SIR Bradley Wiggins has billed defending champion Chris Froome as the man to beat in next month's Tour de France.
Wiggins' expected omission from Team Sky's nine-man group for the Tour was confirmed today, coming barely 12 hours after he won his third national time trial title with a blistering performance at Celtic Manor in Newport.
Instead of competing against the world's best in the most famous cycle race of all, 2012 Tour winner Wiggins will be back on the track preparing for a Commonwealth Games medal challenge alongside his England team-mates.
But he has no doubt that Froome, who fell heavily during the recent Criterium du Dauphine in France, is ready to become the Tour's first back-to-back winner since Spaniard Miguel Indurain almost 20 years ago.
"We saw the best of Chris at the start of the Dauphine, then it looked like he was hampered by the crash," said Wiggins, speaking prior to the Team Sky announcement.
"Chris, at the start of the Dauphine, in that form, it looks like no-one can touch him really.
"The Dauphine is always a funny one. Although it is the big test before the Tour, there is so much that can change in the three weeks afterwards and Chris' form will probably be geared towards being the best in July.
"He is quite a strong character. He knows exactly what he needs to do."
Wiggins, 34, had anticipated he would not be part of Team Sky's plans, adding: "It is what it is. I think the team they are sending is an incredible team.
"You've got a defending champion who is going to be the favourite to win it, you have got the likes of Geraint (Thomas), who could win on Sunday and take the British road title into the Tour, so the team that is going you couldn't fault it really.
"I would have liked to have been there but at the same time, the squad is so strong now.
"It came down that there was a cut-off point, and I probably hadn't had the preparation with having gone back on the track, really.
"It's disappointing on a personal level, but I think from a team point of view they have probably put the strongest squad up as it stands today. It was always looking that I probably wasn't going to ride the Tour."
Welshman Thomas, who finished as time trial runner-up to Wiggins, claimed his fellow Olympic gold medallist's absence from the Tour is a disappointment to him.
"I have known Brad a long time, and we have been through a lot together," Thomas said.
"It is disappointing for him but it's such a strong team, someone is going to miss out.
"I am happy just to be a bike rider and not have to make any of those decisions. All I worry is about myself and being the best I can be and getting in the team. Whoever is alongside me, I am happy."
With neither Wiggins nor Mark Cavendish riding in Sunday's British road race championship, Thomas will head off around the roads of Monmouthshire as pre-race favourite in his final outing before the Tour.
"I am looking forward to the road race, and that time trial hit-out will help," he added.
"You still race hard and give it everything, but definitely in the back of your mind you know the Tour is next weekend, so you don't want any accidents."