Following the resolution of his salbutamol case in the week counting down to this year’s race, four-time champion Chris Froome will arrive on the starting line in Noirmoutier-en-l’Île as the bookmakers’ favourite to win the 105th edition of the Tour de France. Despite being given the all clear to race after the International Cycling Union (UCI) dropped the case against Froome, the Kenya-born rider and his team-mates cannot expect an easy ride from large swathes of the public and world’s media. How Team Sky cope will be fascinating.
From a purely sporting perspective, Froome will be in high spirits following his historic Giro d’Italia victory in May. Following a slow start to the race, Froome claimed two highly memorable results having won the toughest two stages at the Giro after prevailing atop Monte Zoncolan ahead of race leader Simon Yates before, three days later, going on a Fausto Coppi-esque solo breakaway over the top of the Colle delle Finestre to take his second stage and, more importantly, the overall lead. If Froome can carry that form through to the Tour, easier said than done in a World Cup year when there is an additional week between races, then he may just be unbeatable.
Team Sky, once again, will have one of the strongest teams at the race and in Michal Kwiatkowski and Geraint Thomas has two riders capable of taking over leadership duties should Froome falter.
Tour de France record: Froome won the race in 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017 and also took the mountains classification in 2015. In addition to his jersey collection, he has seven stage wins on his palmarès.
Best available odds to win the maillot jaune: 2/1
The Bahrain-Merida leader may have spent much of the season riding below the radar – he has finished no higher than 11th in a single stage race and was 24th in the recent Critérium du Dauphiné – but Vincenzo Nibali is a rider who should be ignored at your peril. As just one of just seven riders to win all three grand tours – the others being Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Felice Gimondi, Bernard Hinault, Alberto Contador and Froome – in addition to two Il Lombardia titles (2015 and 2017) and this year’s Milan-Sanremo, Nibali boasts one of the most well-rounded palmarès in the peloton. The Italian nicknamed ‘the Shark’ is, in simple terms, one of the greatest bike racers of the modern era.
With a course that suits a rider who is equally comfortable on the cobbles or gravel as he is in the high mountains, Nibali would appear to be the ideal man to challenge Froome, despite what form suggests.
In Gorka Izagirre, Ion Izagirre and Domenico Pozzovivo, Nibali arrives with a world-class group of mountain domestiques who, providing they can all survive a treacherous looking opening week, can spearhead a very credible challenge alongside Nibali who never, ever, gives up.
Tour de France record: Has started six editions of the Tour and managed to finish each of them, including the 2014 race when he also added four stages to his palmarès. Added a fifth stage to his list of wins the following year when he finished fourth overall.
Best available odds to win the maillot jaune: 13/1
While Movistar have said they will arrive at the Tour with three joint leaders in Nairo Quintana, Mikel Landa and Alejandro Valverde, one imagines it will be the pint-sized Colombian who will offer the toughest challenge to Froome and Team Sky. Following his disappointing 12th-placed finish in last year’s race after arriving fatigued off the back of the Giro d’Italia, the 28-year-old will be hoping for a better result this month. A strong showing at the recent Tour de Suisse where he won a mountainous stage before finishing third on general classification, would certainly suggest he is in good form.
In Landa, Valverde and young Spanish climber Marc Soler, Quintana – providing he does turn out to be the team leader – has one of the strongest teams at this year’s Tour. However, one of the biggest threats to Quintana may, in fact, come from a team-mate. After leaving Team Sky at the end of last year in order to follow his own general classification dreams it will be fascinating to see how Movistar manage the ambitions of Landa who, should he go off piste, has the ability to upset the status quo and launch his own assault on the Tour.
Tour de France record:Has completed four Tours – in 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017 – and has stood on the podium three times in Paris, though has yet to stand on the top step. The Colombian, though, does have one stage and a white jersey as winner of the young rider classification on his palmarès, both won on his debut in 2013.
Best available odds to win the maillot jaune: 9/1
The home favourite arrives off the back of a third place at the Critérium du Dauphiné and, providing he can survive the cobbles during stage nine, would expect to challenge for a podium place. A huge, huge talent who can soar like an eagle when the road rises up and, as we saw at this year’s Strade Bianche, get involved at the pointy end of races on rough, gravelly, terrain – as we will see during stage 10. However, the 27-year-old has persistently been let down by his time trialing skills and despite having spent some time in the wind tunnel during the winter, has shown little sign of improvement in that department this season.
As France’s main challenger, Bardet will carry the hopes of a nation on his narrow shoulders, though has proven time and again that he can cope with the pressures that brings. Will arrive with a strong team, designed to shepherd him through a tough opening week and towards the mountains where he will hope to launch his challenge.
Tour de France record:The Frenchman has completed each of the five Tour he has started finishing 15th, sixth, ninth, second and third. Has managed to win a stage in each of the last three editions.
Best available odds to win the maillot jaune: 18/1
The popular Dutchman who is just one of four riders at this year’s Tour with a grand tour on his palmarès having won the 2016 edition of the Giro d’Italia surprised many when he took the decision to ride the Tour after finishing second to Froome at in Italy in May. Having never completed two grand tours in the same season Dumoulin may be about to enter uncharted territory, but can the Butterfly of Maastricht cope?
