The Tour de France is 80 days away but with all of the race favourites having opened their racing accounts for the season, Cyclingnews takes a look at the contenders and ranks them according to form and pedigree.
1. Chris Froome (Team Sky)
Overview: The defending champion hasn’t raced this deep into a season without picking up a win since 2012, but the three-time Tour winner will be unshaken by that stat given that he has only clocked up 13 race days in 2017. The inability to defend his Sun Tour title matters little, and the showing at Lo Port, where he matched Alberto Contador, and conceded just 13 seconds to a rampant Valverde, will leave him relatively content. The error on the road to Reus will sting, however, and provides further evidence that Team Sky are vulnerable. Despite Valverde’s flying form and Froome’s gentle built up to the Tour-Vuelta double, the British rider is still the man to beat.
Highlight: Holding Contador at Lo Port and dropping a number of Tour rivals in the process.
Lowlight: Almost missing the time cut on stage 6 of the Volta a Catalunya will have Brailsford in cold sweats. As if the Principal needed another problem to worry about.
Next race: Tour de Romandie
2. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar)
Overview: Despite his age Valverde is arguably the best pound-for-pound week-long stage racer in the peloton right now. How long this rich vein of form lasts is unknown, and while the likely scenario is that he will run out of steam before July is reached, his 2017 campaign is something to marvel. He has had no equal thus far and even docking him time in Catalunya couldn’t prevent the inevitable overall win.
Highlight: You choose: was it winning Ruta del Sol, Catalunya, Pais Vasco, or one of the six wins he picked up along the way?
Lowlight: He turns 37 later this month
Next race: Amstel Gold Race
3. Alberto Contador (Trek Segafredo)
Overview: It’s four second places in stage races this year for the 34-year-old with Valverde (three times) and Sergio Henao getting the better of Trek’s new leader. The intent from Contador has certainly been present but crashes, a couple of instances of poor positioning and a bout of illness have provided a fair share of knocks. On the plus side, Contador has the strongest team he’s had in years, with Pantano the standout performer. However the Dauphiné will be clearest indication of whether Contador can really match Froome.
Highlight: The Mont Brouilly time trial a Paris-Nice was decent enough but the most memorable Contador performance came three days later when he almost snatched the overall win from Sergio Henao with a classy ride into Nice.
Lowlight: Four second places on GC and still no win in Trek colours.
Next race: Criterium du Dauphine
4. Nairo Quintana (Movistar)
Overview: Winning the queen stage to Llucena at Valencia kicked off the campaign before a dominant ride on the Terminillo saw him control the opposition at Tirreno-Adriatico. The Giro remains the first target for the Colombian, meaning that his Tour condition is far more difficult to predict than most of the riders on this list. Would be higher than fourth if he wasn't racing the Giro.
Highlight: Triumph on the Terminillo, of course.
Lowlight: Nothing has stopped him so far but only time will tell as to how much is left in the tank after the Giro.
Next race: Vuelta a Asturias
5. Richie Porte (BMC Racing)
Overview: Wiping the floor with a peloton that had just woken from its winter slumber in Australia was one thing, but Porte’s Tour de France ambitions were always going to be judged on his performances in Europe, where the terrain and opposition were of a higher standing. In one sense Paris-Nice mirrored Porte’s 2016 Tour ride – he lost ground early on before mounting a comeback in the second half of the race. Porte will need a more consistent string of results in the coming months.
Highlight: The Tour Down Under was a significant moment in Porte’s career and a fairy-tale win for the Tasmanian but the Paris-Nice stage win on the Col del la Couillole left more of an imprint as far as the Tour roadmap is considered.
Lowlight: Taking a pasting in the crosswinds at Paris-Nice
Next race: The Tour of Romandie has recently been added to the programme.
6. Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale)
Overview: Mediocre at the Tour of Oman and disqualified at Paris-Nice but the 2016 Tour runner-up is rarely at his best at this point in the year. A change of programme – owing to his Paris-Nice transgressions – has seen the 26-year-old line up in Pais Vasco, and but for a disappointing time trial he would have been on the podium. The Ardennes await.
Highlight: There haven’t been too many but the Frenchman’s second place behind Valverde on the stage to Eibar in Pais Vasco at least showed he is moving in the right direction. The way he drove the chase after Valverde had attacked was impressive. The way he dealt with his Paris-Nice DQ showed a sense of maturity.
Lowlight: Being disqualified from Paris-Nice
Next race: Amstel Gold Race
7. Daniel Martin (QuickStep Floors)
Overview: Having finished ninth at the Tour twelve months ago the emphasis is for Martin to aim for the top-five this time around. So far the Irishman has appeared to carry on where he left off in 2016 with top-tens in every stage race so far and a mature ride to take third in Paris-Nice.
Highlight: Third overall in Paris-Nice and another illness free spring under his belt.
Lowlight: The individual time trial in the Volta ao Algarve was a timely reminder of the Irishman’s Achilles heel.
Next race: Amstel Gold Race
8. Louis Meintjes (UAE Team Emirates)
Overview: The letters DNF and DNS annotated the first half Meintjes’ 2016 season, with the pint-sized climber only coming to life at the Dauphiné. This season has seen a slight improvement with a top-five on the queen stage at Pais Vasco.
Highlight: Sixth in Pais Vasco shows that the South African is moving in the right direction.
Lowlight: Not knowing his team’s future until December
Next race: Flèche Wallonne
9. Esteban Chaves (Orica Scott)
Overview: A serious knee injury has scuppered the Colombian’s Tour prep with a six-week block lost between March and mid-April. It’s effectively meant that Chaves has had two off-seasons bookending either side of the Tour Down Under and the Herald Sun Tour, his last race. With Romandie out of the picture, the Dauphine could be his first and only outing before the Tour. It’s hardly an ideal situation for last year’s Giro runner-up.
Highlight: Those birthday Lemington cakes at the Tour Down Under sure looked nice.
Lowlight: His last race was in February
Next race: TBC but at this stage it could be the Criterium du Dauphine.
10. Fabio Aru (Astana)
Overview: Aru’s inclusion only comes after it was confirmed Monday that the Italian would be forced to skip the Giro d’Italia due to injury. The Astana management have been quick to determine that Aru may target the Tour but given how he collapsed in the race last year, and that recovery – rather than racing – needs to be the priority, it’s a little early to get excited about a Tour bid. Aru certainly has unfinished business with the race but 2017 might not be the year to try to overcome those demons.
Highlight: Eh… he was second on Green Mountain at the Tour of Oman.
Lowlight: the injury that’s wrecked his Giro.
Next race: TBC.