The Tour de France is speeding toward its final week, and yes, Chris Froome and Team Sky appear to have a vise-like stranglehold on the GC battle. Victory is never guaranteed, of course, but barring some disaster, I think we all know who will be wearing the maillot jaune in Paris.
Is your GC favorite a bust? Are you feeling a tad divested from the race due to Sky’s dominance? Fear not, for there are a handful of compelling riders to throw your fandom behind during this final week. The race for the polka-dot jersey has yet to be decided. There are a handful of fast and highly motivated riders who, for whatever reason, have yet to win a stage. And, of course, there’s also the drama of the Champs-Élysées. So here is your guide for adopting a rider for the Tour’s final week:
If you love baguettes, berets, and aggression: Julian Alaphilippe
Before reading this section, please look at this photo. Now look at it again. Yep, Julian Alaphilippe performed his best Wile E. Coyote impression during the stage 13 time trial when he crashed headfirst into a rocky cliff. You may be wondering how Alaphilippe is still alive, let alone still racing the Tour de France, and attacking the peloton with relentless aggression. So far, Alaphilippe is winless at this year’s Tour, but not for a lack of trying. He almost won stage 2. He attacked over the Col d’Aspin on stage 7. He made the front group on stage 15, only to crash on the descent of the Grand Colombier. And he went off again on Stage 16, this time alongside teammate Tony Martin. It’s no secret that the French have tapped him to become either their next GC hope, or the inheritor of Thomas Voeckler’s throne as the peloton’s new man of the breakaways. On stage 16, Alaphilippe even did his best Voeckler impersonation, wagging his tongue in the the air. Even if the tongue wag isn’t up to Voecker-levels, Alaphilippe has the legs and aggression to win stages 17, 19, or 20.
If you love a simmering battle that could erupt on any hillside: The KOM fight between Majka and de Gendt
The Tour’s annual battle for the Tour’s chicken pox jersey often devolves into a real snore-fest. An ambitious rider can gobble up KOM points during an early breakaway in the mountains, and then play defense for the rest of the race. Thus far, the battle for the KOM between Rafal Majka and Thomas de Gendt has been slightly more interesting than normal. De Gendt took the jersey after almost winning stage 5. Majka grabbed it after going on a breakaway during stage 8. France’s Thibaut Pinot took the jersey on stage 9 before somewhat predictably flaming out. De Gendt took it back after winning stage 12 up Mont Ventoux, only to see Maijka take the jersey again after an all-day breakaway on stage 15. Between now and Paris, the Tour’s climbing menu looks like this: three hors categorie, five category 1, two category 2, two category 3, and one category 4. That equates to 996 total KOM points up for grabs. Majka currently leads de Gendt in the race, 127 point to 90. But a long-distance breakaway on any stage could easily erase that deficit.
If you like gritty underdogs: Daniel Navarro
No less than half of American sports cinema is dedicated to the worship of lovable losers who, despite seemingly insurmountable odds, find a way to beat “Team Spoiled Rich Jerks” for the championship. So it should make sense for us to collectively throw our fandom behind plucky Spanish climber Daniel Navarro and his Quixotic quest to win a stage. Navarro is the face of Cofidis, which according to my back-of-the-napkin math, has the same payroll as Team Sky’s roster of personal chefs. Navarro became Cofidis’s man after the team’s sprinter Nacer Bouhanni did not start the race after suffering a hand injury from punching people. Like Alaphilippe, Navarro has spent much of this year’s Tour de France attacking the climbs. He came painfully close on stage 7, tried again on stage 12, and tried again on stage 15. I have no doubt that Navarro will attack on stages 17, 19, and 20.
If you a like foul-mouthed fast man: Alexander Kristoff
Thus far, Katusha’s man for the sprints has come up empty at the Tour. Kristoff appeared to have won stage 16 into Berne, but was thwarted by Peter Sagan’s excellent bike throw. According to Cyclingnews.com, Kristoff dropped a string of F-bombs after officials announced Sagan to be the winner, and then blamed the loss on his inability to locate the finish line. Hey, I like a guy who wants to win so bad that he yells and screams like a pissed off teenager, but then also takes the blame for his mistakes. Kristoff has never won on the Champs-Élysées, and with Mark Cavendish already up to four wins, he’s definitely an underdog. If he loses in Paris in another photo finish, earmuffs everybody.