Why He Could Win: Quintana was anointed as the top candidate to defeat Froome when he finished second in 2013 and won the best young rider and best climber competitions. Since then, Quintana has won the other two Grand Tours (Italy and Spain), and in last year’s Tour of Spain he dispatched Froome head to head.
Why He Might Not: The Giro d’Italia and Vuelta Espana routes are often relentlessly mountainous. The climbs are often longer, and what’s more, they’re sharper. You don’t find the 20 per cent gradients of Italy’s Mortirolo, or Spain’s Angliru climbs anywhere on the Tour route. That’s worth pointing out because the rare instances that Froome seems in real difficulty are when it gets really steep. Quintana has never managed to go better than second at the Tour, and this year’s attempt at the Giro-Tour double ended up being perhaps ill-advised, as Tom Dumoulin emerged as the Giro winner and Quintana’s effort there clearly cost him fitness in July.
Why He Could Win: Despite a disastrous Stage 20, during which he lost almost two minutes to Froome over 22.5km—more than five seconds per kilometre—Bardet still finished third overall. He said at the finish that he was empty and his health was starting to slip, and it was clearly not his best effort. And it’s worth noting he’s just 26 and his TdF résumé reads 15th, 6th, 9th, 2nd, 3rd. He’s clearly a rider for the Tour.
Why He Might Not: Like Quintana, Bardet has never historically been good at TTs, with just two standout results in his career: a fifth in the hilly TT at Megève that Froome won (Bardet still gave up 42 seconds), and a sixth-place finish at a short TT in the 2015 Tour de Romandie where he actually beat Froome by 10 seconds. Although just 26, there may be a ceiling there for him in terms of getting better at time trials.
Why He Could Win: 2017 second-place finisher Rigoberto Uran was the surprise of this year’s Tour. He’s a strong climber with a solid time-trial result. In the Stage 20 TT, he was the best of the other GC contenders, losing just 25 seconds to Froome. Uran has had success in TTs in the past, but until Saturday, it had been several years since he put in a truly top ride. If he can improve just a little bit in 2018, he has a strong chance at the overall.
Why He Might Not: Age works against Uran to some degree. He’s 30, which is near the top of the career trajectory for most Grand Tour racers. But Uran has been a pro for 11 seasons (he signed his first pro contract at 19). Like Alberto Contador, there’s a lot of miles in those legs.
Why He Could Win: Mikel Landa, the revelation of the 2017 Tour in his climbing support for Froome, is another fashionable pick, as he’s set to transfer from Sky in 2018 and become a team leader in his own right, possibly at Movistar. Landa was third overall at the 2015 Giro (riding for Astana, in support of second-placed Aru) and might have been the best climber in this year’s Tour. And Landa is nominally better at TTs than many other climbers.
Why He Might Not: Although he’s a competent time trialist, Landa won’t put real fear in Froome’s heart on TTs. And after two years on Sky, no one knows him better than his current employer.
Why He Could Win: The LottoNL-Jumbo rider is, admittedly, a speculative pick. Roglic is often pegged as a TT specialist, and he is talented at the discipline, with a win in last year’s Giro, among other results. But he’s also a solid GC rider, with good results in hilly, week-long stage races like the Vuelta al Pais Vasco and the Tour de Romandie. His win during Stage 17 of this year’s Tour de France proved he’s a capable climber, too.
Why He Might Not: Roglic’s main issue is time. A former top junior ski jumper, Roglic took up bike racing only a few years ago and is in his second year on the WorldTour. But he’s already 27. The battle will be a steep learning curve to develop his overall skills fast enough to match a physical peak that will come in the next few years. It’s certainly too much to ask for him to challenge in 2018, and the window may just be too small, period.
Why He Could Win: 2017 Giro d’Italia winner Tom Dumoulin has perhaps the best chance to win in 2018 because, like Froome, he’s a top time trialist and strong climber. At this year’s Giro, he proved he could climb with the best, winning the mountain stage at Oropa and holding his own against Quintana, Vincenzo Nibali and Thibaut Pinot, among other top climbers. He also has a strong team that is committed to him. Dumoulin re-signed with Sunweb after the Giro through the 2020 season—an unprecedented long-term deal in a sport where one- or two-season signings are the norm.
Why He Might Not: Since taking over as Tour director, Christian Prudhomme has generally moved away from very long time trials that would favour Dumoulin. He might have to share the team lead with sprinter Michael Matthews, who won the green jersey this year, which splits the team’s efforts. And, as many riders have learned, success in the Giro or Vuelta do not guarantee success in the Tour. Dumoulin has raced four Tours, but DNF’d twice and never finished better than 41st. He has to prove he can compete at the Tour.
Why He Could Win: Coming into the 2017 Tour, Porte was thought to be Froome’s strongest challenger. He’s a solid climber and was, outside Froome, thought to be the best time triallist among the contenders. He was riding in fifth overall, just 39 seconds behind Froome, before he crashed out— and that was among an elite selection of riders who would go on to take the top three spots overall. Porte also has a strong team and is deeply experienced.
Why He Might Not: Quite simply, Porte can’t get past the bad day. In his past three shots leading a team in a Grand Tour, he’s had a flat, a crash or some other mishap that costs him a shot at the overall. Porte blamed his Stage 9 crash on wet roads, but no other rider in the top 20 finishers on Stage 9 crashed on the descent of the Mont du Chat. Until Porte can put together a complete Grand Tour, he’ll always be a challenger.
Eventually, a rival or age—or both—will depose Froome. But for the rider who does it, victory will be sweeter if he topples Froome at his peak, which means next year’s Tour could be an epic battle.