The Tour de France kicks off in Dusseldorf, Germany on Saturday, July 1. In the lead-up to the Grande Boucle, we’ll be counting down the top-10 GC contenders this week. Here are riders #10 through #7. Read up on riders #6-3 >>
#10 Louis Meintjes (UAE Team Emirates)
THE SOFT-SPOKEN SOUTH AFRICAN can be quite the beast on the steepest climbs in Europe. Meintjes has an out-sized appetite for mountains, and looks to be hitting his stride in his fifth professional season. A move to Lampre in 2016 (now UAE Team Emirates) gave him more opportunities to lead, and at 25, he’s emerging as one of the big hopes for the future.
TOUR RECORD: 2 starts; 8th in 2016
NEW THIS YEAR: Meintjes stuck to a traditional approach to the Tour, with a solid sixth overall at the Tour of the Basque Country in April. The arrival of Colombian climber Darwin Atapuma means all the pressure isn’t on Meintjes’s slender shoulders. He’s working more on his time trial skills, but it’s his climbing that earns him his paycheck. He was eighth overall at Critérium du Dauphiné but finished a distant 45th in the stage 4 time trial.
WHAT HE NEEDS TO DO TO WIN: Meintjes will have a stage victory on his mind this year in the mountains; a big breakaway might put him within podium range. He’d need a big head start if he hopes to win against the five-star favorites. Last year, he followed wheels to learn the ropes of the Tour. This year, Meintjes will try to be more aggressive.
THE SCORE: 30/40
Ill in 2015, he was extremely disappointed to abandon his first Tour de France in the Alps, just three days from the end. Last year, his tenacity in the mountains earned him eighth place and a good deal of praise. Small in stature, he has a tremendous power-to-weight ratio for climbing.
TACTICAL SENSE: 8/10
The South African is cunning. Often at the point of physical breakdown, he has scarcely any room for error if he wants to remain in contention. So he has learned to be economic with his effort and to follow the best wheels.
TIME TRIALS/FLATS: 7/10
“Petit Louis” lacks the engine for time trials. They need to be hilly for him to do well, as was the case between Sallanches and Megève last year, when he earned his best international result in this discipline (ninth). He will have to limit his losses in the Tour’s longer time trials (in Düsseldorf and Marseille), as well as in all of the flat stages.
TEAM STRENGTH: 7/10
UAE-Team Emirates is the successor to the Italian Lampre team. (The Tour will be without an Italian squad for the first time since 1984.) Although it doesn’t have the strength of the big global teams, it does boast experience.
#9 Andrew Talansky (Cannondale-Drapac)
THE SOMETIMES TEMPERAMENTAL AND always ambitious Andrew Talansky hopes to be back at his best in a return to the Tour. After three consecutive Tours (2013-15) Talansky sat out the 2016 race, instead racing the Vuelta, where he grabbed his best grand tour result with fifth. Unlike some of his climbing rivals, Talansky packs solid time trialing skills that could give him an edge in a quest for the podium.
TOUR RECORD: 3 starts; 10th in 2013
NEW THIS YEAR: A broken thumb over the winter hampered his early season preparation, but the injury didn’t stifle his newfound enthusiasm. It’s back to the future this year for Talansky, hoping to rediscover the winning ways that led him to victory at the 2014 Critérium du Dauphiné and second place in the 2013 Paris-Nice.
WHAT HE NEEDS TO DO TO WIN: Talansky gets better as the race gets harder, so avoiding any early race setbacks or crashes will be key. With fewer mountaintop finales in this year’s Tour, Talansky should be able to limit his losses against the pure climbers, and then take some back in the time trials.
THE SCORE: 30/40
Talansky has the big diesel engine that can hang on the long and steady climbs found in the Alps. He is less consistent on the steeper climbs of the Pyrenees. Talansky likes a steady pace; frequent accelerations and cat-and-mouse aggression throw off his rhythm.
TACTICAL SENSE: 8/10
In the past Talansky made slight errors by attacking too often on long, steady climbs. In recent years he has learned to follow the moves and to ride an even pace when other riders begin to surge and slow.
TIME TRIALS/FLATS: 9/10
Talansky is one of the best time trialists in the bunch, and can stay with Froome, Dumoulin, and the other time trial specialists on long, flat time trials. In flatter stages Talansky has the power output to stay in the bunch.
TEAM STRENGTH: 6/10
Cannondale-Drapac sits in the second half of the WorldTour rankings, though it’s had a run of recent victories. A two-year WorldTour winless streak ended with Talansky’s WorldTour stage win at the Tour of California and was quickly followed by wins at the Giro d’Italia and la Route du Sud. Talansky will have French climber Pierre Rolland and Colombian rider Rigoberto Urán to help him in the high mountains. Still, he will likely find himself isolated on the Tour’s hardest days.
