Most of the best stage racers in the world will line up alongside one another in Mont-Saint-Michel on the start line of the 2016 Tour de France, but the roads they've all taken to get there will have been diverse. With just 12 days to go until the Grand Départ, and with the preparatory racing mostly done and dusted, Cyclingnews plots the paths of each of the main favourites and analyses their performances along the way.
Chris Froome (Team Sky)
Race days: 27
Herald Sun Tour (January, 2.1): 1st overall, 1 stage win
Volta a Catalunya (March, WorldTour): 8th overall
Liège-Bastogne-Liège (April, WT): 112th
Tour de Romandie (April/May, WT): 38th overall, 1 stage win
Critérium du Dauphiné (June, WT): 1st overall, 1 stage win
For the fourth season in a row, the two-time Tour de France champion kicked off his season with a February stage race victory but it has been a far from conventional start to proceedings. Getting underway in Australia for the first time in 6 years, he chose to remain in the southern hemisphere for a warm-weather, high-altitude training stint in South Africa.
His return to Europe raised some initial doubts over his progress as he was beaten at Catalunya by most of the names on this list before a surprise slump at Romandie saw him lose 17 minutes in a single stage. However, he swept those doubts away with a clinically taken third Dauphiné title – riding his rivals off his wheel on the stage 5 summit finish before defending his advantage on the final two mountain stages.
Nairo Quintana (Movistar)
Race days: 32
Tour de San Luis (January, 2.1): 3rd overall
Colombian nationals road race (February): 4th
Volta a Catalunya (March, WT): 1st overall
GP Miguel Indurain (March, 1.1): DNF
Vuelta al País Vasco (April, WT): 3rd overall
Tour de Romandie (April/May, WT): 1st overall, 1 stage win
Route du Sud (June, 2.1): 1st overall, 1 stage win
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it; Nairo Quintana told us at the start of this season that losing out to Froome at last year’s Tour was down to errors and luck, rather than form or preparation, and he has followed an almost identical schedule in 2016.
Tour de San Luis was the opener, and though he didn’t go in all guns blazing – instead guiding brother and teammate Dayer to victory – he has since put together a fearsome string of results. Tirreno was swapped for Catalunya, though the outcome was the same as he got the better of the strongest field of the year in a key pre-Tour statement.
After País Vasco he returned to Colombia, where he often puts together long high-altitude blocks, for a month and a half. The Route du Sud, with its weaker field, isn’t as good a barometer as the Dauphiné or Suisse, but overall victory, a time trial win, and 150km in a breakaway marked an ideal return to Europe and racing, and things look very bright indeed ahead of July.
Alberto Contador (Tinkoff)
Race days: 33
Volta ao Algarve (February, 2.1): 3rd overall, 1 stage win
Paris-Nice (March, WT): 2nd overall
Volta a Catalunya (March, WT): 2nd overall
Vuelta al País Vasco (April, WT): 1st overall, 1 stage win
Critérium du Dauphiné (June, WT): 5th overall, 1 stage win
After last year’s Giro-Tour experiment Alberto Contador has reverted to a more traditional Tour de France build up. This season mirrors his 2010 campaign closely with Paris-Nice back on the menu before a sprinkling of stage races through the rest of the spring. The Tinkoff leader has raced more days than his main competitors but he is still well down on his tally at this point last year – suggesting that we will at least see a fresher version of Contador than we did in 2015.
Form-wise, the Spaniard is in rude health. His time trial win over Froome at Les Gets in the Dauphiné was a rare triumph against his old foe against the clock, and while he fell away to fifth overall, his attacking sorties in the mountains suggested that he still has room for improvement.
Fabio Aru (Astana)
Race days: 31
Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana (February, 2.1): 6th overall
Volta ao Algarve (February, 2.1): 9th overall
Volta a Catalunya (March, WT): 14th overall
Vuelta al País Vasco (April, WT): DNF
Amstel Gold Race (April, WT): DNF
Critérium du Dauphiné (June, WT): 45th overall, 1 stage win
Having taken part in the Giro d’Italia for each of the last three seasons, Fabio Aru goes into the Tour de France as somewhat of an unknown quantity having always utilised his best form in either May, August or both. Granted he has a Grand Tour win under his belt but commentators aren’t quite billing this as another Fab Four showdown as they were twelve months ago.
