Yellow jersey contenders in 2014
Who’s going to win this year’s Tour de France? Probably one of these guys and most likely one of the first two. But plenty can happen over the course of a Grand Tour. Just think what you were doing three weeks ago. Okay, it was probably much the same, but you almost certainly aren’t operating at your limits quite like these guys are. If you were, imagine what might have happened.
It doesn’t matter what type of cyclist you prefer. Whether you prefer the kind that spends their whole time staring at their stem or the kind that looks like a preying mantis pushing a shopping trolley, Chris Froome offers something for everyone. He won the Tour de France last year, you know. This year he’s looked a little less all-conquering – not least because his team has been a bit wobbly. Froome’s a bit more unpredictable than Bradley Wiggins in good ways and bad. He likes to attack, which is entertaining, but he can also do himself in trying to outdo whoever he thinks might be his biggest rival. At times like this, steadier, more sensible riders can benefit.
If you watched last year’s Tour, you didn’t really see Alberto Contador at his best. This year, you more than likely will. You may recall him as the rider who makes all kinds of desperate attacks before fading at the end of the stage. When he’s on form, he’s exactly the same as that, except for the last bit. Contador brings a strong team, albeit slightly weakened now because Roman Kreuziger’s been omitted while they investigate whether or not he’s been munching the naughty sweets.
To put it bluntly, Nibali’s been crap this year. However, he did win the Italian national road race last week, so maybe it’s all coming together at the right time. Nibali’s won two Grand Tours – a Giro d’Italia and a Vuelta a Espana – but he didn’t have to beat riders of the calibre of those above to do so. That said, only once in his last seven Grand Tours has he finished off the podium and even then he was seventh.
“Purito” was targeting the Giro this year, but crashed out in the first week. He says he’s only riding the Tour to build fitness for the Vuelta and that he’s therefore only really looking for stage wins, not a good overall placing. But is he bullshitting you? I think he’s bullshitting you. I certainly hope he’s bullshitting you, because he’s one of my favourite riders with an ability to sprint uphill which actually makes me feel rather queasy.
Alejandro Valverde’s always worth beating. Everyone remembers him having to play second fiddle to his team-mate, Nairo Quintana, last year, but if he hadn’t lost 10 minutes on the Echelons! stage then he’d have been battling for a podium position or better. A lot of people seem to be ruling him out, simply because he never really wins the big stuff – but he’s always close.
The world champion has a rather mediocre Grand Tour record. In fact, he’s never even ridden the Giro or the Vuelta. His best finish in the Tour is 18th in 2012. Yet surely he can’t spend the rest of his career winning the Tour de Suisse and coming third in the Tour of Romandie, both of which he’s done in each of the last three years. In mitigation, last year he was riding in the same team as both Alejandro Valverde and Nairo Quintana and so didn’t really have much support, but even then he still managed to win two stages.
You’d imagine that Horner will be supporting team-mate Rui Costa, but the 42-year-old does warrant a mention. After all, he has won a Grand Tour within the last 12 months. His preparation hasn’t been the best, involving a punctured lung and broken ribs after being knocked off his bike by a car, but then again he won the Vuelta after being injured for most of the year, so you never know.
Richie Porte is Sky’s main support rider for Froome and will step in should the gangle-tastic Kenyan-South-African-Brit come a cropper. The team are talking up Porte’s form, saying it’s the best it’s ever been, but performance-wise he’s been all over the place this year.
Thibaut Pinot and Pierre Rolland provide the French challenge. Pinot was seventh in last year’s Vuelta and 10th in the Tour in 2012. Rolland might still feel the effects of coming fourth in this year’s Giro and even if he doesn’t, he’ll probably just attack at the worst possible moment and exhaust himself, ruining his chances. He does this quite a lot.
Bauke Mollema and Laurens Ten Dam are two Dutch riders riding for the Belkin team. Both rode well last year before fading in the final week. Mollema came sixth and Ten Dam came 13th. Their niche is being ever-so-slightly off the pace on mountain stages, but Ten Dam is a favourite of this website for his tendency to look like this and for just generally being his own man. He likes camping and barbecues and says his main aim for this year’s race is to persuade his team-mates to grow beards.
Andrew Talansky and Tejay Van Garderen are the American contenders. Talansky’s recent Dauphiné win was a bit of a heist, but he rode well all week to be in a position to pull it off. He also came 10th in last year’s Tour and is a young, improving rider. The same description can be applied to Van Garderen, who came fifth in the 2012 Tour while riding in support of Cadel Evans (who came seventh).
Prizes are available for spotting Jurgen Van Den Broeck and Haimar Zubeldia during the race itself (disclaimer: prizes are not available). This pair will be in the top ten, but you won’t know how. Van Den Broeck never wins races but has twice finished fourth in the Tour de France without anyone really noticing. Zubeldia’s like an older version of him. He has four top ten finishes in the race, but no-one’s really heard of him. He’s 37 and has done nowt since 2012, so maybe I shouldn’t have included him. But you won’t notice him either way, so it doesn’t really matter.
The Shlecks are also riding the Tour de France.