#8 Fabio Aru (Astana)
A KNEE INJURY KEPT Aru out of his planned run at the Giro d’Italia, so the rising Italian prospect rides into the Tour de France as somewhat of an enigma. A member of the talented “Class of 1990,” Aru is Italy’s next great grand tour star, having already won the Vuelta a España. A fear- some climber with weaker time trial skills, Aru is a threat for a stage win or two as well as the podium. Perhaps missing the Giro will be a blessing in disguise for his sophomore effort at the Tour.
TOUR RECORD: 1 start; 13th in 2016 debut
NEW THIS YEAR: The exit of Vincenzo Nibali to Bahrain-Merida means Aru is the gravitational center of Astana. At 26, he’s still learning what it means to be a leader on a big team. His early spring was far from ideal, with no wins and an abandon at Tirreno-Adriatico with illness. A knee injury delivered another setback, so Aru is learning how to deal with adversity. He seems to have bounced back quickly though, riding to fifth in the Dauphiné with ample attacks along the way.
WHAT HE NEEDS TO DO TO WIN: With two Giro podiums and overall victory in the 2015 Vuelta a España, no one questions Aru’s potential in the Tour. Before thinking about winning, he needs to get closer to the Tour’s podium. A stage win would be an ideal next step for the Italian star.
THE SCORE: 31/40
Aru is at home in the mountains, attacking regularly on long, steep climbs. In fact, his talents on the climbs nearly toppled Alberto Contador during the 2015 Giro d’italia, where he won two stages and finished second overall. Later that year, Aru used his climbing prowess to unseat Tom Dumoulin to win the Vuelta
TACTICAL SENSE: 8/10
Aru has shown he can use his aggression over lumpy and hilly terrain to achieve his goals. He entered the penultimate stage of the 2015 Vuelta trailing Dumoulin in the standings. He had his Astana team set a blistering pace on the penultimate climb, which dropped the Dutch rider. He then put nearly four minutes into his rival, taking the overall.
TIME TRIALS/FLATS: 6/10
Time trails are a major weakness for Aru. At the 2016 Tour de France he lost 4:05 to stage winner Dumoulin during the race’s flat 37km time trial.
TEAM STRENGTH: 8/10
Astana no longer has Vincenzo Nibali to help shepherd Aru to the finish line. Instead the team will rely on grand tour veteran Jakob Fuglsang as Aru’s primary lieutenant. A cagy climber who can also time trial, Fuglsang could also assume race leadership should Aru falter.
#7 Thibaut Pinot (FDJ)
HIS THIRD-PLACE PODIUM finish in 2014 (along with Jean-Christophe Péraud in second) was the first by a Frenchman in nearly two decades; an entire nation has been waiting for him to confirm it. Last year, he pulled out with bronchitis. In 2015, he salvaged his Tour with a big stage win at l’Alpe d’Huez. After some uneven seasons, Pinot’s spring was the best of his career, with podiums in three straight stage races and two stage wins. It all points toward new maturity and depth for the Frenchman, still only 26 years old.
TOUR RECORD: 5 starts; 3rd in 2014; 2 stage wins; best young rider, 2014
NEW THIS YEAR: Like Nairo Quintana, Pinot decided to take on the challenge of the Giro d’Italia, where he ended up fourth overall. Unlike his Colombian colleague, he didn’t go to Italy weighted down by expectation. That will likely help Pinot as he rolls into July with less pressure.
WHAT HE NEEDS TO DO TO WIN: Stay healthy and keep focused on the day-to-day. With Bardet around to carry some burden of the French hype, Pinot should be able to ride his race. He needs to stay discreetly close and make a move in the final week to surprise his podium rivals. His finishing speed can help him in the technical finales that dot this year’s Tour course.
THE SCORE: 32/40
Tenth at the 2012 Tour, third in 2014, and winner at Alpe d’Huez in 2015, Pinot is one of the best climbers around. But he is inconsistent and the Tour stresses him, which explains his decision to ride the Giro this year.
TACTICAL SENSE: 7/10
Pinot is advised by his brother Julien, who is a renowned coach, by FDJ sport director Yvon Madiot, and within the peloton by teammate Steve Morabito, who has brought the strategic know-how of the great foreign teams to FDJ. An instinctive racer, Pinot remains unpredictable.
TIME TRIALS/FLATS: 7/10
The French rider has made great progress in time trials, which is a strong point compared to most climbers. His failings tend to lie on the flats and cobblestones (which are absent this year). His competitiveness over the three weeks will depend on how well he recovers from the Giro.
TEAM STRENGTH: 9/10
Since Pinot took third place on the 2014 Tour, FDJ has tried to shake off its reputation as a small player. It has become stronger in the fields of training, nutrition, and mental preparation in order to offer France its first Tour winner since 1985.