• Chris Froome of Team Sky leads the peloton in front of the Arc de Triomphe during Stage 21 of the 2015 Tour de France (Getty) (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Only one man can stand atop the podium with the yellow jersey in Paris. Who will it be this year? Cycling Central weighs the pros and cons of each contender and their chances of winning the biggest race in cycling.
By
Jamie Finch-Penninger

29 Jun 2016 - 9:53 AM  UPDATED 29 Jun 2016 - 9:57 AM

Chris Froome

In his last four Tour de France appearances he has been second, first, did not finish, first. Given his second was behind then-teammate Bradley Wiggins, it illustrates just how much of a stranglehold the Sky star has over the biggest race of the year.

It was surprising then that the defending Tour de France champion hadn't put the runs on the board this season leading into the Criterium du Dauphine. His one stage race victory was at the Herald Sun Tour, with illness and the resulting poor form limiting his performances in the early season European tours.

Froome went out with a point to prove at the Dauphine and he certainly showed why he should be regarded as the man to beat for yellow. His climbing was better than all the other major contenders at the race and his team took up the task when required to counter any dangerous moves. The Tour squad contains five other climbers who would be leaders in their own right on other squads, with Geraint Thomas, Mikel Landa, Sergio Henao, Mikel Nieve and Wout Poels all working as super domestiques for Froome.

The course is missing a nice long time trial, where he would be assured of taking time on his rivals, and with only four mountain-top finishes, there will be plenty of white knuckle descending to the finish line. He is an experienced campaigner however and is hard to go past as the favourite here.

Why he'll win:

Experience - he's won twice before

Is coming off strong form at the Dauphine 

He has the Sky train

Is arguably the best climber

Why he won't:

Reliability (he has crashed out of two of his last four Grand Tours)

Course not perfectly suited

Tendency to ride a bit conservatively, could be caught off-guard by surprise attacks

Nairo Quintana

The Colombian superstar has been threatening for years to take his maiden Tour de France victory. Chris Froome has been the only man to stand between Quintana and two Tour de France wins and with two second places under his belt, it's only a short step up the podium.

Last year, it was time lost in the crosswinds along the Netherlands coastline that cost the Movistar rider in the end and whilst Froome was better some days and Quintana others, the pair look very closely matched in the mountains. As a 26 year-old, he will likely have made further physical gains and he may be the strongest rider at this year's Tour.

His racing has been almost faultless this season, winning every stage race he has lined up in apart from San Luis (almost preseason training for him) and Pais Vasco (course suited punchier riders). Wins in Romandie and Catalunya against many of the contenders that he'll face again here will rightly give him a lot of confidence that he can repeat the dose in July.

The course is a bit of a mixed bag for Quintana, but he'll definitely be eyeing up the high altitude stage in Andorra and the mountain time trial as days where he can win the Tour. His team is then strong enough to defend, with heavy duty climbing support and the experience of the mercurial Alejandro Valverde at Quintana's disposal. 

Why he'll win:

Has been in superb form all season

Natural physical improvement with age

Is arguably the best climber

Strong team support

Why he won't:

Positioning (he and Movistar have got caught behind crashes and splits in the past)

He's a slow starter (the early part of Grand Tours see Quintana often minutes behind)

Alberto Contador

The ageing campaigner isn't quite at the stage where he needs to turn back the clock to win the Tour de France, he's still very competitive and feared by his opponents. Part of that fear comes from his attacking style and unpredicatability, as the Spainard is most at home when he is launching long range attacks and striking out for glory.

From his 14 starts in Grand Tours, 'Bertie' has either nine or seven victories, depending on how you count them with regards to his doping suspension. That impressive strikerate is backed up by his amazing consistency and luck, as he has only failed to finish on one of those occasions, even then he tried to cycle on with a broken leg.

