Reigning Tour de France champion Geraint Thomas says he is expecting a “tough” battle during this week’s OVO Energy Tour of Britain.

The Team Sky rider is competing in the Tour in the ninth time – and has six-time Grand Tour champion Chris Froome joining him for company as he looks forward to the opportunity of racing on home roads once again.

“It’s a tough race this year,” said Thomas. “The [Stage Five] team time trial will be interesting; finishing up a three-kilometre climb with four guys is hard.

Bristol is hard, mind – it’s short and sharp. There’s a tough climb up Belmont Hill at the end of Stage One, too – I did that a lot as a kid.

“But I just want to enjoy it; racing on home roads is rare for me, so I’m going to lap it up. It’s going to be insane – there’s going to be a lot of things to sign! The support is incredible.”

However, Thomas admits that any hopes of winning the race for the first time are slim; instead Team Sky are working for Dutch climber Wout Poels, already a three-time stage winner in the event.

Thomas added: “I’m not going to set the world alight – I’ve not done too much [riding] in the last month. It’s not every day that you win the Tour; so I’ve been here, there and everywhere.

“I still feel a bit knackered; I’ve not really recovered from the Tour. We’ve still got a strong team here, Wout’s our leader, so we’ll get behind him and see what we can do.”

Meanwhile Froome, who is racing in the OVO Energy Tour of Britain for the first time in nine years, believes Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) is one to watch in the GC battle.

He said: “I think Quick-Step Floors have a pretty strong team here; they’ve got Fernando Gaviria for the sprints, as well as Alapahilippe, who could be fighting for the overall.

“I’m definitely not in Tour [de France] shape now, so I’m not here with massive aspirations. 

“It’s great to be coming back here after a few years away. For us to be racing at the Tour of Britain now, after what Team Sky have achieved over the past seven or eight years, it’s going to be an amazing atmosphere out on the roads. I’m really looking forward to it.

“If it’s anything like the atmosphere during the 2014 Tour de France, it’ll be massive. The support has grown even more since then so it’s great for us to be a part of that.

British champion Connor Swift (Madison Genesis, above left) believes that having Thomas and Froome in the race adds to the occasion.

“Having these two here raises the profile of the race, it brings people out,” he said. “I’m buzzing.”

The Yorkshireman will be easy to spot in the race, as he wears the white, red and blue jersey representing his national title. “I can’t wait, it’s going to be pretty special,” he said of that privilege.

After his Team WIGGINS squad received a last-minute invitation to the race, Tom Pidcock has set his sights on ending his road season as best he can.

“I’ve been doing some good training, so I should be going alright,” said Pidcock, the current world junior time trial champion. “It’s going to be a good experience – I blew up 50 kilometres from the finish on the final Tour de Yorkshire stage earlier this year – hopefully I’ll last more than four days here!”