By David Hunter
Time for Le Tour!
The biggest race is of the year and we’re in for one hell of a battle. Expect three weeks of crazy racing.
Stage 7 sees the first real climbing. The Col d’Aspin is 12km at 6.5%, but the fact it crests with 7km to go does mean it’s unlikely to see huge gaps.
Following, next day, is stage 8 and the Tourmalet. It comes early in the stage, but that doesn’t stop Contador! The final climb, Col de Peyresourde, is 7.1km at 7.8%. Like the day before we finish at the bottom of the mountain, not the top. That does change how riders tackle the mountain and increases the chances of the group remaining together.
Stage 9 is a monster day in Spain and Andorra. The Arcalis is a climb Froome, and Landa, know well from the Vuelta, not the best memory for him! It is 10.1km at 7.1% and is our first mountaintop finish of the race. This is a huge day!
Stage 12 is Bastille Day and Ventoux Day! Can the French take a win to send the country crazy?
Stage 13, is the first of two TTs and starts with 7km at 4.7%. It also has a harder climb near the end of the stage. Coming straight after the Ventoux stage, this should seriously shake up the GC.
Stage 15 is on a Sunday and features plenty of climbing. The peloton have to tackle the Colombier from two sides. Like in previous stages, the final climb crests with 14km to go, allowing riders to potentially rejoin the front group. A good day for the break.
Stage 17 kicks off a challenging final week. This stage is totally in Switzerland and finishes with a double climb. Col de la Forclaz is 13km at 7.9%, quickly followed by Finhaut-Emosson, 10.4km at 8.4%.
Stage 18 is a hugely challenging TT. It might only be 17km long, but the climb is 10km at 8%. There are some seriously steep sections in this stage.
Stage 19 and the final weekend begins with the beauty of Mont Blanc. The final climb is a daunting 9.8km at 8%.
Stage 20 and the last chance saloon. Riders will be scattered all over the road, with many satellite riders being sent up the road. The final climb of the race is 11.6km at 8.5%, before a descent of 12km. This ends what should be a truly amazing three weeks.
AG2R La Mondiale
Captain – Romain Bardet. Stage Hunters – Alexis Gougeard, Alexis Vuillermoz. Key Helpers – Domenico Pozzovivo, Jan Bakelants, Mikel Cherel.
The French squad arrive with a strong team to support Bardet. He’s had a good year, consistent throughout. However, he hasn’t won a race yet. He was 6th in 2014 and 9th in 2015. AG2R will expect Bardet to comfortably finish in the top 10 and they will hope for the top 5.
Captain – Fabio Aru. Stage Hunters – Vincenzo Nibali, Alexey Lutsenko. Key Helpers – Diego Rosa, Paolo Tiralongo.
Astana arrive with an out of sorts leader. It’s not been a season to remember for Fabio Aru, but that can change very quickly. We have seen Nibali do something very similar in previous seasons. Nibali is not riding for GC, but he will target a few stages and try to leave the race in great condition, to help with his bid to win gold in Rio.
Captains – Porte & Van Garderen. Stage Hunter – Van Avermaet. Key Helpers – Damiano Caruso, Brent Bookwalter, Amael Moinard.
Who is the captain? We won’t find this out until the end of stage 9, but BMC will hope to keep both Porte and Van Garderen high on GC for as long as possible. Having two riders as GC threats is a massive tactical boost, but hard to do. Both riders have a history of failing in this race, can they hold it together for the whole three weeks? Despite their obvious ability, Van Avermaet is their best chance of a win. It’s hard to see him not taking at least one win over the three weeks.
Etixx – Quick Step
Captains – Dan Martin & Marcel Kittel. Stage Hunters – Alaphilippe, Petr Vakoc, Tony Martin. Key Helper – Max Richeze.
The main focus will be on the sprints and Marcel Kittel, although they can win most stages in this race! Kittel will have Tony Martin, Vakoc, Sabatini and Richeze to help with the sprints. This is less men than he would be used to from his Giant days but it is what it is! Dan Martin will see how long he lasts. He never usually performs great at the Tour, when riding for GC. However, he’s had a great season and cannot be written off.
Captain – Thibaut Pinot. Stage Hunter – Arthur Vichot. Key Helpers – Steve Morabito and Sebastian Reichenbach.
Pinot has had a great season, taking 4 wins. He has performed at a consistently high level, but did have a little blip during the Dauphine. He was 3rd in 2014, but fell out of contention in 2015. He made up for this with a tremendous win on Alpe d’Huez. He will expect to be challenging for stage wins and the final podium.
Captain – Mathias Frank. Stage Hunter – Jerome Coppel. Key Helpers – Jarlinson Pantano, Stef Clement.
