(BLOGGER’S NOTE: this is day 2 of a series of short essays designed for the lay fan to learn more about and perhaps enjoy the Tour de France. I will be posting one of these for every day of the Tour. Today, we look at the major contenders to win the Tour.)
From: Great Britain (born in Kenya)
Breakdown: The two-time defending and three-time overall champion, Froome is still regarded as the man to beat. A fearsome climber and talented time-trialer, Froome possesses a skill set that’s largely absent from his fellow Tour contenders. He’s also the leader of the best-funded and most-talented team in the world. His only potential drawbacks are his age (not a deal-breaker, given than many cyclists have won the Tour past age 30) and a relatively-light schedule prior to riding the Tour. While Froome’s legs are no doubt fresh, he may struggle with form due to a simple lack of testing those legs. Still, Froome is the Tour’s champion and dominant player until someone says otherwise.
Chance at History: if Froome wins the Tour, he’ll be entering some rarefied air. It would be his fourth Tour victory (accomplished by only four other men) and his third consecutive (also accomplished by only four other men).
Breakdown: An ultra-talented climber for a powerful team, the cycling world is simply waiting for the moment when Quintana becomes its next dominant champion. So far, he’s managed to win both of the other Grand Tours (the Giro d’Italia in 2014 and the Vuelta a Espana last season) and finish as runner up twice at the Tour (2013 and 2015). Many thought last season would be the breakthrough for Quintana, but he struggled to keep up with Froome and finished a disappointing third. However, his win over Froome in the Vuelta may have given Quintana the mental boost he needs. His drawbacks going into this year’s Tour, though, are formidable. He’s already ridden the Giro d’Italia in an ill-fated attempt to win the “double” (victories in the Giro and the Tour in the same season). And he hasn’t made progress in dealing with his Achilles’ Heel: the time trial. Indeed, Quintana’s loss at the Giro came as a result of Tom Dumoulin obliterating him on the final time trial. Still, with the five-year age gap between he and Froome, it’s just a matter of time before Quintana becomes the boss of the Tour.
Chance at History: If Quintana wins, he would join a select club that has won all three Grand Tours in their careers (Quintana would be only the seventh man to do it.) He would also become the first rider from South America to win the Tour.
Breakdown: Once Froome’s right hand man at Sky, Porte defected to BMC in 2016 in pursuit of winning his own Tour title. He did well his first year out, finishing 5th (he likely would have finished higher had he not lost significant time due to a mechanical issue on Stage 2.) Porte is one of the few contenders with a similar skill set to Froome, being able to excel in both time trials and climbs. However, he hasn’t yet shown an ability to beat Froome in either discipline. There’s the added concern that Porte’s team may not be strong enough to support him. He was left alone frequently during the Criterium du Dauphine, something that ultimately cost Porte that title. Still, he finished ahead of Froome at the Criterium and may pose a formidable challenge at the Tour.
Chance at History: Well, there isn’t a lot of ground to break, but Porte could become the second Australian to win the Tour. (The first, Cadel Evans, also rode for BMC.)
THE DARK HORSES
Breakdown: A talented young climber who finished second on last year’s tour, Bardet is the Great French Hope to deliver his country’s first Tour winner since 1985. Bardet started this season rather slow and the pressure to finally break his country’s dry spell might be a lot to bear. But he’s shown a willingness to bravely attack and some of the short, steep climbs might give him a puncher’s chance of taking the title.
Breakdown: A former two-time Tour winner and one of the greatest stage racers of his generation, Contador originally planned to retire at the end of last season. However, he had a change of heart and signed with Trek-Segafredo to make one last effort to win the Tour. Like Richie Porte, Contador has a similar skill set to Froome. However, like Porte, he’s far behind Froome as a time trialer (where Contador was never more than solid-to-good) and a climber (where Contador was once brilliant, but has struggled in recent years.) Contador’s age is a major stumbling block and his skills are eroding. But his heart is big as ever and he’s got a decent team around him. Certainly, he’ll be a sentimental favorite.
Breakdown: The co-leader (along with Jakob Fuglsang) of the powerful Astana team, Aru had a big 2015, winning the Vuelta a Espana and finishing on the podium at the Giro. His 2016 season was focused on winning the Tour and did not go well. He was never a factor in the overall standings and wound up finishing 13th. A talented climber who struggles in time trials, Aru, like Romain Bardet, seems to be rounding into form and has a puncher’s chance at the overall title. His co-leader position with Fuglsang might create some issues until it’s clear who the team will support. Aru, already a Grand Tour winner, could be the one in the driver’s seat.