Chris Froome will be looking to defend his Tour de France title when the race gets underway on 2 July.
The excitement’s building as the world’s finest Grand Tour cyclists prepare to traverse over 3500 kilometres across France, Spain, Switzerland and the Principality of Andorra.
It seems to be a three-way shootout for overall victory between Chris Froome, Nairo Quintana and Alberto Contador on a mountainous route which doesn’t include any cobbles of team time trials. Will Team Sky be able to protect Froome with so few solid climbers? Can Quintana and Contador take advantage of the numerous mountain finishes in their quest for Yellow? Let’s take a look!
Chris Froome 27/20
Froome started 2016 in much the same way he did the 2015 season. He breezed to victory in the Herald Sun Tour in Australia, although he was up against very few genuine climbers and even fewer grand tour contenders. While the win would have done his confidence some good, the British juggernaut would have been all too aware that the real tests lay ahead. Froome then went on to compete in the Volta a Catalunya where he finished a disappointing 46 seconds behind eventual winner, Nairo Quintana – he would again finish well behind the little Columbian powerhouse in the Tour de Romandie before claiming overall victory in the Criterium du Dauphine. That win in the Alps points toward good omens for Froome. Every time the Brit has claimed victory in the Dauphine he’s gone on to win the Tour the following month.
Looking ahead, Froome can definitely expect a much tougher challenge from Quintana who finished 1’ 12” seconds behind the Brit at last year’s event. That said, the 2016 route appears to suit him down to the bones. Two individual time trials and a mountainous route starting in the first week plays perfectly to his strengths. Whether or not his teammates will be able to support him over some of the tougher climbs remains to be seen.
Verdict: He’ll definitely be mixing it up near the top of the standings, although if his Sky teammates crack on in the Pyrenees or the Alps, he could find himself very short of support. He'll be hoping for warm weather too as the team have struggled when the mercury dips. Sky's pursuit of minimum body weight brings its own set of challenges. Less resistance to the cold and fewer reserves to fall back on when the going gets tough are two that come to mind immediately. Extended periods of cold could well hamstring his quest to defend his title.
Standing just over 167 centimetres tall and weighing in at a paltry 57 kilograms, Nairo Quintana is easily the biggest threat to Chris Froome’s 2016 title defence. If the Movistar rider is to claim his maiden Tour de France title, he’s going to need to cycle smart. He’ll get his chance early on as the tour hit the Pyrenees Mountains and the pint-sized Columbian will be frothing at the prospect of tackling the some of the steeper gradients on offer in stage seven, eight and nine.
He’ll get his chance to shine again when the riders head into the Alps for the latter stages of the race. He’ll hope that once he summits the Col de Joux Plane that he’ll have done enough to claim the famous Yellow Jersey as his own.
Verdict: I feel that Quintana could definitely win this year’s tour. The route plays perfectly to his strengths and his team possess some of the best climbers in the world at the moment. They will no doubt try and break the backs of the Sky and Tinkoff support cast who will be looking to keep Froome and Contador safe. Back him to win outright at 7/4.
Alberto Contador 7/2
Alberto Contador is one of the planet’s premier three-week stage cyclists and forms part of a very elite list of athletes who have won all three Grand Tours. He claimed victory in the 2007 and 2009 editions of the Tour de France while also winning the Giro d’Italia in 2008 and 2015. The Spanish rider has three Vuelta a Espana titles which he claimed in 2008, 2012 and 2014.
Contador had a disappointing 2015 Tour finishing in fifth place, 9’ 48” seconds behind the eventual winner Chris Froome. His cause wasn’t helped after he crashed on the descent of the Col d’Allos, losing over two minutes to the top four. He’s a fantastic all-round rider with his biggest strength lying in his climbing ability. He’s also a handy time trial rider and could well shine on stage 18; a tough uphill individual time trial that will suit him down to the bones.
Verdict: At the very least Contador should be aiming for a top five finish. Barring any crashes, illness or mechanical issues out on the road, I think he’ll challenge Froome and Quintana all the way, but is likely to finish slightly off the pace.
The Best of the Rest
Fabio Aru 14/1
The young Italian climber has struggled in the lead up to the Tour and seems to be struggling with the pressures that come with being one of the leaders of Team Astana – perhaps expect a bit more from Vincenzo Nibali. Keep an eye out for him in the mountains where he could claim a stage win or two. He's probably the favourite to win the White Jersey.
Vincenzo Nibali 25/1
Nibali will be full of confidence heading into the 2016 Tour de France following his impressive win at the Giro and will be looking for a repeat of his win back in 2014. However, this seems unlikely as Froome and Quintana are far better suited to this year’s route. That said, he should be more than capable of holding his own on the climbs. If he doesn’t crack on the ascent, he’ll fancy his chances of putting some time between himself and his nearest rivals on the descents where his bravery and ability are second to none. Definitely worth a small punt at 25/1.
Team to Watch: Team Dimension Data
You simply have to love Team Dimension Data. Their provisional 13-man squad contains six riders who come from Africa. The team had a magnificent Criterium du Dauphiné in which their riders claimed both the Polka-Dot Jersey (Daniel Teklehaimanot) and the Green Jersey (Edvald Boasson Hagen). The team finished the 2015 edition of the Tour in fifth place overall ahead of teams like BMC and Team Lotto. The team were thrilled to unveil Mark Cavendish who will definitely challenge in the sprints. They could definitely cause one or two surprises in the 2016 edition of the tour.
Written by Jason Dewey for @Hollywoodbets.