PARIS (AFP) — The grueling, climb-filled route of next year’s Tour de France comes with the prospect of a race-long battle between odds-on favorites Chris Froome (Sky) and Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank).
The Kenyan-born Froome finished runner-up behind British compatriot and teammate Bradley Wiggins in July. In 2013, Contador will hunt a third Tour title to add to his wins in 2007 and 2009.
Wiggins has admitted that Froome is now in the Sky hot seat for the yellow jersey, and with four summit finishes and fewer kilometers of time trialing scheduled for the 2013 Tour, the soft-spoken Froome, who grew up in South Africa, has emerged as the more likely candidate to lead the British team’s challenge.
“I do not know yet if I will be able to ride two big tours, I will only be able to seek one win and I have the Tour in mind,” said Froome. “I think Bradley could be the leader on the Giro d’Italia and me on the Tour. But we still have to wait for next year’s programs and talk about this with the managers.”
Wiggins said Wednesday that he would focus his 2013 campaign on a win at the Giro.
For his part, Froome said he didn’t feel the Tour’s centenary edition appeared as tough as it could have been.
“It’s not quite as hard as I expected it to be. For the 100th edition I was expecting the organizers to go all-out in the mountains,” he said. “There are definitely some challenging stages, though — the Mont Ventoux and Alpe d’Huez to name but a few.
“I like it; it’s a very testing circuit. The two time trials are around 30km each and then there are about four stages where the GC should be decided in the mountains. It’s going to be an exciting race.”
Contador, who finished 10:16 ahead of Froome in the Vuelta a España after the British rider struggled through the second half of the race, remains most pundits’ favorite. However, the Spaniard predicted that the Tour would go down to the wire.
“It’s a well balanced route, but it’s going to be wide open right to the end, and the final stages will be really spectacular,” said Contador. “It’s going to be great for the fans because the end of the Tour will be at altitude. We’ll have to see, but I think it’s going to be very uncertain.”
Contador, however, was in no doubt over the name of his biggest threat in next year’s Tour, which begins in Corsica on June 29 and culminates on July 21 with an evening finish on the Champs-Élysées in Paris.
“It’s Froome I fear the most,” he said. “He’s very dangerous in the mountains and he was the strongest climber this year.”
Defending champion Wiggins admitted that he was happy to help Froome, while sacrificing his chances in the Tour to concentrate on the Giro.
“It’s more than likely that I’ll ride in a supporting role for Chris,” said the Olympic time trial champion. “I just want to be in a successful team, and if that’s Chris then so be it. He’ll have to grow some sideburns, though.
“My objective will be the Giro.”
Australian Cadel Evans (BMC Racing), who has fought back from a virus that stifled his 2012 Tour bid, will be another challenger. Evans became the first Australian to win the Tour, in 2011, and stressed that he hopes to mount a stronger challenge than this year, when he could only finish seventh, 15:49 behind Wiggins.
“I hope to be back to top form by next June, and this route is much more suited to my qualities with a lot of variety,” said the 35-year-old. “Who is the favorite? I hope it’s me… The third week has three or four very difficult stages which are going to have a big impact on the final standings.”