He may deny it but Team Sky's Chris Froome is the almost unbackable favourite heading into the Tour de France.
7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:37 PM

Barring injury or illness we now have a better idea of what the 100th Tour de France will look like come 29 June, and the race is Team Sky's to lose.

Froome's 2013 season has followed the same arc as Bradley Wiggins's in 2012, successfully completing all of his objectives before a likely metronomic victory in Paris.

Using its depth of talent, Sky suffocated the race and snuffed out any hope the pretenders had of winning. It did so with Froome, who finished second by Wiggins's side.

In July, Froome is likely to step up and win the Tour in exactly the same manner, with Australian Richie Porte possibly standing to his right on the The Avenue des Champs-Élysées.

Team Sky is talent rich, incredibly well organised and focused, so there is a sense of inevitability about the possible result in Paris, but as expected Froome dismissed suggestions he was the favourite after another dominant stage-race victory, this time at the Criterium du Dauphiné.

"No, I do not consider myself the 'favourite' for the Tour," he said. "I have won the Dauphiné, and other races before, but the counter is back to zero when the Tour starts. There will be six to seven main contenders for overall victory.

"The names? (Alberto) Contador, (Alejandro) Valverde, (Joaquim) Rodriguez, (Cadel) Evans, (Tejay) Van Garderen, (Nairo) Quintana, (Richie) Porte."

Missing of course from that list is the 2012 champion and team-mate Wiggins and Giro d'Italia winner Vincenzo Nibali, Froome's winning nemesis at the Tirreno-Adriatico.

Wiggins is out with an injury while Nibali is taking a long break in preparation for the Vuelta a Espana and world championships.

So what of the riders named by Froome?

The Sky machine successfully put Valverde, Contador and Rodriguez to the sword at the Dauphiné, the Spanish trio finishing seventh, 10th and 16th respectively.

History, and the more recent Dauphiné mountain contests, tell us that the punchy Rodriguez and Valverde are unlikely to trouble Sky over the long span of the Tour, leaving Contador as the rider to watch.

Contador, the 2012 Vuelta a Espana winner, looked like he was approaching serious form towards the end of the Dauphiné, so at this stage he's still the number one threat to Froome, but a shocking early time trial left a number of questions to be answered.

"I'm happy because the sensations are very good regardless of the result in the overall, that is secondary," Contador said after the completition of the Dauphiné. "I've been mostly focused on going stronger every day and I'm very happy with my present form and I think I'll be in top condition for the Tour de France."

We'll see about that.

Then there is the BMC duo of Evans and Van Garderen.

Evans is enjoying a well earned rest after his fighting third at the Giro d'Italia while Van Garderen, who won the Amgen Tour of California, is yet to make his mark at the Tour de Suisse.

While Contador remains the rider who will most trouble Froome, there is a pathway which could place either of the BMC riders on the podium, with Evans the likely candidate, providing the support and organisation is there.

There is no accounting for the kind of experience Evans has. Though long in the tooth compared to his rivals (if he finished first in Paris he would be the oldest man to win the Tour), his Giro ride proved that even on limited preparation he still has all the tools necessary to be competitive.

Van Garderen looks ready to make the big step up, but the presence of Evans is likely to stay his hand for another season.

The other rider mentioned is Quintana. Now I love a quality Colombian climber as much as the next guy but he remains a question. Still on climbing ability alone I think he has top-10 written all over him.

And what of Porte? Clearly he is a Grand Tour winner in waiting. Depending on how the race breaks on the road he could podium, maybe even win. However a three-week Tour is a different beast to the eight-day Dauphine.

Porte will be required to do a mountain of work for his team leader, so I'm ruling him out of a podium place based on fatigue alone, though I wouldn't be surprised at all if he finished second.

Unmentioned by Froome are a number of other riders who should also produce a strong general classification ride. Four that come to mind are Garmin-Sharp's Ryder Hesjedal, and Andrew Talansky, Robert Gesink of Blanco and RadioShack Leopard's Haimar Zubeldia.

At this stage, selections pending, and not taking into account the result to come from the Tour de Suisse, my current Tour top-10 general classification would look like this.

1 Chris Froome (Sky)
2 Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff)
3 Cadel Evans (BMC)
4 Richie Porte (Sky)
5 Tejay Van Garderen (BMC)
6 Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha)
7 Nairo Quintana (Movistar)
8 Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp)
9 Alejandro Valverde (Movistar)
10 Haimar Zubeldia (RadioShack Leopard)