Beyond the huge podium favourites – Christopher Froome, Richie Porte and Nairo Quintana – a clutch of contenders will be hoping to make the most of elite rivals’ slightest slip-ups to shine in France’s signature cycling event.
With just hours to go before the Grand Départ, the 2017 Tour de France’s exported start to Düsseldorf on Saturday, several riders can legitimately stake a claim to donning the yellow jersey at the Paris finish in three weeks’ time on the Champs-Élysées. FRANCE 24 takes an inevitably subjective look at the hopefuls rolling off the start of the world’s greatest cycling race.
The safe bets: Froome, Porte, Quintana
There are three unquestionable favourites in the Tour’s 2017 edition. British rider Chris Froome is, of course, a three-time winner of this race and its two-time defending champion. With high-quality teammates for support (Henao, Thomas, Kwiatkowski and Landa), the so-called “white Kenyan” is clearly the man to beat from the start of this Grande Boucle. That mantle applies even though Froome has yet to shine in 2017, struggling as he did on the Dauphiné Libéré’s steepest climbs last month.
Froome’s most credible rival for Champs-Élysées glory, meanwhile, can boast of a brilliant start to his 2017 calendar. Australian rider Richie Porte, on top form at the moment, won both the Tour Down Under and the Tour de Romandie and scored a solid second-place finish in the Dauphiné. After riding to fifth place in last year’s Tour de France, Porte, the leader of the BMC team, can aim much higher in this summer’s edition. At 32, he is in a cyclist’s prime.
Experience is also on Nairo Quintana’s side. The Colombian leader of the Movistar team, who enjoyed podium finishes in each of his first three Tour de France efforts, wants to take to it to the next level in 2017’s Tour. Especially since, this year, he is the only frontrunner who has the team to keep up with Froome’s Sky squad in the mountains. Spain’s Alejandro Valverde, who is on very good form, will be his right-hand-man, with strong support from Quintana’s Colombian compatriot Carlos Betancur and Costa Rica’s Andrey Amador.
The wrecking balls: Bardet, Aru, Contador
They, too, could have been slotted into the group of favourites, but Romain Bardet, Fabio Aru and to a lesser extent Alberto Contador have profiles that are perhaps more on the offensive – which incidentally does not mean they cannot come out winners on July 23.
But alongside the high-powered machines that are the Sky and Movistar teams, this trio of riders will need to rely on their panache above all else to post big gaps. That is particularly the case for Romain Bardet, France’s best hope in this 104th Tour de France. Less than prominent in time trials and with a less impressive AG2R La Mondiale team behind him despite the arrival of Mathias Frank, Bardet knows he needs big performances in the race’s steepest climbs. Froome’s runner-up last year, Bardet rolls off in Dusseldorf after placing a solid sixth in the Dauphiné.
The 2017 Tour will also be a big challenge for Fabio Aru. The Italian climber, who is able to leave anyone behind in the pass when he has good legs, will be presiding over the Astana team’s fortunes in Vincenzo Nibali’s wake. Accompanied by team co-leader Jakob Fuglsang, a Dane, in the mountains, Sardinia’s Aru will be looking to live up to the high hopes for him after finishing a disappointing 13th last year.
The young talents: S. Yates, Meintjes, Chaves (even though he isn’t all that young anymore)
Last year, Adam Yates served up a glittering performance on the Tour, winning the white jersey as best young rider and snagging a fourth place finish in the general. The white jersey may well remain in the family this year since, in Adam’s absence, his twin brother Simon Yates will be competing in the 2017 Tour as co-leader of the Orica-Scott team. Simon Yates is aiming for a top ten finish, at a minimum, in his third Tour de France.
One tough rival for that white jersey will be the surprising South African Louis Meintjes, also aiming high in his third Tour. After placing sixth in the Tour of the Basque Country and eighth in the Dauphiné, Meintjes is the uncontested leader of the UAE Emirates team and seeking a performance as least as good as the one he gave last year. In 2016, at just 24 years of age, he rode into Paris in eighth place.
Finally, even with many cycling seasons already under his belt, it is tough to ignore the 27-year-old Colombian rider Esteban Chaves, approaching his first Tour de France. Despite four months on the sidelines with a knee issue, the winner of the 2016 Giro di Lombardia can aim for the top ten, or, if he falls away too early in the general, become a luxury reinforcement for Simon Yates. And why not look to score a few stages in the mountains…
Not to be forgotten: Fuglsang, Valverde
Even though all eyes will be on his teammate Fabio Aru, let’s not forget that Astana named Jakob Fuglsang as its co-leader on this Tour. At 32, the Dane is entering his prime. He was particularly impressive on the Dauphiné last month, winning the race right under the noses of illustrious riders like Porte, Martin, Froome, Aru and Bardet. That makes him a serious contender for the podium on the Champs-Élysées.
The same goes for Movistar veteran Alejandro Valverde. At 37, the man who is presented before every Tour de France as Quintana’s luxury lieutenant proves time and again that he cannot be ousted from the top ten after four such finishes in a row. After placing ninth in the Dauphiné, Valverde could surprise people yet again and grab the spotlight.
Riders to keep an eye on: Latour, Colbrelli, Zabel, Roglic, Küng
The favourites in the general are likeliest to claim the spotlight over the course of this three-week race, even though the sprint aces (Cavendish, Demarre, etc.) and the warriors (Majka, De Gendt, etc.) will have their chances to shine. Regardless, it would be a shame not to take a look at some of the great hopes for cycling’s future.
French rider Pierre Latour’s Tour de France début will be one to watch, especially since the 23-year-old will be rolling off the starting line as France’s new time trial champion. In the sprints, we will be keeping an eye on Italy’s Sonny Colbrelli, 27, as well as Germany’s Rick Zabel, the 23-year-old son of the legendary Erik Zabel, who monopolised the green jersey as top point-getter between 1996 and 2001. Finally, the time trials should allow Slovenia’s Primoz Roglic, 27, and the young Swiss rider Stephan Küng, 23, to showcase their talent. It is said the latter might someday outshine his distinguished compatriot, Fabian Cancellara. High praise.
This article has been translated from the original, in French here.
Date created : 2017-06-30