Alright, it is time to slide right off the fence now and begin some hard and bold predictions. Below are my picks for the top five on GC as well as the respective jersey winners.
Disclaimer: Do not bet on this, not if you value your money. Take it with a shaker full of salt.
TOP 5 IN PARIS (assuming they all make it to Paris, which of course some won’t, but I don’t have it in me to select who might crash out or fall ill!):
1. Chris Froome. Froome often arrives at Tours in great form, gains his time early and then survives to the end. This year though he’s been short on high form but might instead arrive fresh, looking to ride into form. Stage five aside, this Tour seems to suit that approach and might explain why Froome hasn’t looked his usual self. Froome has three Tour wins to his name and that will matter. Last year showed he can be unpredictable by attacking in cross-winds and descents. And if things don’t go as planned, he has an ability to stay calm, regroup, measure his efforts and find a way to get back into a stage or the race. There is nobody more prepared than Chris Froome. He’ll know what he has to do to win and when it comes down to it, he will do enough.
2. Nairo Quintana. More than ever Quintana will be a challenge for Froome. Yes the Colombian rode the Giro, but I’m not sure he did at “full gas”, as riders like to say so often these days. The problem for Nairo is the lack of hard summit finishes. He needs to limit his loses in the prologue and then do something on stage five. He’ll also need to use his team to try and ambush Froome on one of the rolling stages much like they done at last years Vuelta. Someone like Alejandro Valverde will be crucial for this, though how big are his own ambitions? The final time-trial will count against him too, even with the little climb in the middle, but only with regards to Froome. When it boils down to it, Quintana will still be the second best man in this race.
3. Romain Bardet. Results of 15th, 6th, 9th and 2nd would suggest that Bardet’s career is trending upward. At 26 now he is coming into his best years and is no longer a prospect for the future. I still think Froome and Quintana remain a level above, though I would love to wrong about that. It has been so long since a French win at the Tour that everyone would now love to see it happen. Thibaut Pinot is another who could break the drought but he rode hard at the Giro and won’t have the legs of his compatriot. Bardet is an opportunist who rides on instinct. That should help him steal time somewhere, including a stage win and be enough to vault him back onto the podium, albit a step down on last year. Fitting though given he took a slight step back the year after he finished 6th. What he will hope though is that this will force him on to win it in 2018.
4. Alberto Contador. The old dog ain’t what he used to be. In recent years Contador has turned to alternative tactics to try and win Grand Tours. Ambushing his rivals with attacks when they least expect it, often a long way from the finish. This route looks tailor made for that kind of racing and so Contador at the very least will ignite the race. The likes of Sky and Movistar look too strong to let him get away with it though. He’ll also be hoping and watching for cross-winds in the early stage with which to grab time to try and maintain in the mountains. He’s still very much capable but it is worth remembering his last Grand Tour win was the 2015 Giro. It has been eight years (seven if you asked him) since he last won the Tour.
5. Richie Porte. The Australian has had a very sold season thus far, but we’re only able to measure him by his results in one week races. The three week Grand Tours are a different animals and throughout his career he has always come up quite short. Sometimes through bad luck, at other times through a bad day, but often because he was riding for Froome. Free at last in 2016 he lost time early due to a mechanical and could never get back on terms. He rode well and finished fifth and I expect much the same this year. I’m not sure whether it will be a mechanical or legs, but one stage at least will catch him out.
Rest of the top 10: Fabio Aru, Jakob Fuglsang, Bauke Mollema, Simon Yates, Alejandro Valverde.
GREEN JERSEY: Peter Sagan. This doesn’t need any explanation. There are about 11 stages that suit him to win this year, though it is more likely he comes in around 3-4 stage wins. That won’t matter though, it’s his ability to pick up points at various points on rolling or mountain stages that will make the difference. The other sprinters cannot do this. The only other rider who might push him close is Michael Matthews. The Australian is a similar style of rider to Sagan, but in my view still a level below.
MOUNTAIN JERSEY: Rafal Majka. He has won it twice in the last three years. A team-mate of Peter Sagan, his Bora team will no doubt let him loose to chase stages and grab climbing points. It would be a fine Tour for them should both Majka and Sagan bring home the green and polka-dot jerseys. His biggest threat might come from a pair of Frenchmen in Thibaut Pinot and Pierre Rolland. Neither have designs or desires on the GC and both will be looking for stage wins. If that leads them to being in the mix for the mountains classification, both may give it a run. I always felt someone like Rolland could go the Richard Virenque route when it came to targeting this jersey, much as Sagan does the green. He’s never won up to now though, but now seems like a good time to start. Still, as a previous winner, I expect Majka to want it that little bit more from the beginning.
WHITE JERSEY: Simon Yates. His biggest challenger here will be Louis Meintjes. The young South African cracked the top 10 last year and will be desperate to do so again. He didn’t win white though, instead losing it to Adam Yates. This time it will be the other Yates twin who gets in his way. A top ten finish on GC might be enough to secure this jersey this time out. Last year Adam Yates finished 4th overall, and while Simon would love to match this, he may have to settle for taking the polka-dot jersey.
TEAM CLASSIFICATION: Movistar. Top to bottom Team Sky are stronger that Movistar. The difference is that with so much emphasis on helping Froome, others will sacrifice any GC ambitions and thus hurt their standing here. You could say the same about Movistar riders aiding Quintana, but Valverde is still a sure bet for a top ten finish.
SUPER-COMBAVITITY AWARD: Thomas De Gendt. This one is a bit of a shot in the dark. It will all come down to who feels good to get in a lot of breaks and show aggression. There’s one of about 150 this could be. Peter Sagan won it last year and will be a huge favourite again this time. He’ll get in plenty of breaks, he should win a hanful of stages and he’ll ignite the race. But then there is De Gendt. He often spends more time in breaks than anyone else, many felt he deserved to win it last year. Disappointed that he didn’t, he will be out to make amends in this Tour, I reckon.