This year’s Tour preview can be summed up in four words that are surely trending as a Google query—“Chris Froome overwhelming favorite”. The 2013 and 2015 Tour Champion is coming off a win at the Dauphiné and is looking like a wobbly-elbowed juggernaut backed by a team of Rahpa-clad robots hellbent on delivering victory via a panache-smothering, soul crushing stomp through France. Ladies and gentlemen, the 2016 Tour de France, brought to you by Skynet.
But there is hope, because professional cycling is mayhem masquerading as a MS150 ride. Crashes, illnesses, bad fish at the buffet, all of these things can derail even the most prepared cycling teams (be on the lookout for Froome’s special Rapha “Bubble Wrap” kit during the hectic first week of this year’s Tour); so if you are a fan of a rider that’s not Chris Froome, don’t despair, your rider may still have a chance thanks to gravity, viruses or poor food handling.
The 2016 Tour GC contenders
That being said, I will repeat that Chris Froome is the overwhelming favorite to win the 2016 Tour de France. This is an irrefutable fact, and anyone who argues otherwise is in big trouble because they’re probably in a house with a gas leak that prevents them from thinking clearly—GET OUT NOW! Froome has the best team, Sky has algorithms that correct the algorithms they employ for race preparation and Froome would probably be going for his fourth straight Tour win had it not been for a cracked wrist. Barring any unforeseen calamities, Froome is winning. He can handle most attacks in the mountains, he can time trial and his team will serve as a road going “man-hammock” that will keep him out of danger and in position.
But there is a chance that things could go wrong for Sky at the Tour, and the rider most likely to cause the 404 error that brings down the Skybots is the Colombian Nairo Quintana. At last year’s Tour, Quintana lost 1:28 when he got caught out in the stage 2 Dutch crosswinds. He took a swipe at eliminating this time gap on Alpe d’Huez, but ended up losing the Tour to Froome by 1:12. I’ll do some quick math for you and you can see that, if he hadn’t lost that time on stage two, he would’ve been 16 seconds ahead of Froome. Of course, those are imaginary seconds, the race would’ve been raced in a completely different manner had Quintana and Froome been neck and neck going into the stage to Alpe d’Huez—the race probably would’ve been, you know, interesting.
Quintana is coming off a dominating win at the Route du Sud, where he managed to dominate his teammate and Nicolas Edet (I will wait here while you look up Nicolas Edet), so he did win a race, I’m just not sure what that win means. Does it mean he’s ready to take on Skynet? I have no idea, but I do know that if he pulls off the Tour win over Froome, the paragraph I wrote above about the Tour being a boring computer simulation will be a lie—and I will delight in calling it a lie as Quintana prances his way uphill to victory with absolutely no expression on his face whatsoever (you’ve seen him ride, right?)
I should now mention Alberto Contador as a contender. Alberto is competing in the Tour de France and could technically win it. There, I mentioned it. Berto won the Tour of the Basque Country, but that was in April, and Tour prep is all about the month of June, where Alberto was fifth in the Dauphiné—the race where no one wants to look too strong or get too tired. Alberto can still be counted on to launch an audacious attack in the hills, but now those attacks have a tendency to hit the wall and slide down to the floor like a bowl of toddler’s oatmeal. Contador is getting older, but he isn’t really adjusting the tactics from his youth. Which is bad if you’re a professional bike racer—well, it’s bad if you’re a professional anything. Alberto is like a doctor who insists on prescribing blood letting for a case of the vapors, he might need to adjust his techniques.
Which brings us to Astana, who are bringing a set of knives to the gunfight that is the 2016 Tour. Both Aru and Nibali have won Grand Tours, but these grand tour wins are best described with asterisks and air quotes and small caps. Nibali is a Tour de France champion, you can look it up, but you would also need to look up the fact that everyone that would have beat him in that race fell down or didn’t show up. Both Froome and Contador had to abandon, and Quintana was not there. Nibali also won the Giro this year, and he should really buy his teammate Snowbank a gold watch for helping to take Kruijswijk out of the running. Nibali would have a good shot at winning the Tour this year if it were all downhill and included jumps over snake pits, but there’s no profile that includes any half pipes, so he’s probably going to doing a dance with 8th place.
Fabio Aru is like a younger, more rubber-faced version of Nibali. He did win the 2015 Vuelta over Quintana and his raging fever (not a metaphor, he actually had a fever), but when faced with stiffer, non-feverish competition, he starts a flirtation with fifth place in the GC.
Another team that is doubling up on contenders is BMC. They’re bringing Richie Porte and Tejay van Garderen for a full assault on fifth place (this race for fifth place on the GC is REALLY heating up). Porte has a tendency to not come around Froome (like, ever) and Tejay always seems to have that One Bad Day™, so be on the look out for these two to be the first riders dropped from the pack of contenders when the race hits a crucial climb.
Which brings us to Dan Martin, who may be racing for the GC? Dan, dude, you’re a contender in every hilly classic—why is this so hard for you to be at peace with? You don’t need to try and win the Tour. Doing the math to realize what it will take for you to win the Tour is really daunting, and I use my phone’s calculator to add 12 and 36, so there’s no way I’m getting into that.
And lastly for the GC, is Roman Bardet, who was second at the Dauphiné. He’s young, he’s French and he’s not afraid to attack, so he’ll be on French TV for every moment of this year’s Tour. It will be nice for him to re-watch all that footage of him on his way to fourth on the GC.
There is no prologue at this year’s Tour, thank f-in Xena. What we have instead is one of the biggest threats to GC contenders—a flat first stage where the winner takes the yellow. The last 20k of this stage will be bananas. Bouhanni will be punching his way to the front like he’s in a French Hotel hallway. Seriously, it’s going to be nuts. They should just pad the entire route. (Note, this was written before Bouhanni actually punched his way out of the Tour)
After stage one, the sprintiness goes away and stage 2 finishes on a cat three climb that should just be called Mount Sagan, in fact there’s lot of opportunities for Sagz to win and take yellow in the first week, but he could get surprised by Alaphilippe, Matthews, Boasson Hagen or even Degenkolb.
The sprints will be contested by a murder’s row of sprinters: Matthews, Kristoff, Kittel, Coquard, Degenkolb, Greipel, Cavendish and Bouhanni (who may actually try to murder someone to win), and none of them are showing overwhelming form over the others. Greipel always takes at least a stage (he’s won a stage at every Tour since 2011), it’s just what he does (last year especially with 4 wins). Kittel is coming around—he won two Giro stages, so he’ll been contention. Matthews is good on hilly-ish stuff, but so is Degenkolb. Coquard has a chance at sneaking away a stage. Kristoff is not having the year he’s had in year’s past, but he’s always a threat. Cavendish is slowing down enough that he may actually have to start being nice to journalists. And Bouhanni’s head and shoulders will pounded to a paste as he desperately bounces his way to every sprint finish. (Way to knock yourself out of the Tour, Nacer). Naturally, I will be watching the opening stages like a cat in a laser pointer store.
As far as the rest of the Tour goes, some guy will get in a break, win some points and decide that he’ll try for the mountains jersey. Joaquin Rodriguez will lose enough time to be allowed a shot at a stage win. Adam Hansen will be everyone’s favorite rider at the Tour. Voeckler and Chavanel will battle one another to be the most French rider at the Tour, and Great Geschke’s Beard, it will all be glorious, because even if the race is boring, there’s never a dull moment.