With the Tour de France beginning in Mont Saint-Michel on Saturday, AFP Sport looks at the five most likely winners:
As reigning champion and twice winner in three years, the Sky leader will be the man to beat. This Tour may favour climbers but the 31-year-old Briton has proved himself as good as anyone in that domaine, and more so than anyone else capable of performing consistently over three weeks. He also has what his team manager Dave Brailsford described as “potentially the strongest team on paper”. With two time-trials as well, Froome’s all round strength will make him tough to beat, and he heads into the race in rich form having won June’s Criterium du Dauphine.
Second to Froome in both 2013 and 2015, the time has perhaps come for the 26-year-old Colombian “to step up”, as Brailsford said. The emphasis on climbing should suit Quintana, as will the concentration of tough mountain stages in the final week. Quintana, who won the 2014 Giro d’Italia, is a notoriously slow starter who comes on strong in the final week of Grand Tours. Having four consecutive tough mountain stages right at the end will give him the chance to play his favourite cards to perfection. Older, more experienced and showing increasing tactical maturity, Quintana is Froome’s greatest threat.
A twice former winner and seven-time Grand Tour champion, Contador has been there and done it before. He’s also beaten Froome twice in the Vuelta a Espana so he knows he can not only compete with but also beat the Brit when the gradient cranks up. But at 33, there are question marks over Contador. He first won the Tour in 2007 and many feel he is past his best having last tasted victory in 2009. His form in June’s Criterium de Dauphine was not encouraging as he faded to fifth, but this is a man who won Grand Tours in three of the last four years, so he has proved his ability over three weeks numerous times. In fact, but for a doping ban that stripped him of a Tour and Giro victory, he would have won at least one Grand Tour in eight of the last nine years. Not burdened by Giro participation this time around, Contador’s entire focus has been on the Tour, and as his chances of winning it are running out, he’ll be eager to give it everything.
The 26-year-old Frenchman is considered his country’s leading hope to end their miserable 31-year yellow jersey drought. Pinot finished third in 2014 and last year won a stage for the first time. He is improving year by year and has shown consistency in the build up, as he did last year. He was second at the Tour de Romandie, fourth at the Tour of the Basque Country and fifth in Tirreno-Adriatico, but he cracked badly in June’s Dauphine. Last year he also cracked early on in the Tour but fought back admirably in the final week when he found his legs and repeatedly went after a stage win, before finally succeeding. Overall victory may be beyond him but another podium finish certainly isn’t.
At just 25, Aru could yet prove to be even better than his fellow Italian Vincenzo Nibali. He won the Vuelta a Espana last year and was second to Contador in the Giro d’Italia. The previous year he had top five finishes in both. He has matched Nibali’s feat of winning a Grand Tour at just 25. By then, though, Nibali had already raced the Tour twice, whereas this will be Aru’s first crack at the Grand Boucle. This promises to be a baptism of fire for Aru and a lot more will be known about him in three weeks. But he could prove a joker in the pack and he’s never shy to attack. The ‘Little Angel’ could provide fireworks.
– Agence France-Presse