Sky's Froome in Dauphine spotlight

Three-time Tour de France winner Britain's Chris Froome of Team Sky is laying the groundwork to defend his title in the upcoming Critérium du Dauphiné

Chris Froome will attempt to lay the groundwork for his Tour de France title defence in June's Criterium du Dauphine, the route of which was unveiled Thursday.

Three-time Tour de France champion Froome won the Dauphine in 2014, 2015 and 2016.

Froome, 31, this week backed his under-fire Sky boss David Brailsford as British anti-doping authorities investigate a mysterious package delivered to now retired Bradley Wiggins, the 2012 Tour de France champion, at the 2011 Criterium du Dauphine.

"Team Sky feel passionately about our sport and winning clean. I believe in the people around me, and what we are doing," Froome insisted this week.

This year's Dauphine race will get underway in the southeastern city of Saint Etienne on June 4 and finish in the high-mountain Alpine town of Albertville on June 11.

"The Criterium du Dauphine is a stepping stone to the Tour de France this year with its departure from Saint Etienne into a series of mountains, a medium size individual time trial and the two final day summit finishes," Christian Prudhomme director of the race's organising group ASO explained.

"It's a wonderful test and last year's top two ended up being the top two in the Tour de France too. Form shown in this race should indicate what we can expect on the Tour."

The race features a top line-up which also includes Colombia's Nairo Quintana, who won his second Tirreno-Adriatico title this week, and French climb specialists Thibault Pinot and Romain Bardet.

Four of the last five Criterium winners went on to win the Tour de France.

As the Criterium is three weeks ahead of the Tour, riders can race flat out and then take a long rest before the 21-day epic that many riders centre their season around.