2017 Tour de France preview

2017 Tour de France preview

Chris Froome

Chris Froome provided one of the iconic images in cycling history by running up Mont Ventoux in 2016 following a crash with a TV bike. 

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?

The contenders

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.

The stages

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.

The Brits

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.

Denouement

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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2016 Tour de France preview – Third time lucky for Quintana?

The 2016 Tour de France rolls off today as the 198 riders begin their 3,535km dash around France with a poignant first stage that finishes in Utah Beach to commemorate the D-Day landings of World War Two.

The battle for the first yellow jersey is likely to be between Marcel Kittel, Andre Greipel and Mark Cavendish, but it is the fight to wear the maillot jaune in Paris on July 24 that is the most appealing.

This Tour looks set to be a tense shake-up between reigning Tour champion Chris Froome and in-form Colombian climber Nairo Quintana.

The contenders

The past few editions of ‘le Tour’ have been ideal for Froome. His Tour victories of 2013 and 2015 combined just the right amount of time-trialling and high mountain passes, although Quintana very nearly snatched victory last season with an astounding attack on the famous Alpe d’Huez.

This year, Quintana will be licking his lips with a more mountainous route and two climber-centric time trials providing plenty of opportunity to put time into his rivals.

Quintana has finished second to Froome in each of the British rider’s wins but this year he looks the stronger of the two.

The Movistar rider has won three stage races this season already, triumphing in the Route du Sud, Tour de Romandie and the Volta a Catalunya.

Meanwhile, Froome is peaking at just the right time as he looks to win a third Tour and maintain his form for a tilt at the gold medal in the Olympic road race at Rio 2016.

The Kenya-born Brit took victory in the most prestigious warm-up for the Tour de France, the Criterium du Dauphine.

While the clash between Froome and Quintana will dominate the headlines, those writing off two-time Tour winner Alberto Contador do so at their peril.

The Spaniard has quietly gone about his business this season with the goal of timing his form for the Tour, and with his explosive climbing style and unparalleled ability in uphill time-trials he will undoubtedly be on Froome and Quintana’s watchlist.

There is also an intriguing dynamic at Astana where 2016 Giro d’Italia winner Vincenzo Nibali will be riding in support of 2015 Vuelta a Espana victor Fabio Aru.

The Italians are known to dislike one another but they will be forced to help each other as Astana look to pull a tactical blindfold over their rivals.

Nibali will be gunning for a fast start and if he gets an early lead it will afford Astana the luxury of masking which rider is their preferred leader – giving their rivals two riders to mark instead of one.

Best of the rest

There is no doubting Richie Porte’s quality, but he has a worrying tendency to blow up in the latter stages of a Grand Tour.

He has consistently underperformed on the biggest stage and his exit from Team Sky was an understandable decision given he had been Froome’s wingman and deputy and simply failed to deliver.

The situation at his new team, BMC, is similar to that of Astana’s, as American rider Tejay van Garderen is also in contention for the yellow jersey.

The lanky time-trial specialist comes to the 2016 Tour with unfinished business as illness in last season’s edition cruelly robbed him of a podium spot as he was forced to abandon the race from third place on stage 17.

BMC can afford to place Porte as their leader and, if he’s strong enough, he will most likely keep that status to the end of the race. If he does run out of legs in the third week, van Garderen will naturally be high in the General Classification and the team can then support him instead.

There is also a strong feeling in France that Thibault Pinot or Romain Bardet could have a Tour to remember. Bardet in particular has been in excellent form this season and his demon descending abilities could be a factor on some hairy descents lined up for this Tour.

Pinot has long struggled with time-trialling and descending but the uphill stages against the clock will be more to his liking and he will always be a threat on the major mountain stages.

The other jerseys

Sadly, if Peter Sagan doesn’t win the green jersey it will only be through an accident. The world champion is supreme at picking up intermediate sprint points on hilly stages and he has won the last four green jerseys.

The sprinters will take the majority of the flat stage wins, with Sagan usually in the top five, but the Slovakian’s ability to survive in breakaways and win uphill sprints makes him the overwhelming favourite to take five in a row.

Marcel Kittel is tipped to win the most stages this year, but he will be challenged by fellow German Andre Greipel and British rider Mark Cavendish.

Kittel has been in scintillating form during 2016, often winning stages by several bike lengths and, if his Etixx Quick-Step team can provide a good lead-out train, he will again be untouchable.

The King of the Mountains classification is likely to be won by a GC contender, just as Froome did last year.

Failing that, a rider who is consistently in the breakaways can mop up points for being the first man over the summit. However, with the majority of points weighted for summit finishes, a pure climber is more likely to win the polka dot jersey.

The white jersey, given to the highest-placed rider under 25, is the most open for years after Quintana recently turned 26, but expect the winner to come from this trio of Warren Barguil, British rider Adam Yates or Louis Meintjes.

The stages

The 2016 Tour is full of mountains and consequently the warm-up races have been too, most noticeably with a focus on uphill time-trials.

Stage 12 stands out as the best stage in the race as the riders ascend the legendary Mont Ventoux on Bastille Day.

Froome has also earmarked this as the most attractive stage and given he beat Quintana convincingly on Ventoux in 2013 he will fancy his chances once more.

The back end of the Tour is usually slanted upwards and this edition is no different. Stages 17, 18, 19 and 20 are Alpine monsters, traversing Switzerland and then back into France.

With 54km of time-trialling to be done, including one uphill and the other with two tricky climbs, time gaps will quickly appear in the GC race.

The Brits

There is a ‘magnificent seven’ of British riders in this year’s Tour. Team Sky boast four of those with Froome, Geraint Thomas, Ian Stannard and Luke Rowe.

Team Dimension Data have two in the shape of Mark Cavendish and Steven Cummings, while the relatively unknown sprinter Daniel McLay makes his Tour debut for the Fortuneo-Vital Concept squad.

Denouement

As always there is plenty to look out for in the Tour this year. There are races within the race, races within each classification and there will be plenty of cat and mouse too.

It will be hard to take your eyes off the GC battle though. Froome, Quintana and Contador will be cutting shapes on some brutal mountain passes and it could come down to who handles the time-trials better than the others.

But there is a lingering feeling when looking over the parcours that this could well be Nairo Quintana’s year. On the Alpe d’Huez last season he will have sensed a weakness in Froome and the Colombian’s sparkling form this season gives him his best shot yet at climbing into yellow.

You can follow me on Twitter @NeilWalton89 and WordPress: neilwalton089