Top Tour de France contenders: Riders 10-7
The first stage of the 2018 Tour de France is less than one week away. Sky’s Chris Froome is hunting his fifth career yellow jersey this July, but the list of rivals hoping to claim yellow for themselves is formidable.
Over the next few days, we’ll take a closer look at the top 10 contenders for the 2018 Tour.
10. Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott)
AFTER CLAIMING THE YOUNG rider’s jersey and fourth overall at the 2016 Tour, Yates seemed to take a small step back in 2017, mustering only ninth overall at the Giro d’Italia. He got off to a great start this season, riding an excellent Tirreno-Adriatico.
Yates broke his pelvis in a crash at the Volta a Catalunya — not ideal for his Tour de France build-up — but got back on track after returning to racing. He proved his form with a stage win and second overall at the Critérium du Dauphiné.
Yates possesses immense raw talent as a climber. He’ll likely fly under the radar at this year’s Tour perhaps more than such a talented up-and-comer should. That will undoubtedly come in handy. So too should Mitchelton-Scott’s improved grand tour focus. The Australian squad has made it a priority to bring on talented climbers and capable veterans to surround its young core of grand tour talents.
A featherweight at 58 kilograms, Yates flies up the steepest gradients and shows real consistency on the long, soaring climbs of the Tour. Riding two grand tours in 2017 (the Giro and Vuelta) increased his endurance.
Time trials/flats: 7/10
Like many stage race specialists, Adam Yates prefers hilly time trial courses to those with long straights. He should find the terrain around Espelette to his liking. However, there is some question about his ability to cope with the demands of the flatter stages in the opening week.
Tactical sense: 8/10
At 25, Adam Yates has learned quickly to deal with the status of a leader. He still has room to develop but does know when to come out of his shell if an opportunity presents itself. He proved that at Tirreno-Adriatico in March and again at the Dauphiné in June.
Team strength: 8/10
Mitchelton-Scott decided to go all in for GC this year, leaving promising sprinter Caleb Ewan at home. Adam Yates will be the sole leader at the race. The experienced nucleus of riders on the Australian squad should be a great asset to him.
9. Dan Martin (UAE-Team Emirates)
A WINNER OF BOTH Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Il Lombardia, Dan Martin has always been good at going uphill. Until recently, however, he eschewed riding for GC to focus on stage hunting when the grand tours rolled around. Back-to-back finishes in the top 10 at the Tour have boosted his confidence and his profile as a GC hopeful in the three-week races.
Martin will lead UAE Team Emirates at the Tour after leaving Quick-Step Floors behind this offseason. He has to be pleased about the dearth of time trial miles on the Tour route. Plus, he looked sharp at the Dauphiné, winning a stage. Still, everything will need to go right on the climbs, too, for Martin to stay with the very best, as he is better suited to punchy ascents than the high Alps. If his GC bid does go awry early, expect Martin to stay in the thick of the battle for stage victories throughout the race.
After finishing the Tour last year with fractured vertebrae, there’s no denying the Irishman’s grit.
Sixth in the 2017 Tour, Martin has cemented his status as an outside grand tour contender. Despite sustaining two fractured vertebrae on the descent of Mont du Chat (stage 9), the Irishman was on par with the best climbers at last year’s Tour, and even outpaced several of them at La Planche des Belles Filles. He can struggle on the huge Alpine climbs, but he’s deadly in a punchy finale.
Time trials/flats: 6/10
Time trialing is the weakest part of Martin’s game as a GC contender. He has always struggled to limit his losses against the clock. The very undulating profile of the Espelette TT will suit him more than a flat parcours. The prospect of defending a high position in the overall standings, or even a place on the podium, could bring out the very best in him.
Tactical sense: 9/10
Although the Irishman has only lately discovered his potential in the grand tours, he is nonetheless an intelligent rider who can read a race extremely well, as evidenced by his strong track record in one-day and one-week events. Often isolated in the mountains, he knows how to make a nuisance of himself, and he also has a high threshold for suffering.
Team strength: 8/10
Martin was often left without much backup on the harder climbs during his tenure at Quick-Step floors. This season he has signed with UAE-Team Emirates, which has a strong lineup of riders.
8. Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb)
THE 2017 GIRO D’ITALIA champion made a title defense at the Italian grand tour his first major objective this season. That will make a possible run at yellow much more challenging. Had he focused solely on the Tour this year, he’d be much higher on the list of favorites.
In addition to the fatigue he’ll have in his legs after the Giro, he’ll face a course not perfectly suited to his world-beating time trial skills. Then again, Dumoulin has made huge strides as a climber since first emerging on the WorldTour. As he proved at the 2017 Giro, he’s not the kind of rider you want to underestimate. To come away with the win, Dumoulin needs to avoid bad days like he famously had in Italy last year.
While his size and broad shoulders ensure that he doesn’t rank among the pure climbers, the 2017 Giro d’Italia winner has nevertheless claimed a stage victory in the high mountains at each of the three grand tours, which says a great deal about his ability. It remains to be seen whether doubling up at the Giro and Tour will deprive him of the freshness that is often so vital on the climbs.
Time trials/flats: 10/10
Dumoulin is the peloton’s fastest rider against the clock right now. Over the past four seasons, the Dutchman has claimed no fewer than 14 individual time trial victories, including the 2017 world championship title. He could very well add to that on the penultimate stage of this year’s Tour. In terms of the GC battle, he’d likely prefer a flatter route, where he’d be able to snatch even more time from his pure climber rivals.
Tactical sense: 8/10
Dumoulin led the 2015 Vuelta a España going into its final weekend but collapsed out of contention on the final mountain stage to end up sixth overall. An intelligent racer who once wanted to be a doctor, Dumoulin learned the lessons from this setback and has come back even stronger. Last season’s victory at the Giro d’Italia, for instance, highlighted his tactical skill. He stayed patient through the late mountain stages and cruised to victory with a dominant performance in the final TT.
Team strength: 7/10
Within Team Sunweb, the focus on the collective is fundamental. “Cycling is 100 percent a team sport,” sporting director Rudi Kemna likes to repeat. Each member of the squad is committed to this philosophy. While the departure of Warren Barguil deprives Dumoulin of a significant asset in the mountains, the German team has several young talents ready to commit themselves in this terrain.
7. Mikel Landa (Movistar)
SPANISH CLIMBER EXTRAORDINAIRE Mikel Landa has made quite a career out of playing the aggressive teammate to an established stage-race leader. He first flashed his grand tour ability playing “lieutenant” to Fabio Aru at Astana during the 2015 Giro d’Italia, where he finished third. He then climbed to fourth at the 2017 Tour while ostensibly riding for Chris Froome at Team Sky.
Instead of accepting a clear leadership role during the offseason, he signed on to Movistar, a team that already counted Nairo Quintana as well as Alejandro Valverde as perennial grand tour contenders. It will be fascinating to see how the team’s leadership decisions play out in the lead up to the race, and then again once the Tour gets underway.
If history is any indication, we can expect Landa to have a free role to attack in the mountains. He’ll need to be active, as his time trial deficiencies will see him lose seconds (perhaps even minutes) to the likes of Froome and several others.
Landa is one of the most exciting climbers in the peloton. Winner of three stages at the Giro and one at the Vuelta, his natural ease in the mountains carried him to the Giro podium in 2015. Fourth at the Tour last year, he harbors great ambitions in the high mountains.
Time trials/flats: 7/10
Landa has much to work on in the time trial in order to support his ambitions in three-week races. With just a single hilly TT, the 2018 Tour route suits him, though he’ll still lose precious seconds to the real specialists.
Tactical sense: 8/10
For a long time, Landa was confined to a lieutenant role at Astana and then at Team Sky. He opted to move to Movistar to gain more freedom. Always ambitious, he can be counted on to show his qualities in order to cement his position. At times he can get excessive with his efforts, which has proven to be expensive.
Team strength: 9/10
The Valverde-Quintana-Landa trio is shaping up as impressive, but it will take a large dose of clever psychology on the part of Movistar’s staff to manage the egos. If the Spanish collective is to be solid, the power struggle between Quintana and Landa needs to be sorted out. Strength will only come from unity.