2017 Tour de France preview
The 2017 Tour de France appears to be the most open edition for many years, with at least six contenders as the 198 riders prepare for the opening stage in Duesseldorf.
Defending champion Chris Froome has had an indifferent build-up to the Tour, failing to win a single race – a key indicator that he could be beaten come Paris on July 23.
Add to that an extremely flat profile for the race in general and the odds are stacking against the three-time champion.
So, who has a realistic chance of stepping on top of the podium on the Champs-Elysees?
Froome will have his work cut out to win his fourth yellow jersey. His form has been good but not spectacular this season, allowing rivals such as former Team Sky super domestique Richie Porte to become genuine candidates for victory.
BMC’s Porte started the season in excellent form, winning the Tour Down Under, before suffering misfortune in the Paris-Nice stage race.
He was then crowded out by tactical riding when well-placed for the Criterium du Dauphine title, allowing the unheralded Jakob Fuglsang to take the overall win.
The Dauphine is often considered a dress rehearsal for the Tour and the sheer unpredictability of the 2017 edition means that the Tour is wide open.
Fuglsang is not expected to have lasting legs for the duration of three weeks, but he could mix things up for his Astana team leader Fabio Aru, who missed the 2017 Giro d’Italia due to injury.
Then there is the prospect of dangerous climber Nairo Quintana tackling the Tour after his second place in the Giro.
The Colombian, who would normally be among the top two or three favourites, has restricted himself to training rides since finishing in Italy as he tries to disprove the trend that sees riders flunking in the Tour having ridden the Giro.
Spanish legend Alberto Contador will also try for the maillot jaune. His form has been good this season and suffered a two-second loss of the Paris-Nice to Team Sky rider Sergio Henao.
Romain Bardet represents the best French hope, but the AG2R rider is notoriously poor in the time trials – and there are 36.5 kilometres against the clock in 2017.
Best of the rest
Team Lotto-NL Jumbo’s Robert Gesink finished a brilliant sixth in the 2015 Tour but has failed to recapture that form, finishing a poor 41st in the Dutch national championships and third in the national time trial.
Diminutive South African Louis Meintjes is steadily improving and could well earn a top-ten finish, while the always-smiling Esteban Chaves represents a danger if he can find some form.
The other jerseys
Double world champion Peter Sagan is virtually a nailed-on certainty to claim the green jersey for the points classification, with the Slovakian having won the maillot verd at each of the Tour of California, Tirreno-Adriatico and Tour de Suisse this season.
He has also won the Tour de France green jersey for the past five seasons.
However, given the flat nature of this year’s Tour, Marcel Kittel could be in with a shout too.
If Chris Froome falls terminally behind in the General Classification, he may well go for the King of the Mountains points.
Quintana is the likeliest to go for the polka dot jersey though, having expended so much energy in the Giro.
Several of the GC riders could elect to do this with the race being so open this year, which would add an extra layer of excitement to an already fascinating edition.
With his GC hopes, Meintjes is set to battle with Briton Simon Yates for the white jersey in the young rider’s classification.
With what little climbing there is, Tour organisers ASO have been sure to include famous mountains such as the Colombier, Galibier, Izoard and Peyresourde.
There is a disappointing amount of mountainous summit finishes – four – and just five official mountain stages.
This makes the time-trials all the more crucial – and currently Richie Porte is the best man against the clock of the GC hopes, although he has a tendency in his career to blow up in the third week of Grand Tours.
The opening stage in Germany is a prologue, meaning Tony Martin begins as hot favourite to snare the first yellow jersey of the race.
British involvement is two riders higher than 2016 at nine, with Team Sky and Dimension Data each responsible for picking three Brits each.
Sky have selected Froome, Luke Rowe and Geraint Thomas, while Dimension Data have gone with new national road and TT champion Steve Cummings, Mark Cavendish, who races despite still recovering from glandular fever, and Scott Thwaites.
Yates will ride for Orica-Scott, while Ben Swift and sprinter Dan McLay compete for UAE Team Emirates and Fortuneo-Vital Concept respectively.
It promises to be an edge-of-your-seat Tour this year as the GC riders see what is effectively a level playing field in front of them without there being a clear favourite.
Plus, with so few mountains to separate them, the time-trials will carry even greater significance than usual.
If Porte can hang on for the final week, he will go into the penultimate stage in Marseille as the probable favourite – provided he hasn’t lost time before that.
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