13 Riders To Watch At The Tour De France
More than 175 riders from 22 teams have made their way to Europe’s Atlantic coast for the start of the 105th edition of the Tour de France. The race starts Saturday with a 201K ride from Noirmoutier to Fontenay le Comte, where the first yellow jersey will go to the day’s fastest rider. With 21 stages and plenty of records up for grabs, there’s no shortage of riders to watch in this year’s Tour. Here’s a look at 13 of the most interesting:
1. Chris Froome (Team Sky)
Chris Froome comes into the 2018 Tour on the heels of perhaps his most important career victory yet: On Monday, the UCI closed its case against him following a failed anti-doping test at last year’s Vuelta a España. The result means that he keeps his string of Grand Tour victories – he won last year’s Tour of France and Vuelta, as well as this year’s Giro d’Italia – and stands on the verge of winning the sport’s first Giro-Tour double since 1998.
If he wins the Tour, he’ll also join all-time greats Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault, and Miguel Indurain as a five-time winner of the event, and become only the second rider to win four Grand Tours in a row. Can he do it? We certainly think so, given an incredibly strong team behind him that includes Geraint Thomas, Michal Kwiatkowski, and Froome’s trusty mountain lieutenant, Wout Poels. If Froome makes it through the cobbles of Stage 9 having lost little or no time to his rivals, he’ll be the man to beat throughout the rest of the Tour.
2. Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe)
Peter Sagan came to last year’s Tour hoping to leave with a record-tying sixth green jersey as the winner of the Points Classification. He looked well on his way to doing so after winning Stage 3, but was controversially thrown out of the race after a crash at the end of Stage 4. Well, he’s back this year with a more experienced team and looks ready to pick up where he left off. The first week suits the world champion well, with lots of opportunities to win stages (and points). Stage 9’s cobbled ride, the same terrain where Sagan won his first Paris-Roubaix in April, is certainly at the top of his wishlist.
3. Nairo Quintana (Movistar)
Nairo Quintana burst onto the scene at the 2013 Tour with a mountain stage win, two jerseys, and a second-place overall finish. But he’s since struggled (if one could call it that) to live up to his rookie Tour, with no stage wins and “only” two more podium finishes. For some riders, these performances would make a career, but for a rider who showed so much potential so early, we can’t blame him for expecting more. This year he comes to the Tour with fewer races in his legs, in the hopes that he’ll be fresher and more prepared to finally win the yellow jersey. But as one of Movistar’s three co-leaders, his first task will be proving himself as his team’s best rider.
4. Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data)
Last year, Britain’s Mark Cavendish was on the wrong side of a crash that broke his shoulder and sent him home winless. But despite a rough start to the 2017 season, Cav is healthy again and hoping to repeat the success he found in 2016, when he won four stages and spent a day in the yellow jersey. There’s a lot on the line: He needs four wins to tie Eddy Merckx for the most stage victories in Tour history. That’s a tall task given the competition and Cav’s age, but it’s not an impossibility, especially if an early stage win can boost the confidence of himself and his team.
5. Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb)
Tom Dumoulin last raced the Tour in 2016, winning two stages before crashing out of the race three days from Paris. He’s since won and finished second in the Giro, firmly establishing himself as a legitimate Grand Tour contender. Dumoulin is a strong climber, but he’s arguably the best time trialist in the world. So while he can certainly hang with – and perhaps beat – Froome against the clock, he’ll need to do a better job of matching him the mountains. If he does fail to contend, Dumoulin will be left wondering whether he should have focused on the Tour exclusively, rather than coming to the race after fighting for a podium finish in Italy.
6. Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors)
Colombia is known for producing some of cycling’s best climbers. But in Fernando Gaviria, the mountainous nation has its first bona-fide green jersey contender. The 23-year-old won four stages and the Points Classification at last year’s Giro. And while stage wins are his primary objective, don’t be surprised if Gaviria ends up contending for the green jersey as well. Like Sagan, he’s capable of winning on all sorts of terrain and had the fitness to make it through to the final stage of his very first Tour. Should that happen, he’ll likely be Sagan’s biggest green jersey challenger.
7. Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale)
After two consecutive podium finishes, Romain Bardet is the darling of the host nation – and its best hope for France’s first Tour victory since 1985. Climbing has always been Bardet’s forte, along with just the right amount of panache to take advantage of opportunities without risking his race overall. But he’s a relatively weak on time trials, which will certainly hurt in a Tour that’s essentially bookended by them. Luckily, the first is a team time trial, which means he’ll have some help. And the second is quite hilly, so he might not lose as much time to Froome and Dumoulin as he would on a flatter course. Regardless, Bardet needs to minimise his losses during the first week and maximise his chances in the Alps and Pyrenees for any hope of moving to the top step on the final podium.
8. Warren Barguil (Team Fortuneo – Samsic)
One of the revelations of last year’s Tour, Warren Barguil won two mountain stages and the polka dot jersey as King of the Mountains. After such a performance, some might expect the 26-year-old to set his sights on a high GC finish. But not Barguil. Recognizing that stage wins and the polka dot jersey offer more prestige than a sixth-place finish, “Wawa” comes to the Tour hoping for more panache-filled mountain stage wins (atop Alpe d’Huez, perhaps?) and another polka dot jersey. Doing so will grow his increasingly large French fanbase much more than a top-10 ever would.
9. Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain – Merida)
After Froome, Vincenzo Nibali is the only rider in this year’s race with a Tour victory under his belt. The Italian won in 2014 thanks to some opportunistic riding during the first week – highlighted by a terrific performance on a rainy cobbled stage – followed by a dominant performance in the mountains. Froome crashed out early that year, so we can’t quite say that Nibali “beat” him. But with a solid team and the confidence that there’s little in this Tour that he can’t handle, Nibali is a good bet for a top-three finish. And, if things go his way again, another yellow jersey.
10. Egan Bernal (Team Sky)
When most people hear the phrase “Colombian climber,” they think of Quintana. But by the end of this Tour, they might be thinking of Egan Bernal, who signed for Team Sky this past offseason after a series of high finishes while riding for a small Italian team. Bernal is coming to the Tour to support Froome, but even in that role he could do enough in the mountains to set the race on fire. By next season, Sky might have a difficult choice on its hands: Ride for Froome’s sixth Tour win, or take the brakes off the team’s future champion.
11. Rigoberto Uran (Team EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale)
No one is really talking about Rigoberto Uran, which is just what the Colombian and his team want. After years of near-misses at the Giro, Uran moved to the American squad prior to 2017 and was given the space and freedom to focus exclusively on the Tour. He responded with a quietly consistent ride to a second-place finish in Paris and mountain stage win. Now he’s replicated last year’s preparations, with lots of training at altitude in Colombia and a bit of racing to keep him fresh. With a strong, focused squad surrounding him and a course that suits his skills, don’t be surprised if he meets his stated goal of winning the Tour.
12. Mikel Landa (Movistar)
Mikel Landa raced last year’s Tour for Team Sky, putting in such a strong performance that he ultimately had to sacrifice his own chance for a top-three finish for the sake of Froome. So he transferred to Movistar in the off-season. But with Tour contenders in Quintana and Alejandro Valverde, Landa is once again not even the undisputed leader of his own team. To contend for a podium finish, he’ll need to prove himself the better rider during the first week, perhaps gaining time on the uphill finishes in Brittany. Doing so could earn him protected status when the Tour hits the Alps at the beginning of the second week.
13. Sylvain Chavanel (Direct Energie)
For most of the Tour’s 176 entrants, just being selected to start the race—let alone finishing it—is an accomplishment. Frenchman Sylvain Chavanel has made a career out of it. When he takes the line on Saturday in Noirmoutier, the 39-year-old will break the record for most Tour starts in a career with his 18th participation. (That’s right: He’s started every Tour since 2001.) If he makes it to Paris, he’ll tie the record for the most Tour finishes at 16, which means we can expect to see him starting the 2019 Tour in Brussels next summer.