Tour de France. The top contenders.

What’s up there? The podium.

Well, it’s here, mes amis. The biggest, craziest, most famous, highest profile bike race in the world. The Tour de France, La Grande Boucle, the epicenter of the cycling world.

Yep, all that. Plus beautiful helicopter shots of French chateaus and landscapes and the dulcet tones of Paul Sherwood and ….

So who’s going to win the maillot jaune? We’re already on record, agreeing with Dane Cash at Velonews, that Team Sky’s Chris Froome will not win his record-tying fifth Tour de France. If for no other reason than the Cycling Gods are really tired of win and good luck eventually runs out.

But who will step into that void and triumph in Paris after three weeks of pain and suffering and Alps and Pyrenees? It’s a particularly tough one to call this year with so any rivals all roughly on the same plane.

Our top group would be Richie Porte (BMC Racing), Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), Romain Bardet (Ag2R) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar). Those are the three front-runners with the obvious goods.

We all saw what happened to Porte in last year’s Tour de France. On a high speed descent of the¬†Mont du Chat, he crashed in spectacular and terrifying fashion, landing hard and sliding across the road and taking out a trailing Dan Martin (Quickstep). Porte left the race on a stretcher and Martin soldiered on with a messed up back, eventually finishing an impressive 6th place.

Porte is back and looking just as strong as last year when he looked to be Froome’s strongest rival. He won the Tour de Suisse and took 3rd overall in the Tour of Romandie. You’d have a tough argument who wants a Tour win more — Porte or Nairo Quintana. The Tasmanian has a strong BMC squad behind him and if he can avoid — for once — a crash or illness, you’d have to think the podium is a given.

Nibali skipped the Giro d’Italia (unlike Froome) so he hopes he’ll be fresher and he’s well-experienced in getting himself ready for grand tours and managing his resources. He’s always, as he likes to say, tranquillo. After winning the Tour in 2014 (Froome had crashed out), he’s confident his form is close to what he had four years ago.

Bardet has been on the Tour podium twice, placing second in 2016 and third — by one second over Sky’s Mikel Landa — in 2017. The pure climber isn’t much against the clock but he’s getting better and better. He’s also unafraid to take some risks in search of victory. If Froome falters and the race opens up, Bardet will be dangerous thanks to his aggressive style of racing. (The same could be said of Nibali.) It may just take that moment of inattention from his rivals for Bardet to slip away and we would’t discount a long range attack a la Froome in the Giro, if the right circumstances coalesce.

Nairo Quintana comes into the Tour rested and ready, having given up his Giro-Tour opium pipe dream. He’s won the Giro and the Vuelta and placed second to Froome on two occasions in the Tour so he desperately wants to a Tour to his name. In some respects, it feels like he’s been flying under the radar a bit and intentionally so. In his Tour de Suisse tune-up, he ripped up the mountains on stage seven to show everyone he was ready but otherwise he’s kept the wattage under wraps.

Maybe this is Quintana’s year. He’s a pint sized climber who seems to suffer more in the opening seven to ten days with wind and rain. (Then again, he won his Giro is horrific conditions.) There is also the question of the cobblestones — specifically, stage nine from¬†Arras to Roubaix. The 21.7 kilometers of stones are far from his preferred terrain. Should he come through all that in good sharp, he’ll be licking his lips for the mountains.

We’ll give an optimistic shout-out to EF-Education First captain Rigoberto Uran, as he attempts to go one better than his second place overall in last year’s Tour de France. And we”re certainly hoping Tom Dumoulin (Sundweb) is not too whipped out from his Giro d’Italia efforts but that seems unlikely. As for the other possible candidates, well, as they say in French, “Bonne Chance.”

Our final podium:

1 Richie Porte

2 Nairo Quintana

3 Vincenzo Nibali

 

 

 

 

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