His form this season has been very strong, with second places only four and seven seconds behind the winners respectively in Catalunya and Paris-Nice. He then broke through for the win at Pais Vasco, defeating Nairo Quintana in the process and getting some revenge after finishing behind the Colombian in Catalunya. His Dauphine wasn't bad and his past entry in the Tour de France have shown that he doesn't need to be at top form there.

The course suits Contador better than it has for a number of years, with plenty of stages set up for his style of attacking riding. His team isn't up to the level of Sky, Movistar or BMC and that could well prove a hurdle if Contador has to defend the jersey against multiple threats.

Getting on a bit at 33, but he's one of those riders who you can't ever count out because he can and will surprise and certainly won't ever give up on trying to go for the win.

Why he'll win:

Experience

Attacking flair

Never say die attitude

Is arguably the best climber

Why he won't:

Is over-the-hill these days

Team support is a bit questionable

His attacking style has been well-countered by the Sky train in the past

Richie Porte

The Australian climber has been an important part of three Tour de France wins and now he gets a chance to take the yellow jersey himself. The star acquisition of the off-season for BMC, Porte will form a one-two punch with Tejay Van Garderen in the team's hunt for their second Tour triumph after Cadel Evans' win in 2011.

Porte has shown himself to indisputably be one of the best climbers in the world over the last few seasons and with increased reponsibility, he has acheived greater results. Winning races like Paris-Nice, Catalunya and the Giro Trentino in 2015 showed that Porte was in top form but he couldn't back that up at the Giro d'Italia, quitting after a series of mishaps.

The flaw with Porte's push for yellow is that he appears to have difficulties navigating a three week race without having a bad day or two. This has seriously limited his ability to challenge for the win and to date his best result in a Grand Tour remains his debut, where he was seventh after taking a lot of time in an early breakaway.

Grand Tour results aside, Porte clearly has the ability to go for the win at the Tour de France. Nobody will have a better knowledge of Chris Froome than the Tasmanian and Porte has shown that he has the climbing ability to beat the best in the world.

The trick is going to be converting that ability into a three-week performance and it will help that he will have the pressure taken off him slightly by the presence of Tejay van Garderen, who will share the co-leader title with Porte.

Why he'll win:

Has the Tejay van Garderen trump card

Matched it with Froome at the Dauphine on the queen stage

Is due a bit of luck

Is arguably the best climber

Why he won't:

Weak climbing team apart from Tejay van Garderen

Inconsistency

Has only finished in the top ten once and has never won a Grand Tour stage

Fabio Aru

The classy young Italian has quickly risen up the ranks to become a contender for any race he sets his sights on. He had a superb 2015, with second behind Contador at the Vuelta before then going over to the Vuelta to win the whole thing after an exciting tussle with Tom Dumoulin saw him take the lead on the final mountain stage.

In the process he beat Nairo Quintana and outlasted Chris Froome, so his pedigree as a top-tier general classification rider can't be denied. He was coming into the race a lot fresher than many of his opponents, who had raced the Tour de France prior, so it will be interesting to see how he copes with them on peak form.

His personal form has been poor this season, but for Aru this isn't as disastrous as it would be for others. He rarely displays much condition before he peaks for the big races and in the past he has rebounded from mediocre efforts in smaller races to win the big ones. So no panic stations at Astana, but maybe a bit of concern for the Kazakh team.

The course looks well suited for Aru, he'll certainly be happy with the reduction in flat time trial kilometres where he would have certainly given away time to his major rivals, this time his losses should be under a minute, which he can make up in the mountains if good enough.

Aru will have the luxury of being able to call on four-time Grand Tour winner Vincenzo Nibali for support as the race tilts upwards. The former Tour de France champion may not be at his best as he looks to prepare for the Olympics road race, but his experience will be invaluable and he should be riding into strong form by the final week.

Why he will win:

Proven winner in this competition

Course suits him

Vincenzo Nibali the super-domestique

Is only 25 and may have improved significantly from last season

Arguably the best climber  

Why he won't win:

Poor form

Relatively inexperienced

Will be giving up a lead in the time trial