Frank was an unbelievable 8th in 2015. Matching that performance will be very difficult, but he is a fighter. His season hasn’t been great but it’s all about this race. With this squad not continuing in 2017, a lot of the riders will be looking for new deal, so expect some big performances. I am delighted to see Oliver Naesen ride his first Grand Tour, a reward for a good season.
Lampre – Merida
Captain – Louis Meintjes. Stage Hunters – Rui Costa, Jan Polanc. Key Helpers – Tsgabu Grmay, Kristijan Durasek.
I don’t see Rui Costa as a three week rider anymore. The GC hopes will be with Meintjes as he looks to improve on his 10th place in the 2015 Vuelta. The South African has a chance of sneaking into the top 10 as he is a great climber and seems to be able to peak late in races.
Captain – Andre Greipel. Stage Hunter – Tony Gallopin. Key Helpers – Greg Henderson, Jurgen Roelandts, Marcel Sieberg, Jens Debusschere.
The best sprint train by a mile. Lotto arrive with a sprint train that is reminiscent of the HTC High Road days. It is very long and they are totally focused on Greipel. Gallopin will have free reign in other stages, but don’t expect him to go for the GC. The Lotto boys are here to win stages, just like they did at the Giro. They are still trying to come to terms with the horrible news about Stig Broeckx, some of the team have really been hit hard.
Captain – Nairo Quintana. Stage Hunters – no one. Key Helpers – Alejandro Valverde, Ion Izagirre, Winner Anacona, Dani Moreno.
The team are fully behind the Colombian as he looks to take his first TDF title. Movistar have had a great season, but they will expect a win in this race. It will not be easy to dethrone Froome, but the small man from Colombia is the only rider capable.
Captain – Adam Yates. Stage Hunters – Michael Matthews, Simon Gerrans. Key Helper – Ruben Plaza.
Can Orica get Matthews and Gerrans working together? That will really determine how successful this race will be for them. Matthews will be keen to match up against Peter Sagan and there are a good few stages that suit. Adam Yates is capable of a stage win and remaining in the top 10 for a long time, but I think he will eventually fade in the final week.
Captain – Pierre Rolland. Stage Hunters – Ramunas Navardauskas, Tom-Jelte Slagter. Key Helper – Lawson Craddock.
Can Rolland rediscover his old form? Remember, this is a rider with serious talent. In 2011 he won on Alp d’Huez, on route to taking the white jersey and finishing 10th on GC. The next year, he won on Les Sybelles and finished 8th on GC. 2013 was a poor year, especially with a temporary ban due to high cortisol levels. 2014 he switched to Italy and finished a brilliant 4th on GC. Last year, he was back challenging for GC and eventually finished in 10th place. The Frenchman has a sensational pedigree in this race and Cannondale will be hoping he can rediscover his old form. The Ventoux stage looks particularly appealing for him.
Team Giant – Alpecin
Captain – Warren Barguil. Stage Hunters – John Degenkolb, Tom Dumoulin, Simon Geschke. Key Helpers – Laurens Ten Dam, Georg Preidler.
Barguil managed to hang onto the top 15 in 2015, he now goes hunting the white jersey. Given his performance in Switzerland, he has a good chance of achieving his goal. Degenkolb will be in the mix on tough days, but he doesn’t have a huge amount of help. Tom Dumoulin will be targeting some stage wins and good preparation for Rio.
Captains – Joaquim Rodriguez & Alexander Kristoff. Stage Hunter – Ilnur Zakarin. Key Helpers – Jacopo Guarnieri, Michael Morkov, Marko Haller.
A weird mix! Kristoff has three key helpers, but that means we will only see them inside the final 2km. The Norwegian will find it difficult to get a stage win, but it’s not impossible. Rodriguez has disappointed this season and I have no idea what Zakarin might achieve.
Team LottoNL – Jumbo
Captains – Wilco Kelderman & Dylan Groenewegen. Stage Hunter – Sep Vanmarcke. Key Helpers – Timo Roosen, George Bennett.
After a wonderful debut season, young Groenewegen gets his chance to fight against the best. Winning a stage would be a dream but don’t put too much pressure on him. Your first tour is a learning experience, in fact, they all are! Fighting for GC will be Wilco Kelderman. 7th in the 2014 Giro shows that he can last the pace, but this will be a tough race. I’m not sure he has what it takes to make the top 10.
Captain – Chris Froome. Stage Hunters – All about Froome. Key Helpers – Geraint Thomas, Wout Poels, Mikel Landa, Sergio Henao.