Following the reduction in team sizes from nine to eight a number of teams, particularly those with serious general classification ambitions, have left their sprinters at home. The world time trial champion’s team, however, are one of the few that are focusing on both the general and points classification competitions, though one imagines Michael Matthews, last year’s winner of the green jersey, will be under strict instruction to put Dumoulin’s ambitions ahead of his own. Superb team management and on-the-road tactics last year enabled Matthews challenge for the green jersey while Warren Barguil managed to go stage hunting en route to winning the mountains classification. Pull off a repeat and who knows, maybe Dumoulin could challenge for yellow.
Tour de France record:Has completed just two of the four Tours de France he has started and has finished no higher than 33rd. Has two stages on his palmarès, both from his last appearance in 2016, when he won a mountainous stage into Andorra and an individual time trial.
Best available odds to win the maillot jaune: 18/1
Team: BMC Racing
The BMC Racing leader may remain a favourite with the bookmakers, but history would suggest it is unlikely the 33-year-old will be standing on the podium in Paris on July 29. Throughout his career, Porte has persistently suffered a jour sans – a day in which everything seems to go wrong – during stage races and has yet to stand on the podium or win a single stage in 11 starts in one of the three grand tours.
The Australian, though, will arrive buoyed following his recent Tour de Suisse victory ahead of Jakob Fuglsang and Quintana and will have alongside him a strong group of experienced team-mates. BMC Racing will start as joint favourites, along with Sky, for the team time trial which may see Porte take the leader’s yellow jersey as early as the opening Monday of the race. With a bit of good fortune Porte may be about write a new chapter in his career. Just don’t bet your house on it.
Tour de France record:The Australian has started seven Tours and has finished six of them following his horrific crash at last year’s race. Has finished no higher than fifth – in 2016 when he trailed in 5min 17sec behind Froome – and has yet to win a single stage at the race.
Best available odds to win the maillot jaune: 9/2
After skipping the race last year in favour of the Giro, the Bury-born rider returns to the Tour as Mitchelton-Scott’s outright leader. Following the team’s decision that sprinter Caleb Ewan would not be selected to focus instead on the team’s general classification ambitions, it will be interesting to see how Yates copes with the added pressure of carrying the team’s hopes in the pressure-cooking environment that is the Tour de France. However, with a phalanx of experienced riders alongside him, one imagines the Englishman who has finished in the top five of each stage race started in 2018, will do just fine. Finished second at the recent Critérium du Dauphiné behind Thomas and, perhaps more encouragingly, almost two minutes ahead of Bardet.
As a flyweight climber suited more to the steeper inclines, is likely to struggle on the cobbles during stage nine, though with former Paris-Roubaix winner Mathew Hayman and the diesel that is Luke Durbridge guiding him across the unfriendly terrain, will be hoping to stay within touching distance of the leaders. As the road rises in the second week, Yates will turn to mountain domestiques Daryl Impey and Mikel Nieve for help.
Tour de France record:Has completed both Tours started while finishing 50th and fourth on general classification in the 2015 and 2016 editions respectively. Became the first Briton to claim the white jersey as winner of the young rider classification during his last outing.
Best available odds to win the maillot jaune: 20/1
Team: EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale
After surprising almost everybody with his second place finish at last year’s Tour, Rigoberto Urán will again lead the general classification challenge for Jonathan Vaughters’ squad, but can he pull off a repeat?
With wins at his nation’s inaugural Oro y Paz back in February and, more recently, the Tour of Slovenia, and similar results – though little particularly outstanding – to last year, Urán will, again, arrive at the Tour as a dark horse. However, a bullish Vaughters said last month that his team’s objective for the Tour ‘quite simple’.
“We start the race trying to win the Tour de France,” said Vaughters. “We were second place last year. We have a little bit stronger team this year, and we have a parcours more suited to Rigo than last year. We have Rigo, who is stronger than he was last year. So we’re going in with the idea of trying to win the race.”
Tour de France record:Finished all four Tours he has started – 2009, 2011, 2015 and 2017. Won a stage at last year’s race in dramatic circumstances after suffering a mechanical in the final run-in to the line and finished second overall to complete his best ever outing.
Best available odds to win the maillot jaune:
However, in a team that contains sprinter Alexander Kristoff it remains to be seen how nuch support Martin will receive in the mountains. With just Darwin Atapuma and Kristijan Durasek on hand as mountain domestiques, Martin will certainly have to work for any results at this year’s race, though can draw belief from last year’s race when the Irishman was part of a team whose main priority was protecting sprinter Marcel Kittel. Providing he packs his legs, can definitely challenge for a top 10 place and may, given the right circumstances, even be thinking of a podium spot.
Tour de France record: The UAE-Team Emirates rider has completed each of the five Tours he has started with his best finish on general classification coming last year when he finished sixth despite suffering a nasty crash on the second Sunday of the race. Has won one stage – the lumpy ninth stage into Bagnéres de Bigorre back in 2013 – and has subsequently managed four second-placed stage finishes.
Best available odds to win the maillot jaune: 80/1
Article Source: The Daily Telegraph