Cyclingnews caught up with three-time Tour de France winner Greg LeMond at the USA Cycling Pro Road Championships in Tennessee, where LeMond and his wife Kathy have recently made a new home, to find out what he thinks about the upcoming Tour de France and who he considers to be the favourites to win the overall.
Now that Team Ineos have lost Chris Froome to a terrible crash during the Criterium du Dauphine, the British team will be supporting co-leaders in defending champion Geraint Thomas and its star young rider Egan Bernal. LeMond knows a thing or two about racing the Tour de France as part of a two-pronged strategy, having shared leadership with both Laurent Fignon and Bernard Hinault in his day.
Whereas Movistar last year had a trio of leaders and came up short of the podium, last season Team Sky put both Thomas and Froome in the top three - it's always a gamble spreading a team's resources, even more so now that Grand Tour teams are only eight riders. But LeMond thinks Team Ineos have the discipline to make co-leadership work.
"I think [dual leadership] takes the pressure off, actually, if you have a smart director." LeMond tells Cyclingnews.
"Thomas won it last year - but it's not like he's a three-time Tour champion. It's like Fignon and I - I could have done the Tour that year when he won it [1984 -ed]. But I decided Worlds was my objective that year. It was awkward, and I didn't really race as well as I could have. I got sick in the beginning, so it didn't end up being a conflict.
"With a good director you can use that to your advantage. Somebody has to be willing to sacrifice themselves, it might be Geraint Thomas, it might be Bernal. If you don't have Froome there, I think you're better off having a couple guys there who are really good, who can play off each other.
"It's nice to think of the old days when you have just one leader, but look at what happened with Chris Froome - you put all of your money into one guy only to have them crash. It's better off having multiple riders who can win the Tour. It's better to go in strong. I think it's good to have two leaders. No matter how it plays out, if they're very close it can make for a very interesting race."
LeMond also knows what it's like to be a Tour contender and have to make a comeback from a serious injury. In 1987, the year after his first Tour win, he was shot in a hunting accident and missed almost the entire season and the next, his comeback hampered by overtraining and tendinitis but he came back in 1989 to win the Tour de France and World Championships.
LeMond thinks it will be a while before Froome is back on top form.
"If his injuries are what they say they are, I can't say a comeback is impossible, but every time I see broken femur - you lose a lot of muscle mass. I figure it's probably a two-year comeback. You never know.
"It kind of opens the race up. I think Geraint Thomas is still going to be a favourite," LeMond says, adding that Bernal's win in the Tour de Suisse might not be as strong an indicator of his Tour status as one might think.
"I don't think you can judge a Tour by who's winning before it. Sometimes people win Tour de Suisse or Dauphine, but it doesn't always translate because some guys are using those as training races," he says.
"I saw [Bernal's] results in Tour de Suisse, it was pretty amazing. There are a lot of new up and comers.
"It's interesting - you're at the end of Froome's reign and you've got these younger riders coming up."
Of the other favourites, LeMond says it's more about who isn't racing than who is.
"Tom Dumoulin's not in it, and it's kind of a weird situation - Froome's not there, Nibali did the Giro, Roglic isn't doing the Tour de France. There are a lot of guys who I thought would be coming that could make it very competitive. But it opens it up to guys like Bardet or Pinot who have been close but have always had Froome or someone else above them. It will be hard to beat Ineos, they have a good formula."
When it comes to Movistar, even if Nairo Quintana will likely have sole leadership status this year, LeMond doubts the Colombian's ability to win the Tour.
"I keep hoping he's going to be a favourite, but I would love to be his trainer and understand what he does," LeMond says of Quintana.
"He's not explosive. You can't go spend eight weeks at 10,000ft - your red blood cells go up but your power goes down. He lacks the ability to attack and break away. He's always steady-state. It's a surprise he hasn't followed through on his potential. In 2013 he was second place. He's a great talent, but I don't think he will ever win the Tour."
"I think Fuglsang is a favorite but I don't think he'll be there in the end. He's a good rider but I think Geraint Thomas has been quietly getting in shape. It's never really what you do in the Dauphine, it's what you do in the Tour."
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