Although it’s looking more likely that Chris Froome will race next month’s Tour de France, that doesn’t mean some teams are holding out hope he won’t.
Uncertainty still hangs over Froome’s future with his still unresolved salbutamol case. Hints suggest a decision won’t come until later this season, but the will-he-or-won’t-he-race waiting game means plenty of riders are watching with interest what will play out over the next few weeks.
A Tour de France without Froome would be a very different kind of race.
First among the candidates to benefit from a Froome-less Tour would be Movistar’s Nairo Quintana.
It’s not that Movistar doesn’t want Froome to be at the Tour, but the team knows if the four-time winner isn’t there, Quintana’s chance of winning Colombia’s first yellow jersey is greatly enhanced.
“Froome is always on a higher level than everyone else, so if he’s not there, naturally it’s a big opportunity for everyone else,” said Movistar manager Eusebio Unzué. “A Tour without Froome would be very different.”
Unzué singled out such riders as 2014 Tour winner Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale), and even Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo) as candidates who could fill the Froome void.
“We don’t know if Froome is going to be at the Tour or not,” said Unzué. “There’s quite a bit of equality in the riders right behind Froome.” There are six or eight riders who could win.”
First in line, at least based on recent Tour results during the Froome era, would be none other than Quintana. Three times on the Tour podium, the Colombian climber is patiently waiting for his chance to win yellow.
“Logically, after Nairo’s progression in the Tour, winning is the next step,” Unzué continued. “He has the maturity and experience. He knows the race and how to manage three weeks. He is preparing everything for the Tour.”
Unlike previous seasons, Quintana has not had undue pressure thrust upon him to win early and often. After five intense seasons since his breakout 2013 Tour, Movistar is letting Quintana prepare quietly for this edition. In fact, 2018 is the first season that Quintana has not recorded a spring victory since he hit Europe in 2012.
Movistar is not worried. Quintana has been training in Colombia and will return to Europe to race in the Tour de Suisse later this month. Many of the Movistar riders lining up at the Swiss tour will also race in July.
“There’s no pressure from us on Nairo,” Unzué continued. “We are lucky that we have a leader like Nairo that allows us to dream to be able to win the Tour.”
Unzué hinted that Marc Soler might make a highly anticipated Tour debut. He also confirmed that Mikel Landa will have leadership duties at the Tour. Movistar’s final Tour lineup will be decided after the Tour de Suisse.
“Soler is in that group of 10-11 riders preparing for the Tour,” he said. “The key to this Tour is stage 10. The first week is so brutal, we will only know who can aspire for the yellow jersey after we arrive to [Annecy].”
Unzué is hoping both Landa and Quintana will make it that far with their GC hopes intact. Whether or not Froome is in the race, Unzué said the real Tour starts this summer after the cobblestone stage ending in Roubaix.