The Tour de France has a way of delivering a little bit of everything and this year is no different. 21 stages across 3,351 kilometres featuring 15 sectors of Paris-Roubaix cobbles, blustery coastal roads, a team time trial, dirt roads, the 21 switchbacks of Alpe d’Huez, a grid start, the magnificent Pyrenees, the return of time bonuses and a thrilling finale in Paris awaits in this 105th edition.
It wouldn’t be the Tour without some soap opera. The ongoing controversy surrounding four-time winner and defending champion Chris Froome’s participation along with the future of the BMC team, and the leadership tussle within Movistar will deliver their fair share of headlines.
While this year’s grand bouclé is clouded by Froome’s salbutamol case, upon considering the racing alone the Kenyan-born Brit is chasing a record-equalling fifth Tour de France GC win. But at this stage (Monday 2 July), he will not be on the start line in Noirmoutier-en-l’Ile.
Less than a minute separated the protagonists for much of last year’s race, and Froome eventually took his fourth Tour de France win without a single stage victory. Can we expect another close battle in 2018? Absolutely.
A reduction in the number of riders per team, coupled with the addition of ‘bonus points’ (actually time bonuses) in the final 20km or so of eight of the first nine stages promises a tight GC competition from start to finish.
The riders to watch
Chris Froome (Team Sky)
Best grand tour result(s): 4 x TdF, 1 x Giro, 1 x Vuelta
Attempting the Giro-Tour double, and a fourth successive grand tour, Froome opted for training miles instead of additional racing following his victory in Milan at the end of May. His comeback to win the Giro from nearly five minutes down was a pure show of strength but what does it leave in the tank? An in-form Geraint Thomas is also angling to wear the yellow jersey, but his ambition isn’t as threatening to Froome as Mikel Landa’s a year ago. Again Sky’s support of Froome is top notch. It’s unthinkable he won’t be on the podium.
Richie Porte (BMC)
Best grand tour result: 5th GC Tour de France 2016
Again, Porte looms as the critical threat to Froome’s reign. BMC has assembled an impressive line-up of teammates for the Australian hope, demonstrating strength across the board for the three weeks of racing. Recent form suggests illness suffered earlier this year won’t hinder Porte who looked in great shape at the Tour de Suisse. A frustrating fifth in 2016 and a DNF following a horrific crash on stage 9 last year, Porte is due for the cards to fall in his favour at this great race.
Nairo Quintana (Movistar)
Best grand tour result: 1 x Giro, 1 x Vuelta
The pick of the Spanish team’s three-pronged assault on the race, Quintana should feature on the podium in Paris. The Colombian will be wary of the varied conditions on the coast throughout the first week, given his disastrous start to his 2015 Tour. To win, he’ll need to completely shell Team Sky on the key climbs and perhaps with three leaders, Movistar’s odds improve.
Mikel Landa (Movistar)
Best grand tour result: 3rd GC Giro d’Italia 2015, 4th TdF 2017
Hamstrung in support of Froome at Sky, Landa’s decision to go to Movistar where he finds himself one of three leaders looks reasonably questionable. There’s no doubt he’s happier at Movistar whereas at times he looked bored riding for Froome. Unlike the last two years, Landa hasn’t just raced the Giro and is expecting to have fresher legs in the third week. Given he finished only one second off the podium in 2017, many eyes will be on the Spaniard.
Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb)
Best grand tour result: 1 x Giro
The Dutchman decided to race just a month ago, and this is only the second time he’s attempted the Giro-Tour double since 2016. Froome got the better of Dumoulin at the 2018 Giro by just 46 seconds, leaving the Sunweb man in his wake on the legendary Colle delle Finestre and closing the book on the race. Despite his efforts, Dumoulin says he’s “feeling fresh”. Dumoulin’s time trialling ability should close the gap on Froome; the rest comes down to race tactics.
Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale)
Best grand tour result: 2nd GC Tour de France 2016, 3rd GC Tour de France 2017
Keeping the hopes of the French up, Bardet will be hoping time spent in the wind tunnel during the off-season pays off this month, while the team knows there’s still a way to go. Bardet spent May training at altitude on the Sierra Nevada before falling just short of a targeted victory at the Dauphiné. The Frenchman is not afraid to attack Froome, but so far has lacked the stamina to maintain a gap. Like Quintana, getting through the first week or so of the race without losing significant time will be Bardet’s most pressing concern.
Rigoberto Urán (EF Education First-Drapac)
Best grand tour result: 2nd GC Tour de France 2017; 2nd GC Giro d’Italia 2013, 2014
It’s rocks or diamonds when it comes to Urán’s grand tour performances but a 54-second deficit to Froome in Paris last year will be spurring on the Colombian and his self-appointed team of underdogs this time around. In fact, last year’s Tour was the third time Urán’s finished on the second step of a grand tour. A reliable time triallist, he should be able to limit his losses against the clock. The team won’t be able to give him the resources the likes of Sky or Movistar when the race hits the high mountains, but Urán will hang in there, giving very little away.
Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain Merida)
Best grand tour result: 2 x Giro, 1 x TdF, 1 x Vuelta
It’s been a relatively quiet season for the Italian, first at Milan – San Remo Nibali skipped the Giro in favour of a complete focus on the Tour with an ordinary showing at the Dauphiné his longest stretch of racing to date. The Shark of Messina is a big fan of the route that the ASO has constructed and has promised to treat fans to an entertaining three weeks. It’s a strong team for Nibali in the mountains, with Domenico Pozzovivo, Gorka and Ion Izagirre by his side together with trusted lieutenant, Franco Pellizotti.
Adam Yates (Mitchelton – Scott)
Best grand tour result: 4th GC Tour de France 2016
Runner-up at last month’s Dauphiné, the 2016 white jersey winner spearheads the Mitchelton–Scott team in his sixth grand tour appearance. The Australian outfit’s strength in the team time trial on stage 3 will give Yates a boost, but it won’t prove decisive to his chances. It’s the first time the team has given Yates an overt leadership role in a race of this calibre, and it will be interesting to see how he handles the pressure.
Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates)
Best grand tour result: 6th GC Tour de France 2017
No one can dispute the Irishman’s toughness having raced over half of last year’s Tour with two fractured vertebrae having crashed on the same descent as Richie Porte. Much has gone into Martin’s preparation for this year’s race behind the scenes, although his team is also carrying the hopes of Alexander Kristoff for the sprint stages. Fourth at the recent Dauphiné, Martin will be confident that with the assistance of Darwin Atapuma he will again be at the pointy end of the race.
Jakob Fuglsang (Astana)
Best grand tour result: 7th GC Tour de France 2013
One’s never quite sure what the Dane will do, and it’s fair to say Fuglsang has been a chronic underperformer in grand tours in recent years despite glimpses of promise. Runner-up to Richie Porte at the Tour de Suisse, it would appear he is in form although we said as much a year ago off the back of the Dauphiné. While he hasn’t finished in the top 10 of a grand tour since 2013, there is a feeling this will be Fuglsang’s year.
Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha – Alpecin)
Best grand tour result: 3rd Vuelta a Espana 2017
The Russian is on a roll when it comes to grand tours having finished fifth at last year’s Giro and followed that with third place at the Vuelta. The 2017 season was vital in his development, and a 10th place finish at the Dauphiné suggests Zakarin will be around the mark in just his second Tour de France appearance. Like Urán, Zakarin will need to limit his losses during the chrono.
Listen to Cycling Central's Zwift podcast preview of the GC contenders: