The Tour de France is now fast approaching and with Dauphine complete, we had the chance to see many of our favourites and general classification contenders do battle and show their form leading into the Tour. The Dauphine this year was unpredictable, which was fantastic from the couch as I demolished copious amounts of sugar-laden items.
As history has often shown, the winner of Dauphine goes on to win the Tour. This year I am not 100% sure of that. I’m not saying that Jakob Fuglsang is not in good form and isn’t going to win: he clearly stands as good a chance as any. But the lead up has shown that the Tour is pretty wide open this year, with some exciting racing ahead.
The Tour route itself is not a traditional route in terms of summit finishes and the Queen type stages in the mountains. This will have a direct effect on the overall general classification. I will do an article on the route and stages, but for now here is my analysis on the general classification contenders and how they have stacked up.
Richie Porte (Team BMC Racing)
People often forget that if you take away the mechanical issues at last year's Tour, Porte would have been in the top three and fighting for the overall title. He was the only one able to respond to Froome.
This year, we are definitely seeing a more mature and confident Porte. He has always had the attributes to be a title contender but struggled to deliver when he had sole responsibility after the second week at a Grand Tour. He has spent some time with a sports psychologist to fix that area of weakness. The way he has romped through 2017 thus far shows that something is working. His Dauphine time trial was pretty much, I believe, the time trial of his life, so he will carry a lot of confidence into the Tour on that alone. The question is: Will he be carrying doubt in his mind after losing the general classification on the last day of Dauphine?
Everyone has bad days during a Tour but if Porte can limit such days he can definitively win. He is an incredibly explosive rider and this year’s route suits that well.
Chris Froome (Team Sky)
2017 to date has not shown the Froome we have known since 2012. Couple that with being tactically outmaneuvered and almost missing the time cut on stage 6 of the Volta a Catalunya: It makes one wonder what is up?
That said, you do not win three Tours by chance and he knows exactly what it takes to win a Tour and so does Team Sky.
He was with a fairly average team at Dauphine, but he did show flashes of his brilliance at times during the race. What I did like about him, and maybe because he was with a weaker team, is that he raced in terms of attacking and not simply relying on a team to destroy the race by riding a really hard tempo. To me, that was a different Froome to years past, a Froome that I liked as a racer. Did he race like this because the route is not a typical Tour route and has stages suited to a stronger punchier type of rider? Who knows. One thing you can know for sure is that you can never count out Froome or Team Sky when it comes to the Tour.
Nairo Quintana (Movistar)
To me, Nairo is a complete unknown. His goal was the Giro-Tour double which I do not believe is achievable in today’s racing. The Tours are too close together, not allowing for adequate recovery time. Even without that element, Nairo really did not impress me at the Giro other than his stage win on Blockhaus. Nairo’s secret and deadly weapon is his long-range attacks in the big mountains, over the last two years they have definitely become less damaging and effective, this year they were a shadow of the previous years, and it was not for a lack of trying.
He would jump and make a gap, but then not be able to sustain the effort, which to me was surprising in itself. His time trial ability also lacked from previous years. However, I do have a lot of faith in Nairo and he will come out swinging at the Tour. Maybe he went in a little underdone so as not to not carry too much fatigue into the Tour, and came out of the Giro in good shape. With Movistar being such a powerful team overall, he will not be without incredible support come Tour time.
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar)
When I first went over the route in detail, a siren went off inside me saying that this is a year that Valverde can win the Tour. On paper, this route is tailored to him, but unfortunately, they do not race on paper, so that throws that out the window somewhat.
I also do not believe the Dauphine was a true reflection of his current form. He had not raced since the classics ended and it is well known with Valverde that the more he races the better he goes. One major asset to his racing arsenal is his tactical ability. You won't find someone in the current pro peloton who can read a race like him: he is a master tactician who can climb and sprint very well. With there being only four key mountain stages and a 23 km individual time trial this year, I do not see Valverde having a problem at all. With many stages ending in a sprint type finish, he will always hold the upper hand amongst the general classification contenders.
Where I do see a problem though is with who will be the leader at Movistar with Nairo also focusing on the yellow jersey? Valverde knows this is pretty much his last year to try and win the Tour, or a general classification for that matter.
Jakob Fuglsang (Astana)
Fuglsang's pedigree runs deep on a bike, he has always been quality, but has also had some bad times with teams, injuries, and so forth.
I had tweeted in November 2016, when it was mentioned that he will be a general classification rider for the Tour, that if he can get his 2010/11 form back, then he can be a real threat for the title in July. Fast-forward to today and he showed that he has reclaimed this form by winning the Dauphine.
What did impress me, over and above his form, is his tactical quality. The last day of racing was proof and a lesson to all other teams on how to win a race tactically. Astana have had a tough season to date so this win will definitely lift morale and carry confidence forward, but my concern is similar to Movistar, in terms of Astana saying Aru and Fuglsang have joint leadership.
To me, Aru missed his chance by not doing the Giro, Fuglsang proved his worth at the Dauphine.
Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale)
Bardet’s progression over the years and specifically since 2013 has been really impressive along with his maturity on and off the bike with second places on the general classification (’14 & ’16), he is bound for a win soon. Something I like about Bardet is that he is an exciting rider who is not afraid to attack and go for it from far out, and often this works in his favour.
His time trial ability, however, leaves much to be desired. This years Dauphine unfortunately showed his weakness, and the Tour's time trial is a similar profile and length.
All is not lost for Bardet I believe, if he could podium when the time trial profiles have been worse in previous Tours, he will definitely be better off this year.
As a rider alone he can win, but how good his team will be at supporting him during crucial points in the race is yet to be seen.
Alberto Contador (Team Trek Segafredo)
I’ve kept this till last purely because of the “schoolgirl crush on Justin Bieber” vibe I have regarding Contador, as some of you may know.
In 2017, he has shown good form leading to Dauphine with a bunch of second places at important week long tours beating many current general classification hopefuls.
Can he win this year's Tour? Based on Dauphine: no. However, he was better, or showed better, form in the early season. He did also say he was not prepared to go deep into the red at Dauphine – which he clearly never did.
Where I do see him as a genuine podium threat is that he always goes better as each week of the Tour progresses. He seems to respond very well to load during a Tour, where others have the opposite effect. This can be crucial in the last week. His team this year is night and day better than anything he has gone to the Tour with since about 2011.
Let's be honest, the previous teams other than say Rodgers and Hernandez sucked as a unit and Trek Segafredo this year is insane with Pantano, Mollema, and Felline for example. Lastly, he is an all or nothing rider. He attacks at will and is unpredictable which sometimes you need to have to win.