Tour de France preview

Tour de France

On Saturday the 105th Tour de France gets underway and as ever, drama is a given. Defending champion Chris Froome has now been cleared to start and will be desperate to prove he can back up his Giro d’Italia win, in what could be a spectacular edition of cycling’s greatest showcase.

176 riders from 22 teams will be present at the Grand Depart in Noirmoutier-en-l’Ile as the peloton prepares to take on three weeks and 3,329km of racing that will include chaotic cobbles, magnificent mountain passes and testing time-trials. In fact, 2018 will see the return of the team time-trial on Stage 3 for the first time since 2015. BMC were the winners on that occasion and with only four seconds separating themselves Team Sky and Movistar, it is likely to be just as tight around the streets of Cholet.

Of all the days attracting the most trepidation, Stage 9 to Roubaix will have been keeping the overall contenders awake at night, with 15 cobbled sectors totalling 21.7km, the longest being 2.7km between Auchy and Bersee. While they may reign in the mountains, this is foreign territory for many of the General Classification riders, prompting many to make rare appearances in the Spring Classics. Get to the finish line unscathed and without losing too much time and they will feel they are in contention to wear the maillot jaune come the processional stage into Paris on July 29.

But who are these contenders?

Different Approach for Different Folks

Froome to win @ 2.55

Froome’s clearance by the UCI on Monday brought about the end of over nine months of uncertainty, after he returned an adverse finding for asthma medication salbutamol on his way to winning the 2017 Vuelta a Espana.

The 33-year-old will be aiming for a record-equalling fifth yellow jersey and in doing so, will become the first man since Marco Pantani in 1998 to win both the Giro and Tour in the same year. Many have tried and failed to achieve what is seen as a largely impossible task in the modern era, but Froome’s status as only the man to hold all three Grand Tour titles shows he is the best rider of his generation.

As ever he will have a stellar support cast in Criterium du Dauphine winner Geraint Thomas, who is expected to be handed more responsibility given his recent performances, 2014 World Champion Michal Kwiatowski and Colombian tyro Egal Bernal all expected to be alongside him.

Froome has always said that just like in the Giro where he struggled at times early on, his goal is the peak in the third week of the Tour and with three days in the Pyrenees and a time-trial in that period, he looks set to write another chapter in his incredible story.

Team Sunweb’s Tom Dumoulin returns to the Tour after two years away but the Butterfly of Maastricht may have lost some of his sting by competing in the Giro. 2014 winner Vincenzo Nibali is fancied and although he can take time on the cobbles, the Bahrain Merida man may lack the explosiveness required in the mountains.

Mitchelton–Scott’s Adam Yates could be a surprise package. Twin brother Simon led the Giro for 13 days and after winning the Young Riders jersey in 2016, Adam will be raring to go.

AG2R La Mondiale’s Romain Bardet (17.00) continues to look like the home nation’s best hope and after finishing second in 2016, only a poor showing in the penultimate day’s time-trial cost him the same spot 12 months ago.

Bardet’s form has been solid this season, with particularly impressive podium finishes in both Strade Bianche and Liege-Bastogne-Liege. With only 31km of individual time-trialling in the Tour, the route suites him, especially the short mountain stages on which he can attack. Crucially his team have added the likes of Silvan Dillier and Tony Gallopin to add depth on various terrain.

Richie Porte (5.00) is also set to go well having won one of the traditional warm-up events, the Tour de Suisse. His team, BMC, also have extra motivation due to uncertainties over their future due to the death of owner Andy Riis, who Porte has pledged to dedicate his performance to.

A crash on the descent of the Mont du Chat, which resulted in a broken collarbone and pelvis, forced him out on Stage 9 in 2017 but he returns to the Grande Boucle with renewed confidence and at 33, seems ready to strike.

While Bardet and Porte will have all of their team’s resources dedicated to them, Movistar’s approach will be different with Nairo Quintana (9.00), Mikel Landa (11.00) and Alejandro Valverde (32.00) all given preferential treatment. Quintana and Valverde are both past Grand Tour winners and combined to finish second and third behind Froome in 2015. Meanwhile Landa joined from Sky over the winter after being arguably the strongest man in the final week of the 2017 Tour on his way to finishing fourth.

Movistar will undoubtedly have taken note from Froome’s success at the Giro where a long-range attack sealed the Maglia Rosa. Having three riders in the race provides an advantage in that one can go off the front and the other teams can either chase and waste energy, or sit tight, play the percentages and mark his team-mates. However, the reduction of team numbers to eight means there are doubts as to whether the Spanish outfit have the necessary man-power to support their tremendous trio throughout three-weeks of racing.

Perfect Peter to get back his own back in the Points

Points Classification – Peter Sagan @ 1.44

Peter Sagan’s disqualification was one of the talking points of last year’s Tour, ending the “Tourminator’s” five-year domination of the Green Jersey. The Slovak will be back this year with revenge on his mind.

With five of the first eight stages expected to finish in sprints, the Bora-Hansgrohe-man will look to pick up points patiently, while the rolling profile of Stages 5 and 6 present perfect opportunities to strike and having won Paris-Roubaix, also look for him on Stage 9. Sagan will then target the breakaways in the mountains to pick up extra points.

Other contenders could be Dimension Data’s Mark Cavendish and Lotto-Soudal’s Andre Greipel but both have lost some of their raw speed in recent years, while the new breed of sprinters appear to lack the consistency required to mount a three-week challenge.

Last year’s winner, Sunweb’s Michael Matthews could be his nearest challenger at 19.00 if he adopts a similar approach.

Mountain Men with option to ponder

King of the Mountains – Warren Barguil @ 3.65

Sagan’s team-mate Rafal Majka (16.00) is a two-time winner of the King of the Mountains classification but may have a decision to make. A top-10 in the GC is realistic after similar finishes in the Tours of California and Slovenia but to do so he will have to curb his instincts to stay with the big guns rather than go on the attack.

This could favour last year’s KOM Warren Barguil. A surprise switch from Sunweb to Fortuneo-Samsic raised eyebrows, while he has also struggled to adapt to a change of bike manufacturer.

The 26-year-old has not ruled out a go at the GC but his team’s lack of strength in depth may force the Breton to instead focus on defending the polka dot jersey. Illness earlier in the year means he enters the Tour with little form but having won Tour stages in the mountains in 2017, he could well be the one to watch when the road starts to turn up.