3. Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida)
AT 33, VINCENZO NIBALI may be on the back slope of his brilliant career. Still, few other riders can equal his racing savvy. Nibali knows how to win bike races, plain and simple.
When Froome pulled out of the 2014 Tour with a broken wrist, it was Nibali who seized the moment and took the overall victory. He did it with an amazing display of both bike-handling skills across the technical pavé stage and brute force in the mountains. He claimed four stage wins on his way to the overall title.
Although he might lose a few seconds to the Briton in both the high mountains and the time trials, Nibali is more likely than anyone to snatch time on this year’s cobbled stage 9, or on a tricky, wet descent in the Alps. The Shark has a killer instinct that makes him a threat on any parcours.
Nibali skipped the Giro d’Italia to prepare for the Tour.
The mountains provided the main foundation for the Sicilian’s successes in each of his three grand tour wins. On his way to victory in the 2014 Tour de France, he won three of the four summit finishes (La Planche des Belles Filles, Chamrousse, and Hautacam).
Time trials/flats: 8/10
While this year’s Milano-Sanremo winner is not an authentic time trial specialist, the discipline is not a weak point for him. The Italian is particularly strong in hilly time trials taking place in the third week of a race. This year’s time trial between Saint-Pée-sur-Nivelle and Espelette matches those characteristics perfectly. Nibali is also an excellent descender and has proven more than adept on the cobbles as well.
Tactical sense: 10/10
A rider with real panache, Nibali loves to seek out opportunities. When he senses a weakness in his rivals, the Italian doesn’t hold back with his attacks. Able to draw on huge experience in the grand tours (18 appearances), the “Shark of Messina” knows exactly how to spot tactical opportunities and make the most of them, which is a significant asset.
Team strength: 7/10
Conscious of its weaknesses in team time trials, the Bahrain-Merida squad has worked specifically during training camps on this exercise in order to minimize its losses during the third stage around Cholet. In addition, the signing of Domenico Pozzovivo this winter will provide Nibali with additional support in the mountains.
2. Nairo Quintana (Movistar)
DON’T LET QUINTANA’S UNDERWHELMING 2017 Tour fool you. The Colombian made an ill-fated attempt at the Giro-Tour double last season. This year, he should have the freshness necessary to muscle his way back into the discussion as cycling’s top climber.
The two-time Tour runner-up has yet to climb the race’s top step, but he’s only just now entering his prime at age 28. There’s plenty of time for Quintana to claim the yellow jersey he covets, and a climber-friendly Tour route suits him well. His bid to be South America’s first Tour de France winner may be threatened from within his own team, however — it remains to be seen how well he and new teammate Mikel Landa can coexist.
On the other hand, Quintana may benefit from one of the most deeply talented teams in the race, which also includes the veteran Alejandro Valverde, a master tactician and a threat to the podium in his own right.
The mountains classification winner at his first Tour de France in 2013, Quintana was also a stage winner at the Semnoz summit finish. It remains his only Tour stage victory. An unsuccessful attempt at the Giro-Tour double in 2017 may have dulled his edge in the mountains last year, but Quintana should be back to climbing with the very best this season.
Time trials/flats: 7/10
While the Colombian’s prowess in time trials is by no means the worst among the contenders for the top 10 in Paris, it’s not one of his assets either. At the 2017 Giro, Quintana lost between three and four seconds per kilometer compared to time trial specialist Tom Dumoulin.
Tactical sense: 8/10
Winner of the Tour de l’Avenir in 2010, over the last six seasons Quintana has claimed 15 stage race titles, including two grand tours. Consequently, the Movistar rider knows the keys to success, although he can occasionally be too cautious.
Team strength: 9/10
The longest standing team at the Tour de France (with 35 appearances), Movistar will line up with an impressive trio of leaders in Quintana, Valverde, and Landa, who are all capable of finishing on the podium in Paris. While Valverde has confirmed that he is willing to play a lieutenant’s role, the degree of cooperation between Landa and Quintana remains to be seen.
1. Chris Froome (Team Sky)
THE DEFENDING TOUR DE FRANCE champion is hunting a record-tying fifth title this year, coming off a Giro d’Italia win to boot. His elite combination of climbing legs, time trial talent, and team support put him atop the list of yellow jersey contenders. That said, his elevated Salbutamol levels at last year’s Vuelta a España threw a wrench into a his Tour prep. The UCI closed his case with less than a week to go until the Grand Depart, but he’s had a stressful run-in to the race nonetheless.
Even without the specter of a possible doping sanction looming over him, Chris Froome would still have a huge hurdle to overcome in his quest for a fifth Tour title: No rider has won the Tour after racing the Giro d’Italia since Marco Pantani pulled off the Giro-Tour double in 1998. Contending for a yellow jersey with that kind of fatigue in his legs — and the threat of a ban weighing on his mind — will be a massive challenge. Still, Froome has the skillset and the track record to deserve favorite status despite what he’s up against.
Froome’s weakness on the final ramp of the Peyragudes climb last year hinted at a chink in his armor, yet he is still the benchmark performer in the mountains. His unique style distinguishes him from the pure climbers, and the Briton remains extremely capable thanks to his exceptional power-to-weight ratio.
Time trials/flats: 10/10
Froome is a specialist against the clock — look no further than his bronze medal from last year’s world time trial championship. Indeed, it’s a discipline in which he has held a valuable advantage over his rivals for the overall title. However, the presence of Tom Dumoulin could alter that this year. Froome has also made strides as a racer on the flats and descents. He has devoted particular attention to the cobbles in order to broaden the range of his ability.
Tactical sense: 9/10
A four-time Tour winner, Froome’s track record hunting yellow jerseys can’t be matched by any other rider in the peloton. A very complete rider, he has shown in previous editions that he is capable of surprising his rivals on the most demanding climbs, but also on descents or even if the wind becomes a factor, as was the case on the road into Montpellier in 2016. He offers a threat on every kind of terrain.
Team strength: 10/10
A veritable steamroller, Team Sky will have to learn to cope with having one fewer rider this year. New UCI rules mandate grand tour teams will now comprise eight members rather than nine. With Froome as top dog, there are no questions about the hierarchy within the British squad, and he can count on an impressive and very reassuring list of lieutenants, including Geraint Thomas and Michal Kwiatkowski.