologne, it’s a great pleasure for me to start my first Tour de France fifty kilometers from home.” All riders praised the return of the race to Germany. Kittel rated his three favorite stages this year: “The first two because they’re held in Germany and I expect a bunch sprint in Liège, and the last one on the Champs-Élysées in Paris.” Greipel won that stage in the past two years. Questioned about his birthday being always during the Tour de France, “The Gorilla” – the kids love his nickname – revealed the special menu his team’s chef always prepares for him on July 16: sauerkraut with a sausage and a beer. “I hope to ride the Tour for another few years”, he added ahead of his 35th birthday. Geschke described his passion for cycling as “a childhood dream to ride the Tour de France”. “All Tour de France riders are champions”, he concluded.

Fabio Aru, a flag bearer for national champions

Twelve national champions are expected to start the Tour de France in Düsseldorf: Sergio Henao (Col/Sky), Oliver Naesen (Bel/AG2R-La Mondiale), Jesus Herrada (Spa/Movistar), Fabio Aru (Ita/Astana), Arnaud Démare (Fra, FDJ), Ignatas Konovalovas (Lit/FDJ), Marcus Burghardt (Ger/Bora-Hansgrohe), Stephen Cummings (Gbr/Dimension Data), Reinardt Janse van Rensburg (Rsa/Dimension Data), Zdenek Stybar (Cze/Quick-Step Floors), Juraj Sagan (Svk/Bora-Hansgrohe), Ramon Sinkeldam (Ned/Sunweb). Meanwhile Démare is the only top sprinter who will carry his national colours, Aru is the only one tipped among the protagonists for the overall classification. There are a few similarities between him this year and Vincenzo Nibali when he won the 2014 Tour de France: riding for Astana, having had a difficult early part of the season prior to taking the first victory at the Italian championship, looking at La Planche des belles filles as the first summit on the route…

Nicolas Edet, the specialist of last minute call

Cofidis has substituted Geoffrey Soupe by Nicolas Edet who was the king of the Mountains of the 2013 Vuelta a España after Nacer Bouhanni’s lead out man underwent medical examination following his retirement at the French championship on Sunday. “I was a little bit disappointed to not being selected for the Tour de France”, Edet told letour.com. “I was supposed to go to the Tour of Austria instead. Last night, the team management informed me that I had a good chance to replace Soupe and it’s been confirmed this morning so I made my way to Düsseldorf. Last year I was in the same situation. I replaced Bouhanni at the last minute. I’m probably the only cyclist who has done that twice in the row at the Tour de France! In both cases, I can’t do the same job as the guy who withdraws: I’m not a sprinter and I’m not a lead out man. Nacer’s lead out will obviously be reshuffled. A rider in good shape was needed. I am in good shape and racing circumstances will dictate my role in the team.”