Top Tour de France contenders: Riders 6-4
With the Grand Départ of the 2018 Tour de France fast approaching, we’re counting down the top 10 contenders for this year’s yellow jersey.
We’ve already run through the likes of Adams Yates, Dan Martin, Tom Dumoulin, and Mikel Landa. It’s time to take a closer look at riders six through four on our list…
6. Rigoberto Urán (EF Education First-Drapac)
RIGOBERTO URÁN DOESN’T MAKE it easy for prognosticators, or fans. He is a three-time grand tour runner-up, and has at various points in his career looked brilliant both in the mountains and the time trials. He has also gone quiet at times when much has been expected of him.
After his stage victory last year early in the second week of the Tour, he rode a relatively conservative race and came away in second place overall. He’ll need to be a bit more aggressive to take another step forward this year.
Fortunately for the Colombian, he has a surprising amount of punch, so an aggressive approach could help him capitalize on small gains throughout the three weeks. If an on-form Urán shows up to the Tour and takes a few risks here and there, he has as good a chance as anyone to dethrone Froome.
The team has the firepower to assist Urán in the mountains, with the experienced Pierre Rolland as a wildcard if things go awry.
A pioneer among the new generation of Colombian riders, Urán surprised almost everyone last year by finishing on the second step of the podium in Paris. Typically at ease in the mountains, he won the very spectacular stage into Chambéry last year.
Time trials/flats: 8/10
The Colombian national time trial champion in 2015, Urán is not the most consistent performer against the clock. Still, he has typically been able to count on his time trial skills in the grand tours. Winner of a time trial at the 2014 Giro and eighth last year in Marseille, he is capable of putting in elite rides on the TT bike.
Tactical sense: 9/10
Having turned pro at 19, Urán learned the ropes in Europe and is a master of all of cycling’s subtleties. Smart when the racing demands it, he knows how to abandon his role as a follower when he senses the chance to pull off a coup.
Team strength: 8/10
Having shown his loyalty to Jonathan Vaughters’s squad, Urán enjoys the status of outright leader at the Tour de France. The team should be capable of protecting the Colombian during a first week that promises to be nervy, and it won’t hurt having the likes of Pierre Rolland and Daniel Moreno around in the Alps and the Pyrénées.
5. Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale)
TWICE A PODIUM FINISHER, Romain Bardet is still looking to win the Tour’s yellow jersey. He certainly has the climbing chops, and is a brilliant descender to boot. The time trials typically see the Frenchman lose valuable seconds. That makes this Tour a Bardet-friendly one — there are only 31 kilometers of individual time trial to contend with. Bardet should be able to limit his losses against the clock enough to mount a serious challenge for the overall title.
His Ag2r La Mondiale team has made subtle improvements in recent years as well. Pierre Latour continues to develop as a stage racer. New arrivals Silvan Dillier and Tony Gallopin should help keep Bardet well positioned on the approaches to the steep stuff, where it will then fall to him to do what he does best. Bardet’s aggressive racing style doesn’t always seem to be the smartest, but when he attacks he goes all-in. He’ll need to take chances to become the first French winner of the Tour since 1985.
Winner of a mountain stage at each of the last three Tours, the Frenchman is in his natural environment as soon as the road starts to climb. The most impressive victories of his career were all forged in the mountains.
Time trials/flats: 7/10
Time trialing does not come naturally to Romain Bardet, as was demonstrated in the Marseille test last year when he was only able to save a podium place by a single second. It is, however, an area Bardet is working hard to improve, heading to training camps to focus on the TT bike and spending time in the wind tunnel.
Tactical sense: 9/10
Bardet is a proven tactician. Thanks both to his ability to read a race and also his daring — whether climbing or descending — he knows how to seize opportunities and is never afraid to launch bold attacks. His stage win at Saint-Gervais Mont Blanc in 2016 highlighted his tactical savvy.
Team strength: 8/10
Second in the team competition in 2017, Vincent Lavenu’s squad has punched above its weight the last few years. The French team has engines for both the flats and the mountains, with Bardet as the undisputed leader of a cohesive unit.
4. Richie Porte (BMC Racing)
IN TERMS OF PURE TALENT, Richie Porte is the one rider on the Tour de France start list who rivals Chris Froome as a climbing and time trialing dual threat. However, Porte has famously never turned those abilities into a major grand tour result. In fact, he’s never even been on the podium in a three-week race — he’s either crashed or suffered an ill-timed mechanical whenever he’s been in contention for a big GC result.
Porte fans shouldn’t give up hope. Grand tour results aside, Porte has claimed countless weeklong titles due to his strengths in both climbs and time trials. And then there’s the nature of his various grand tour mishaps. While crashes may point to handling issues, Porte has also been the victim of mechanical failures at disastrous moments. There’s no rational reason to expect Porte to be more susceptible to those problems than anyone else — even if it seems that way. If Porte can dodge the misfortune, he has the tools to win a yellow jersey.
While the Australian is still chasing his first stage victory in a major tour, his intrinsic qualities rank him among the best climbers in the pack. Having moved to BMC in 2016 after four seasons with Team Sky, Richie Porte now has license to roam.
Time trials/flats: 9/10
BMC’s leader is usually terrific against the clock. He has been Australia’s national champ in the discipline in the past—no mean feat considering the abundant TT talent Down Under. Particularly comfortable on steep ramps, Porte should be able to make some gains in the sole time trial of this year’s race, which will be a relatively climber-friendly affair.
Tactical sense: 7/10
A member of Contador’s support crew at Saxo Bank and then of Froome’s at Sky, Porte took on the status of leader and its related responsibilities late in his career. While he has not made many glaring strategic mistakes, he has nonetheless been the victim of numerous mechanicals and the occasional crash at the worst possible moments. As such, he has yet to prove he can turn grand tour leadership into grand tour results.
Team strength: 9/10
With Tejay van Garderen ostensibly in a support role, Richie Porte has a very strong lieutenant for his GC bid. Greg Van Avermaet headlines an impressive cadre of big engines for the flatter days. The team is a tad light on pure mountain goats to stick with Porte in the high Alps, but excellence in the team time trial will likely make up for that.