And in a flash, it’s that time of year again, the Tour De France is just around the corner. And this year we have a juicy line up.
Last year, the General Classification landscape was ravaged by injuries and was absent one of cycling’s brightest young stars. Nairo Quintana, who had been the only rider in sight of Froome on the climbs in the 2013 Tour, opted for the 2014 Giro d’Italia over the 2014 Tour de France. And the marquee matchup between Chris Froome and Alberto Contador never materialized as both crashed out early in the Tour. All of this was no fault of Vincenzo Nibali who took the opportunity to emerge as a top class Grand Tour rider and left the rest of the field far behind, adding his name to the once in a decade group of top tier riders that will do battle this July.
Between them they have 12 Grand Tour Victories! and a hand full of additional podiums; it is perhaps the most accomplished short list of contenders that has ever been assembled at the Tour de France. The riders are:
Grand Tour Accomplishments: Winner 2013 Tour de France
Chris Froome was the class of the field in the 2013 Tour de France gaining time on his rivals in both the individual time trials and the high mountain stages. Froome is many people’s pick to win this year’s Tour and for good reason. He was the odds on favorite in the 2014 Tour before he crashed out AND he is surrounded by perhaps the strongest team in the race. The strength of his team will not only help to support him throughout the tours stages and peril, but will also provide a quantifiable benefit in the team time trial (TTT). An event that is included once again in this year’s race.
Look for Team Sky to be all hands on deck during the Stage 9 TTT to try to squeeze out a slight advantage for Froome over his rivals. And for Froome to establish himself as the best time trialist of the contenders.
Grand Tour Accomplishments: Winner 2007 & 09 Tour De France; Winner 2008, 2015 Giro D’Italia; Winner 2008, 2012, 2014 Vuelta a Espana
The oldest and by far the most accomplished rider of the group. Contador began his dominant Grand Tour run in 2007 a year in which he won the race after Rabobank’s Michael Rasmussen was sent home. Contador then received his own potential knock on Tour de France victory count when his team, Astana, was banned from the Tour De France in 2008 for past doping violations. Violations that didn’t involve Contador or then current management. After the ban, he was back in 2009 to battle his own teammate Lance Armstrong as well as strong Schleck Brothers, a battle which he won, garnering his second Tour de France win.
Contador is nearing the end of his prime and his could be his last chance at a Tour de France victory. A feat made even more difficult by the stiff competition and the fact that he is coming off a Giro D’Italia victory. A strong Giro performance is usually and indication that the rider will be unable to successfully peak twice with such a short turnaround between the two events. The last rider to accomplish the Giro- Tour double was Marco Pantani in 1998.
Contador is a crafty, experienced rider with explosive uphill speed. Look for him to use those skills to stay close or gain time on his rivals. The real barometer of his ability to win the Tour will come in the race of truth, the individual time trial. If he can limit his loses to a rider like Froome in the ITT, look for Contador to be a handful in the mountains of the Tour.
Grand Tour Accomplishments: Winner 2014 Tour de France; Winner 2013 Giro D’Italia; Winner 2010 Vuelta a Espana
As mentioned before, the 2014 Tour de France was all Nibali’s. He won the race by over seven and a half minutes. Part of that margin was the absence of Froome and Contador, surely, but part of it was Nibali’s improvement in the individual time trial. His improvement there has made him a top tier all-around Grand Tour rider.
Another thing in the favor of Nibali, is that, like Froome, he will have a very strong team for the team trial.
Look for Nibali to try to gain time over his rivals in the TTT and to attack in the mountains.
Grand Tour Accomplishments: 2nd place 2013 Tour De France; Winner 2014 Giro D’Italia
At just twenty five years of age, Quintana has speed and accomplishments beyond his age. In the 2013 Tour de France, he was the only rider that could stay near Froome on the long uphill finishes. In 2014, he opted to skip the Tour De France in order to focus on the Giro d’Italia, a race he won handily. Now in 2015 he is back and not as young as the time before. His major weakness compared to his rivals is the time trial.
Look for Quintana to try to limit his loses in the time trials and attack relentlessly in the mountains.