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Tour de France

Dan Martin’s top 10 Tour de France contenders

Former Tour de France stage winner and top-10 finisher Dan Martin picks out his favorites for the yellow jersey this July.

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The 2022 Tour de France route promises a dynamic race with every stage offering a different test for the riders aiming for a position high on the overall standings.

Narrowing the list down to 10 contenders for the yellow jersey was not an easy task. We have two standout favorites, and without mishaps, one of them will take home the yellow jersey but there are 15-20 riders capable of finishing in the top 10 or even challenging for the podium.

Capacity is one aspect of riding GC but it also takes a huge commitment and it’s a sign of how different modern cycling has become that potential GC favorites the likes of Nairo Quintana, Thibaut Pinot, and Romain Bardet enter the race this year having already declared they have no interest in the GC fight and are aiming for stages.

A stage victory brings enormous sponsor value and now the majority of grand tour stages are contested by breakaways, meaning that it’s becoming more and more difficult to combine stage hunting with a GC challenge.

The 2022 course only encourages this approach with a first week to put fear in the hearts of many climbers. That means riders can save a lot of energy by avoiding the constant battle for position and inevitable crashes. Time gaps will already be significant by the time the race reaches La Planche des belles Filles on stage 7, where the stage hunting can begin. But for now, we will concentrate on the fight for yellow.

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Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) ★★★★★

Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) at the 2021 Tour de France
Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) at the 2021 Tour de France (Photo: Getty Images)

It’s hard to believe that Pogačar is only in his fourth year in the peloton and in that time he has barely put a foot wrong. He just loves racing and his carefree cavalier approach to the sport is reflected in his style and results. Somehow, instead of feeling expectation for being the defending champion, he sees it as not having pressure because he already won the race before.

This year he exudes confidence but he’s also been racing with such mental clarity that even when under pressure he can make the right decisions. UAE now has the team to back him up, and if it can guide him through the first challenging week it’s hard to see how he can be beaten.

Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) ★★★★★

If anybody can beat Pogačar it is Roglič. I’m sure Jumbo-Visma would have been hoping for a team time trial in order to get the upper hand but it will take the classics style racing of the first week as an opportunity, so expect them to be aggressive early on.

Roglič has been in incredible form this year, winning Paris-Nice and the Dauphiné, but after disappointment in the last two years at the Tour, it will be interesting if any self-doubt creeps in. He has arguably the strongest support team, and if he can figure out a way to take time out of Pogačar he has the capacity to win, but how much time would he want before the final time trial?

Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo Visma) ★★★★

The Dane entered the 2021 race as a relatively unknown mountain domestique, inheriting a leadership role when Roglic crashed out. Starting in his home country, racing as a GC favorite adds a totally different element and many crumble under the scrutiny and pressure of expectation. Others embrace it and flourish. It will be interesting to see how he and Roglič work together.

They put on a show of unity at the Dauphiné but the Tour is different and I question whether either is willing to risk it all to aim for yellow. He’s a very strong time trialist but will still need to take time from Pogačar and Roglič. There are plenty of opportunities, it’s just whether he takes the risk and takes them.

Adam Yates (Ineos Grenadiers) ★★★

Adam Yates (Ineos Grenadiers)
Adam Yates (Ineos Grenadiers) (Photo: Getty Images)

I think many have forgotten that Adam was fourth on GC in 2016 and won the white jersey. He’s made a steady if not spectacular progression at Ineos Grenadiers and I see him as their best shot at yellow. He showed at Catalunya in 2021 how well he can time trial, he can climb with the best, and is not afraid to attack. If his team can guide him through the first week he could cause a surprise as I believe the other contenders will underestimate him. There is however a big question mark on his form after pulling out of Suisse with a COVID positive, so he enters as a real unknown quantity.

Aleksandr Vlasov (Bora-Hansgrohe) ★★★

There is similar rhetoric for Vlasov after a DNF at Suisse while leading the race. He looked in good condition and has been super impressive all year having made a big step up after joining Bora-Hansgrohe, but the effects of COVID are unpredictable, and how it will affect him in July.

He has a strong and well-rounded team who will be well positioned for the sprints, and he has shown he can ride GC at a grand tour, but this is his first Tour de France and the race is a very different proposition. He has been successful in Paris-Nice with second in 2021 but there is little that can prepare you for the intensity of competition and scrutiny of the Tour. He will need to rely on consistency to secure a high overall position but he’s shown a good turn of speed and an all round ability so should the favorites falter he could take advantage.

Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) ★★★

He is the only other former winner on this list and that experience is incredibly valuable. He seems to be racing with new freedom this year and enjoying himself with nothing to lose. Over the last five years, Thomas has either been on the podium or crashed out of contention and it could be more of the same here. Survive the first week and he will be top-five as he never seems to have a bad day and can take time out of most guys on this list in the time trials.

It could suit him not having the entire weight of the Ineos team and its expectations on his shoulders, and the three-pronged attack together with Yates and Martinez is exciting for the fans but I’m not sure how complementary the three riders’ styles are. One badly timed attack from one could result in it damaging another’s hopes.

Enric Mas (Movistar) ★★

His form is a big unknown in 2022 after a relatively poor season to date with only a top 10 at Itzulia Basque Country to show for his efforts, but he is one of the most consistent grand tour riders in recent years, finishing top-six in his last four participations (Tour x 2, Vuelta x 2). He does tend to ghost his way through grand tours, being consistent rather than spectacular, but he has a strong and experienced team. Movistar is perhaps lacking in confidence this year but they are in need of results and that pressure could distract them from a united GC commitment.

Ben O’Connor (AG2R Citroën Team)★★

Ben Alexander O’connor of Australia and AG2R Citröen Team competes in the chase during the 74th Criterium du Dauphine (Getty Images)

The Australian was the surprise of 2021, his epic raid in the Alps to Tignes launching him up the GC ranking to a position that, to most people’s surprise, he managed to hang on to. It’s been great to see how the resulting confidence boost has driven him to big things this year with momentum building nicely towards July after a strong podium in the Dauphiné. He seemed to get better every day which is a great sign, and the atmosphere in that team seems genuinely good. His status as a favorite is a new experience and the added scrutiny could affect him but he will be set on following the wheels and just being consistent as he will not be allowed the freedom he enjoyed last year.

Jack Haig (Bahrain Victorious) ★

The second Australian on a list and it’s easy to forget that he finished on the podium at the Vuelta last year. He was getting stronger during the Dauphiné and had a really strong final stage riding into fifth on GC. He is still flying under the radar and could take advantage of the bigger favorites watching each other.

He was in good condition last year before crashing out in the first week but he has a strong team around him, although it’s unknown if he will have to share leadership with Damiano Caruso. I think the aim this year will be a solid top-10 and to gain experience in riding GC at the Tour.

David Gaudu (Groupama FDJ) ★

I’m not sure if David will aim for GC or just stages but the featherweight climber seems to be making steady progress. He won the Tour de l’Avenir in 2016, notably beating Egan Bernal into fourth and Jai Hindley into fifth, so he is due a breakthrough on the big stage, but the pressure cauldron that is the Tour is the undoing of many a French hope.

On his day, he can climb with the best but he lacks the consistency to mount a podium challenge, always seemingly having not a bad, but a disastrous day. If he starts the race well he could ride a wave of confidence towards Paris, but equally, he could be out of contention after stage 2.