The 104th Tour de France begins with a 14-kilometre time-trial in Dusseldorf on Saturday. The route winds its way through Belgium and Luxembourg, finishing at the Champs-Élysées in Paris, on 23 July. The race is made up of 21 stages, covering 3,540 kilometres (2,220 miles) and features five mountain stages; four fewer than last year.
The changes have arguably been introduced to bring an end to Team Sky’s recent dominance, though, that’s far from certain to happen given that several teams were more concerned with the Giro d’Italia this year. No rider has completed the Giro/Tour double since Marco Pantani (1998), and it’s unlikely that Dutchman Tom Dumoulin, representing Team Sunweb, will follow up his victory in Italy.
Bidding to win his fourth Tour in the past five years, Froome recently described himself as “fresher than I’ve ever been”. Everything has been geared towards this event, but the Kenyan-born British rider has failed to win a race this year. This will be his toughest Tour challenge to date.
Froome understandably heads the betting (6/5) but, unlike last year, he has a similarly short-priced rival in the shape of Richie Porte. The 32-year-old Australian played a key supporting role in the victory of Sir Bradley Wiggins, when with Team Sky in 2012, as he did with Froome in 2013 and in 2015.
Porte did well to finish fifth in last year’s Tour after some early misfortune; notably a collision with a motorbike. His 2016 season was curtailed early after crashing in the Olympic road race in Rio, but he has returned better than ever this year, winning the Tour Down Under in January and the Tour de Romandie in April. He also looked set to land his prep event – the Criterium du Dauphine – but a thrilling final day saw Dane Jakob Fulgsang overturn a deficit of more than one minute to pip the Australian by just ten seconds.
The Colombian rider has twice finished runner-up to Froome in the Tour de France (2013 and 2015), and was third last year. This specialist climber was second to Dumoulin in the Giro d’Italia, only losing out in the final time-trial. He has not raced since that event ended in late May. However, it will be difficult for Quintana to peak again in this Tour, even though he arrives here relatively fresh.
Alberto Contador has won all three ‘Grand Tours’ (France, Italy, and Spain), including this race in 2007 and in 2009. The 34-year-old Spaniard is reportedly feeling optimistic and missed this year’s Giro – a race he won in 2015 – to stay fresh for France. Crashes put paid to his 2016 hopes and this could be his final chance to record a third Tour success.
Romain Bardet, runner-up to Froome last year, has been slow to find his form during the current season, but his sixth place in the Dauphine was a step in the right direction. However, whether he can handle the pressure of French hopes remains to be seen. If he does, he will be the first local winner since Bernard Hinault in 1985.
Winner: Richie Porte (2/1)