A stunningly strong team. Froome is flying after his success in the Dauphine and everyone will be frightened of the Sky mountain train. They have such a strong team, they could dominate the top 10 of this race. Froome tends to start the race very fast and then fall away at the very end. That means stages 7, 8 and 9 will be huge. Expect them to go crazy and try to drop Quintana.
Captains – Alberto Contador & Peter Sagan. Stage Hunters – All about the two captains. Key Helpers – Roman Kreuziger, Jesper Hansen, Rafal Majka.
The days of Contador challenging for the Tour look over. Yes, he started the season well, but he longer seems able to compete with Froome when everyone is fit and on form. Tinkoff also have Peter Sagan, looking to win his 5th consecutive green jersey. It would be a huge surprise if he didn’t take green.
Trek – Segafredo
Captain – Bauke Mollema. Stage Hunters – Fabian Cancellara, Jasper Stuyven. Key Helpers – Haimar Zubeldia, Peter Stetina.
Trek arrive with plenty of options. They have Theuns and Stuyven making their tour debut. Cancellara is riding his last tour, expect to see him determined to take a stage. Stuyven won a stage in the 2015 Vuelta and is a rider they will look to on demanding days. Mollema will expect another top 10 and he can count upon the solid help of Peter Stetina.
Captain – Mark Cavendish. Stage Hunters – Edvald Boasson Hagen, Steve Cummings. Key Helpers – Mark Renshaw, Bernie Eisel.
With Rio following soon after the tour, there is no guarantee Cavendish finishes this race. He no longer looks fast enough to compete with Greipel and Kittel, but with 26 stage wins, only a fool would write him off. Boasson Hagen has continued with his great form of 2015, he will be expecting a win. In Cummings, they seem to have a unique athlete, most fans would be delighted to see him netting another win.
Nacer Bouhanni. Stage Hunters – Dani Navarro, Arnold Jeannesson. Key Helpers – Christophe Laporte, Geoff Soupe.
With Bouhanni out they don´t have too many options and will chase stages. Navarro & Jeannesson are great climbers who could do well.
Fortuneo – Vital Concept
Captain – Eduardo Sepulveda. Stage Hunter – Vegard Breen. Key Helper – Chris Anker Sorensen.
Sepulveda had his season ruined by injury, he’ll just be happy to be here. On his day, he could finish in the top 15, but it will depend on his fitness.
Captain – Bryan Coquard. Stage Hunters – Tommy Voeckler, Sylvain Chavanel, Romain Sicard. Key Helper – Adrien Petit.
Coquard has been in incredible form this season, taking 11 wins. He is a sensational talent and can trust on his teammates, most of whom are underrated, especially Adrien Petit. If Coquard can win a stage, it would be huge and well deserved. In the mountains, Voeckler and Chavanel, will have free reign.
Captain – Sam Bennett. Stage Hunters – Bartosz Huzarski, Patrick Konrad, Jan Barta. Key Helpers – Paul Voss, Shane Archbold.
Sam Bennett will have a big chance in this race. Unlike in 2015, they bring a lead-out man for him. This will be a huge boost for the Irishman as he looks to try and finish on the podium. He’s not had the best of seasons but he has a decent chance of finishing high up in a couple of the sprints.
It’s Froome v Quintana. Stages 7, 8 and 9 will be enormous for both riders. If the Colombian can hold on and not lose time, Sky will start to worry. Quintana finishes this race better than Froome, so the Brits will look to strike early. Movistar do have a strong squad too, but nowhere near as good as Sky. With Landa, Henao and Thomas, it’s possible that Quintana will find himself outnumbered. Attacking will be the best form of defence for Quintana. Those early battles promise to be amazing.
Pinot is the man who will fancy challenging for the podium. There are a number of riders capable but given his terrific TT performances, the Frenchman might just edge it.
The sprint stages will surely be dominated by Greipel and Kittel. They are also battling for team leadership in the World Championships. Lotto have the better train, by Kittel has the edge in terms of power. I am concerned that he and Richeze haven’t raced much together, this race is not where you want to test out a new partnership!
The tough “sprinter” days will also be fun to watch. Peter Sagan will not have it all his own way. He will have to battle against Michael Matthews, Greg Van Avermaet and John Degenkolb. Almost every single day of this race promises to be exciting and entertaining.
It’s Quintana time! After 3 years of improving and getting closer, I think he will defy the odds and take his first tour win. He was 4:20 behind Froome in 2013 and just 1:13 down in 2015. In between times, he won the Giro. The time is right for the Colombian to win. I know that Froome has the best helpers, but if Quintana is the strongest, he will win.
The battle for 3rd will be fascinating, but I expect Pinot to give France something to cheer.
Sagan for green.
Rolland for polka dots.
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