After a look at the 104th Tour de France course and sprinters, Canadian Cycling Magazine examines the contenders with four days to go until the Le Grand Depart in Düsseldorf.
Chris Froome (Great Britain/Sky): The most talented stage racer of the of the Twenty-first Century’s second decade, Froome has had a bit of an off year that has cycling pundits bandying about the “decline” word. However, the Brit is still the favourite to win this race. A fourth yellow jersey would put him in the company of one, as no rider has won just four without going on to five.
Like Nairo Quintana in the Giro d’Italia, Froome looked 90% in the Criterium du Dauphiné, a race that he has always won on the way to a Tour triumph. There were two main takeaways from that race: Porte outshone Froome and Froome continued to attack on descents.
Froome brings the strongest team, with Spanish-speaking power trio Sergio Henao, Mikel Landa and Mikel Nieve, alongside top-5 threat Geraint Thomas.
Richie Porte (Australia/BMC): The Australian burst onto the Grand Tour scene with a seventh place in the 2010 Giro. Except for last year when he earned fifth in the Tour, he has been a Grand Tour underachiever.
But he has had a sterling 2017, racking up WorldTour stage race triumphs in January’s Tour Down Under and April’s Tour de Romandie. Suddenly, Porte is the man touted to slay the Froomer.
An astonishing ambush of Porte on the Dauphiné’s final day gave Jakob Fuglsang his greatest career victory and showed the relative weakness of BMC. The absence of Tejay van Garderen and Rohan Dennis makes BMC’s lineup a little suspect.
Nairo Quintana (Colombia/Movistar): On any other year, the talk would be the usual Froome vs Quintana yammering, but the Colombian’s runner-up spot in the Giro has cycling fans and scribes speculating that he might be too spent to even podium.
The reigning Vuelta a España champion was not at his sharpest in the Giro, his usual climbing prowess sputtering. And, of course, weakness in the chrono was his undoing.
Nairo has a crack squad with the swashbuckling Alejandro Valverde as his lieutenant. Valverde was satisfactory in the Dauphiné after a stellar early season—could he peak at the right time and achieve (gulp) another Tour podium?
The Colombian will have a deficit to make up right from the Düsseldorf time trial and needs to roll up a lead on Froome and Porte before the Stage 20 time trial to win his first Tour.
Romain Bardet (France/AG2R): The Great French Hope, runner-up last year after coming sixth in 2014, suffered the embarrassment of getting tossed out of Paris-Nice for taking a Nibali-like tow from a team car. Now, in his home tour, the pressure and scrutiny will be intense.
Bardet’s edge wasn’t quite honed in the Dauphiné, but he still placed sixth . He’ll have Mathias Frank and Pierre Latour as his main two helpers. Bardet is the new French time trial champion.
Contador will attack bravely and frequently and roll well in the time trials, and with a little luck could podium, but he’s more likely to be a top-10 man with perhaps a stage win to add to his palmares.
Fabio Aru (Italy/Astana): The Italian had an incredible 2014 and 2015 before disappointing the tifosi last season. He had to miss the Giro with a knee injury. Now, as the new Italian champion, Aru will be champing at the bit.
Aru had some bright moments in the Dauphiné in coming fifth, but couldn’t really hang with the big dogs on the climbs. He has Fuglsang in his corner.