Based on initial reactions to the 2016 Tour de France route, Chris Froome is already being fitted for his third yellow jersey. Those prognostications ignore the fact that the route suits no one as well as it does Alberto Contador. He’ll be the man to beat in July.
But wait, the Spaniard cracked the top 10 only once in the 2015 Tour’s seven mountain stages. Can he factor in a race that features 10 days of cols? Yes. Last season’s Tour isn’t the best indicator. Instead, consider the 2015 Giro d’Italia, which Contador tackled with fresh legs and focused training, both of which we anticipate for his 2016 run at yellow.
In the Giro’s five major mountain stages, he always finished top 10. He was also fighting back vicious raids by Astana’s Mikel Landa and Fabio Aru in stages 19 and 20. And remember that Contador did all of that more or less alone. The Tinkoff team burned off most of its mountain helpers early each day at the Giro, defending pink and dealing with a torturous route.
The 2014 Vuelta a España provides more evidence of Contador’s climbing capabilities, especially his win in the queen stage, on the penultimate day of the race. And who finished runner-up that day? You guessed it: Froome. Not to mention the fact that Contador had broken his leg just over two months earlier.
Okay, Contador took only 15 seconds from Froome that day. The Vuelta’s stage 10 time trial was where he won the race. In the individual test to Borja, he beat Froome by 53 seconds. Contador won the final red jersey in Madrid by 1:10. More recently, he delivered an emphatic performance in the Giro’s long 59.4km TT, only 14 seconds behind Vasil Kiryienka, who went on to win the rainbows at Richmond worlds in the time trial. However, the Tour’s stage 13 time trial is expected to be much hillier than those two tests.
Next year’s Grande Boucle isn’t without question marks for the 32-year-old Spaniard. Froome is eager to deliver another stunning win atop Mont Ventoux. The climb favors the Briton. But he would have to buck history to win there; no cyclist has ever claimed victory atop the Giant of Provence more than once.
What of the Tour’s queen stage, which comes on the penultimate day? Froome delivered a smothering performance in the 2015 Tour, holding yellow from stage 7 onward (plus stage 3, for good measure), but he ceded 1:38 on the penultimate day, which finished on l’Alpe d’Huez. Next year’s stage 20 will be harder: 146 kilometers with four categorized climbs before a plunge into Morzine.
And remember: A year ago, Froome was bemoaning a 2015 route that he called “unbalanced” due to “very little time trial kilometers and a lot of climbs.” If the question of whether Froome wants more climbs or more TTs is puzzling, don’t sweat it. Because this Tour offers a favorable mix of both — for Contador.