Tour de France contenders and sprinters profiled in 10 to watch for 2017 race
By Andy Charles
Last Updated: 29/06/17 9:18am
The Tour de France gets underway on German soil on Saturday when Dusseldorf hosts the Grand Depart for the 104th edition of the sport's most famous race.
We have picked out 10 riders to keep an eye on across the three-week spectacular, a mixture of contenders for the yellow and green jerseys and some of the fastest men in the world.
CHRIS FROOME (Team Sky)
Froome bids for a fourth Tour de France in five years, quite an incredible achievement. But there is little doubting this is the toughest test he has faced since assuming leadership at Team Sky, with the course appearing not to favour his strengths (that could apply to other contenders as well to be fair).
Of more concern is the form he goes into the Tour on - no wins this season and beaten in the Criterium du Dauphine where his climbing still appeared a little rusty. No doubting he can win again but it will certainly not be a cakewalk.
RICHIE PORTE (BMC Racing)
Unlike Froome, Porte goes into the Tour on top form. He would have won the Criterium du Dauphine but for getting caught out on one climb and looked to be the best climber in the field at that contest. Porte also won the Tour de Romandie and his time-trialling could well now be more of a positive than Froome's.
There is no doubting Porte deserves to be the clear second favourite for his first Tour victory, but whether the BMC Racing team around him is quite as strong as Froome's backup is a question and the Australian has often suffered one really bad day in the Grand Tours. He cannot afford to do that in such a strong race.
FABIO ARU (Astana)
Newly crowned Italian champion Aru appears to be coming into top form just in time for what is only his second go at winning the Tour de France. He would have finished in the top three at the Criterium had he time-trialled better (not such a massive concern on his parcours) and he was one of the most attacking riders in the mountains.
If there is a concern about Aru it is the possibility for confusion within his Astana team, as Criterium winner Jakob Fuglsang will go into the Tour as co-captain. That kind of situation has often not worked out well, as referenced by previous disagreements within Movistar between Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde. Nevertheless Aru looks a live danger for his yellow jersey rivals.
NAIRO QUINTANA (Movistar)
Once again Movistar opt for Quintana and Valverde in the same Tour team. Quintana is the de facto leader, but that could easily change if his form is not good in the opening week, where his dislike for riding in crosswinds could again come to the fore.
Quintana would have won the Giro d'Italia had there been no time-trials in the race, instead losing out to Tom Dumoulin by 31 seconds, but he looked jaded in the mountains at times and seemed hesitant to attack because of it. Whether he has recovered just over a month on has to be a big question mark.
ALBERTO CONTADOR (Trek-Segafredo)
The wily old fox would love one more Tour de France yellow jersey before the retirement he has apparently put off for the last two off-seasons. Contador is with a new team this season and is surrounded with talent, including possible top-20 finishers Bauke Mollema and Jarlinson Pantano, although the latter's form has been patchy at best in 2017.
But whether Contador is quite up to it now has to be in question. Unusually, the Spaniard was dropped a number of times in the Criterium, including losing more than four minutes on the final stage. Top five might be his best hope.
ROMAIN BARDET (AG2R La Mondiale)
Like Aru, Bardet should be setting his sights on a challenge for the top three on a parcours that appears to suit him well. He'll have a few chances to take time on descents, one of his true strengths, and the mountain top finishes are well spread out, including a couple he knows well in the Alps.
He is not afraid to attack earlier than some of his rivals, although that could be something that needs to be reined in if he is to avoid getting caught and dropped straight away, as happened a couple of times in the Criterium.
PETER SAGAN (Bora-Hansgrohe)
Six on the trot for Sagan? He's bidding to equal German great Erik Zabel's record for winning the green jersey in successive years and honestly, who would bet against him?
Sagan is a dual world champion, well suited by the course with a number of sprint finishes and some with uphills that he should be able to manage and compete in as well. He will surely add to his surprisingly low seven Tour stage victories at some point over the next three weeks. Sagan would seem almost impossible to beat in the points race unless adversely affected by crashes, something he often seems to avoid being in the middle of.
MARCEL KITTEL (Quick Step Floors)
Probably comes into the Tour as the fastest sprinter in the field in a flat finish, but his form this year has been a bit in-and-out since three victories in the Dubai Tour back in late January and early Feburary.
Five stage wins since then have been punctuated with some disappointments and this will be the deepest field of pure sprinters he has faced for a couple of months. Managed one stage win last year and should at least match that this time, if only because there are so many stages which could end in bunch sprints.
MARK CAVENDISH (Team Dimension Data)
Four wins needed for Cavendish to equal Eddy Merckx's all-time record of 34 stage victories at the Tour de France, but he might have to wait another year to reach that landmark.
Cavendish's season so far has been wrecked by illness, as he was struck by glandular fever towards the end of March and only returned to action a couple of weeks ago in the Tour of Slovenia. He won four stages last year when in questionable form, but this time his fitness is the biggest question and the man himself says he has no idea what his results will be like.
MICHAEL MATTHEWS (Team Sunweb)
If there is to be a contender for Sagan's green jersey, it could well be 'Bling'. He's not the fastest man in a bunch sprint but he'll contend in the tougher finishes over the first week and is probably the second best all-rounder.
But when you look back at the 199 points he scored in finishing third behind Sagan last year, some 271 points behind the Slovak, you realise just how tough his task is. Matthews might be the man to take advantage, though, if chinks in Sagan's armour become apparent for the first time since 2012.
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