Tour de France: Chris Froome, Nairo Quintana and the other favourites
By Matt Westby
Last Updated: 01/07/16 4:49pm
The battle for the yellow jersey at this July’s Tour de France promises to be one of the closest in years.
All the best stage racers of the current generation are taking part and a route awaits that will test every aspect of their ability.
Here are 10 riders who could challenge for victory or a place on the podium in Paris…
CHRIS FROOME (TEAM SKY)
Best Tour result: 1st (2013 and 2015).
Last year's result: 1st.
Sky Bet odds: 6/5.
Froome is the defending champion, bookmakers' favourite and unquestionably the man to beat. He struggled for peak condition in the early months of the season but looked back to his best when winning the Criterium du Dauphine in June. Given that both his previous Tour victories were preceded by Dauphine wins, that success was an ominous sign. And not only does Froome appear to be peaking perfectly, he will also be backed by arguably one of the strongest support teams ever assembled.
NAIRO QUINTANA (MOVISTAR)
Best Tour result: 2nd (2013 and 2015).
Last year's result: 2nd.
Sky Bet odds: 2/1.
Quintana finished a close second to Froome last year and looks set to be the Briton's main rival for the yellow jersey once again. He has enjoyed an excellent season, winning the Volta a Catalunya, Tour de Romandie and Route du Sud, and finishing third at the Tour de San Luis and Tour of the Basque Country. The course appears to suit him well, particularly the fact the two individual time trials are hilly rather than flat. This is Quintana's third attempt to win the Tour and his credentials have never looked stronger.
ALBERTO CONTADOR (TINKOFF)
Best Tour result: 1st (2007 and 2009).
Last year's result: 5th.
Sky Bet odds: 9/2.
Contador's chances of a third yellow jersey are tricky to predict. At times this season he has shown Tour-winning form, particularly when claiming overall victory at the Tour of the Basque Country in April. But at others he has appeared fragile and easy to drop, not least when he was blown away by Froome in the mountains at the Dauphine and finished only fifth overall. It will take a huge improvement to outperform and beat the Briton at the Tour, but he remains a big threat and his attempt to win will no doubt be entertaining.
RICHIE PORTE (BMC RACING)
Best Tour result: 19th (2013).
Last year's result: 48th.
Sky Bet odds: 16/1.
Porte falls into a similar bracket to Contador in that it's difficult to know what to expect from him. At his best, he is one of the leading climbers in the world, a strong time-triallist and a potential Tour winner. On the flip side, he is prone to off days that you simply cannot afford if you want to win a Tour as competitive as this one promises to be. There was no better example of the Porte paradox than at the Dauphine, when he was the only rider capable of following a stinging attack from Froome on stage five but then exploded on stage six and eventually finished only fourth overall. He is also still to beat the likes of Froome, Quintana and Contador on a high-mountain summit finish, which is a record he will need to end if he is to claim the yellow jersey. A place on the podium may be more realistic.
FABIO ARU (ASTANA)
Best Tour result: N/A.
Last year's result: N/A.
Sky Bet odds: 18/1.
Aru is targeting victory at the Tour at the first attempt but will need a remarkable improvement on what has been a dreadful season so far if he is to get his hands on the yellow jersey. Although he won a flat stage of the Dauphine, he was a long way off the pace being set by Froome in the mountains and finished a worrying 45th overall. However, Aru has an almost unrivalled fighting spirit and is usually at his strongest in the last week of a grand tour, so it could be that he gets off to a bad start and battles back in the second half of the race. Still, overall victory seems a long shot on recent form.
THIBAUT PINOT (FDJ.FR)
Best Tour result: 3rd (2014).
Last year's result: 16th.
Sky Bet odds: 20/1.
Pinot is one of two big French hopes along with Romain Bardet (see below) and had been enjoying the best season of his career up until June. He won the Criterium International and then finished an impressive second at the Tour de Romandie, only to flop at the Dauphine when finishing a disappointing 16th overall. A stage win out of a breakaway rescued some pride, but there was no hiding the fact he was not competitive with the likes of Froome and needs to have made significant improvements in the weeks since if he is to challenge for a place on the Tour podium.
VINCENZO NIBALI (ASTANA)
Best Tour result: 1st (2014).
Last year's result: 4th.
Sky Bet odds: 25/1.
Giro d'Italia winner Nibali will start the Tour with two goals: support Aru and prepare himself for the Olympic Games road race. However, with Aru out of sorts at the Dauphine and Nibali finding form at the end of the Giro, there is a chance he could start the race the stronger of the two and move into a co-leadership role.
GERAINT THOMAS (TEAM SKY)
Best Tour result: 15th (2015).
Last year's result: 15th.
Sky Bet odds: 40/1.
Thomas had been planning to ride the Tour with the dual goal of trying to finish as high up the general classification as possible while also supporting team leader Froome. However, he admitted during Thursday's pre-Tour press conference that his poor performance at June's Tour de Suisse (he finished 12min 31sec down in 17th) had prompted him to shelve his own ambitions and focus solely on helping Froome. Thomas' aims may have changed, but he is still a high-pedigree stage racer who won both the Volta ao Algarve and Paris-Nice this year and had been fourth overall at the 2015 Tour with three stages to go. A place in the top 10 this year still might not be out of the question.
ROMAIN BARDET (AG2R-LA MONDIALE)
Best Tour result: 6th (2014).
Last year's result: 9th.
Sky Bet odds: 40/1.
Bardet is a rising star of grand tour racing and goes into the Tour on the back of a strong but not spectacular season. He impressed by finishing second at the Tour of Oman and sixth at the Volta a Catalunya, but then disappointed by placing only 27th at the Tour de Romandie. However, he was back on form when finishing second overall at the Dauphine and appears to be peaking nicely for the Tour. He is unlikely to be challenging for victory, but a podium finish is not out of the realm of possibility.
ALEJANDRO VALVERDE (MOVISTAR)
Best Tour result: 3rd (2015).
Last year's result: 3rd.
Sky Bet odds: 50/1.
Valverde has a similar role to Nibali and Thomas: support his team leader, Quintana, while also keeping himself in the general classification picture. He performed a similar task last year and finished third, but that could be tough to repeat given he starts the Tour having already ridden a highly competitive Giro.
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