ALISTAIR Brownlee has declared himself in his best shape since London 2012 as he aims to become the first triathlete to retain an Olympic title.

The 28-year-old Bingley Harrier dominated the race in Hyde Park four years ago to fully justify his tag as favourite and goes into today's Rio 2016 showdown once again as the man to beat.

Not that the intervening four years have been smooth at all. Brownlee, whose hottest competition is likely to come from brother Jonny, has won plenty of races but also struggled with injury.

Last August he took the decision to undergo ankle surgery in a bid to cure the problem once and for all and the gamble appears to have paid off.

Despite not being confident about his form, he streaked away from the field to win the inaugural World Triathlon Series race in Leeds in June.

It was his first major victory for a year and he followed it up with another excellent performance to win in Stockholm three weeks later.

The worrying news for his rivals is that Brownlee feels he has stepped up the pace significantly during a four-week altitude training camp in St Moritz and then at the team's holding camp in Brazil.

He said: "I think I've trained as hard as I can. We've done some really good sessions.

"I felt good after coming down from altitude. I couldn't be happier with my form at the moment. Now it's just putting the finishing touches to it and making sure I can be in the best shape possible.

"Leeds was amazing and Stockholm went really well and I've come a long way since then. I feel like I'm in my best shape since London.

"It's given me a lot of confidence after an up and down last few years. I'm in the best possible position. I've just got to go out there and do the best I can."

Only two men – Simon Whitfield of Canada and New Zealand's Bevan Docherty – have won multiple medals since triathlon was introduced to the Olympic programme in 2000.

There is undoubtedly pressure on Brownlee but he should not have any problem putting it to one side.

"Nothing can compare to the expectation before a home Olympics," he said. "I'm kind of glad that's over. This feels a bit more relaxed. It would mean a massive amount to win gold again."

And if the Yorkshireman's prospects of doing that were already very good, there is no doubt they were helped last month when his biggest rival, Javier Gomez, fractured his elbow in a training fall, ruling him out of the Games.

The Spaniard took silver in London and is a five-time world champion, winning the title for the last three years.

Brownlee would rather Gomez was in Rio, saying: "It's going to be very strange. You want to be at the Olympics, the biggest stage for triathlon, racing the best athletes. You want to be the best person on the day.

"London was the most satisfying race I've ever had – but you can't focus on who is or isn't going to be there.

"It's a shame for him but I've tried not to let that affect my preparations. It's a very competitive field."

There remains a strong Spanish challenge in the shape of Mario Mola and Fernando Alarza, as well as Richard Murray of South Africa.

What should play into the Brownlees' hands is the course, which begins in the waters of Copacabana before the athletes head out into the hills on the bike and then back to the seafront for the ten-kilometre run.

Alistair took part in the test event last year while Jonny was sidelined by injury and reported his findings back to his brother.

Jonny, the bronze medallist in London, said: "He said it's harder than it looks. Everyone gets on the bike very tired, which is what I want to hear."

Beating the Brownlees is going to be very tough indeed.