Aru's recent display at the Dauphiné certainly mirrored teammate Vincenzo Nibali’s patchy displays in previous years but despite that, Aru’s form is hard to read. He was ninth in the Volta ao Algarve earlier in the season but was off the radar in May, spending over 20 days at altitude while his other rivals raced. He’s back in the mountains once again, as he fine-tunes his form ahead of the Grand Départ
Thibaut Pinot (FDJ)
Race days: 39
GP La Marseillaise (January, 1.1): 2nd
Etoile de Bessèges (February, 2.1): 3rd overall
Volta ao Algarve (February, 2.1): 4th overall
Tirreno-Adriatico (March, WT): 5th overall
Critérium International (March, 2.HC): 1st overall, 2 stage wins
Vuelta al País Vasco (April, WT): 4th overall
Tour de Romandie (April-May, WT): 2nd overall, 1 stage win
Critérium du Dauphiné (June, WT): 16th overall, 1 stage win
No great changes to the structure of the Frenchman’s season, though he gave up on trying to crack the Tour de Suisse in favour of the Dauphiné. For the most part, 2016 has seen the 26-year-old take another step forward, reaching a level of consistency that has made him a mainstay of GC top fives. Pinot’s armoury has been enhanced most markedly by his time trialling improvements, with wins against the clock at Critérium International and Romandie heightening expectations of what he might achieve across three weeks.
However, his Dauphiné raised some concerns as he lost 57 seconds on the opening time trial before losing a further 2:30 on the first mountain stage. He rescued his race with victory on the queen stage and while that was encouraging, it does bear a worrying similarity to the story of his 2015 Tour.
Richie Porte (BMC)
Race days: 40
Australian nationals time trial (January): 2nd
Australian nationals road race (January): DNF
Tour Down Under (January, WT): 2nd overall, 1 stage win
Tour of Oman (February, 2.HC): 49th overall
Paris-Nice (March, WT): 3rd overall
Volta a Catalunya (March, WT): 4th overall
Liege-Bastogne-Liege (April, WT): 91st
Tour de Romandie (April-May, WT): DNF
Critérium du Dauphiné (June, WT): 14h overall
With the Giro off his race schedule and greater emphasis on July, the Tasmanian has restructured his season. There has been a slower, more gradual build-up than in 2015 and the thought process is that Porte will hit the Tour in top condition.
He has picked up podiums at Paris-Nice and the Tour Down Under, with other notable performances in the Dauphiné and Catalunya, and his Tour performance will need all of that consistency and more if he is to conceivably challenge for a top-ten. The next port-of-call will be a stint of training at altitude with his new teammate Tejay van Garderen. The pair split duties across the Dauphiné and Tour de Suisse, with the Australian providing the better GC position, while van Garderen won a stage.
As for Porte, he’s clearly in form, having been the only rider capable of holding Chris Froome on the first serious mountain test at the Dauphiné.
Romain Bardet (AG2R-La Mondiale)
Race days: 42
GP La Marseillaise (January, 1.1): 48th
Tour of Oman (February, 2.HC): 2nd overall
Classic Sud Ardèche (February, 1.1): 5th
La Drôme Classic (February, 1.1): 8th
Paris-Nice (March, WT): 9th overall
Volta a Catalunya (March, WT): 6th overall
Giro del Trentino (April, 2.HC): 6th overall
Liège-Bastogne-Liège (April, WT): 13th
Tour de Romandie (April-May, WT): 27th overall
Critérium du Dauphiné (June, WT): 2nd overall
With 42 race days already under his belt Romain Bardet is clearly the most raced rider with genuine GC prospects in this year’s Tour de France. A heavy pre-Tour programme is nothing new for the AG2R La Mondiale rider, and his condition at the Dauphiné gave a solid indication that the Frenchman would be a considerable force in the Tour de France mountains.
Second place behind Chris Froome represented Bardet’s best result of the season and, although he's still without a win this year, his overall performances – 6th in Catalunya and in Trentino – show a growing level of consistency.
Tejay van Garderen (BMC)
Race days: 35
Vuelta a Murcia (February, 1.1): 7th
Clásica de Almería (February, 1.1): 68th
Ruta del Sol (February, 2.1): 2nd overall, 1 stage win
Tirreno-Adriatico (March, WT): 25th overall, 1 stage win (TTT)
Volta a Catalunya (March, WT): 5th overall
Tour de Romandie (April-May, WT): 10th overall
Tour de Suisse (June, WT): 6th overall, 1 stage win
Van Garderen has quietly gone about his business this season, picking up a couple of decent wins and notching up overall top tens in Tour de Suisse, Tour of Romandie, Ruta del Sol and Catalunya. The only early blemish on his report card came in Tirreno, where he finished 25th, but given that the key mountain stage was sacrificed due to safety concerns he can be afforded a pass.
The Tour de Suisse was a mixed bag for the 27-year-old. On the one hand he came away with a valiant stage win and 6th overall in the general classification. However, his collapse on stage 6 gave a timely reminder that cracks can appear in his armour just when he is looking on song. Everyone has a bad day – even Froome had one at Romandie – and van Garderen will be hoping that there will be no more repetitions come the Tour.