Tour de France 2017 preview: yellow jersey contenders – form guide

Is Chris Froome facing his toughest Tour de France challenge yet?

Chris Froome (Team Sky) bids for a third consecutive yellow jersey at the 2017 Tour de France, and the Team Sky man’s fourth win in five years, but could this be his toughest challenge yet?

To earn a fifth British Tour de France win since 2012, Froome will have to beat traditional rivals like Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo), alongside in-form former lieutenant Richie Porte (BMC Racing), home favourite Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale), fit-again Fabio Aru (Astana) and rising stars like Louis Meintjes (UAE Team Emirates) and Orica-Scott duo Johan Esteban Chaves and Simon Yates.

Chris Froome bids for a fourth Tour de France win in five years, but could this be his toughest yet? (pic: Sirotti)

For the first time since 2012, when he was a domestique for Sir Bradley Wiggins, Froome will start the Tour de France without a win to his name so far this season – is it a sign his star is waning, or is he simply waiting to peak at the perfect time?

So who will win the 2017 Tour de France? We’ve taken a closer look at the contenders for the yellow jersey, their past performances and the form guide.

Chris Froome (Team Sky)

Froome will roll out wearing dossard number one in Dusseldorf on Saturday (July 1), having won the last two Tours in very contrasting ways.

In 2015, it was all about Team Sky’s metronomic rhythm and dominance in the mountains, whereas last year Froome seized his opportunities on all terrain – descending to victory on the Peyresourde, claiming bonus seconds in a breakaway on a flat stage, winning against the clock and even, iconically, running part the way up Mont Ventoux after a crash.

He is favourite again this time out, but his rivals appear to have stepped it up so far this season – the Dauphine, where Froome finished fourth overall, being a case in point.

Defending champion Chris Froome is without a win so far this season (pic – Sirotti)

The only other time he has not won the Dauphine since 2013, is also the only year Froome did not win the Tour de France, in 2014.

Climbing, and then descending, the Mont de Chat, Froome looked back to his best but he lost ground on Alpe d’Huez and again on the Plateau de Solaison in the following days.

It is no reason to panic that he has not won a race so far this year – after all, to win the Tour and Vuelta a Espana he needs to start peaking between now and mid-September, not a fortnight ago.

But it has been proved he can be beaten – now the only question remaining is if anybody can do it at the Tour de France…

Form guide

2017 highlights: Herald Sun Tour (sixth overall), Criterium du Dauphine (fourth overall)
Tour de France starts: six
Best results: winner (2013, 2015, 2016); seven stage wins (2012-2016); King of the Mountains (2015)

Richie Porte (BMC Racing)

An integral part of Chris Froome’s Tour de France victories in 2013 and 2015, Richie Porte has seized his opportunity to shine on his own with BMC Racing with both hands.

After a steady start to last season, Porte showed his potential at the Tour, recovering from crashes earlier in the race to climb to fifth overall – but for the time lost in the first week, Porte would undoubtedly have made the podium at least.

This year he has been in supreme form, winning the Tour Down Under, grabbing a stage win at Paris-Nice, winning the Tour de Romandie, and then finishing second – on bonus seconds alone – at the Criterium du Dauphine.

Richie Porte ultimately missed out on the Criterium du Dauphine’s yellow jersey but has been in supreme form this season (pic – Sirotti)

That he could not finish the job at the Dauphine – losing out to Jakob Fuglsang’s attack on the final day – will be a source of disappointment but as a Tour de France form finder, Porte is right on track.

The Australian paid in part for a lack of team-mates around him at a crucial time on the final stage, but will be joined at the Tour by Damiano Caruso, fresh from his own second place at the Tour de Suisse.

Porte finally proved last season he is capable of competing at the Tour de France, and has started this year in blistering form.

There’s a still another step to go to reach Tour-winning potential, but the route is definitely well-suited to him – it is not unreasonable to suggest this could be his year.

Form guide

2017 highlights:  Tour Down Under (two stage wins, winner overall), Paris-Nice (stage win), Tour de Romandie (winner overall), Criterium Dauphine (stage win, second overall)
Tour de France starts: six
Best results: fifth (2016)

Nairo Quintana (Movistar)

Nairo Quintana has already failed in his primary objective for the 2017 season – the Giro-Tour double – but that does not mean the Colombian can be written off just yet.

Quintana ultimately finished second at the Giro, losing the race lead on the final day to Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb), having failed to open up a big enough lead in the mountains.

Nairo Quintana lost the maglia rosa on the final day of the Giro d’Italia, but how much have his exertions cost him? (pic – Sirotti)

It was a similar story in many years to last year’s Tour de France, where Quintana simply could not make his superior climbing ability tell when the roads pointed up.

Much will now depend on how much his efforts to win the maglia rosa have taken out of him – when Alberto Contador attempted the double in 2015, and won the Giro, he lacked the legs at the Tour.

Quintana will be supported at the Tour by Alejandro Valverde – who has pledged himself solely to his team leader, rather than target the GC himself – but the 27-year-old will need to be in top shape if he is to add the yellow jersey to his 2014 Giro and 2016 Vuelta successes.

Form guide

2017 highlights:  Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana (stage win, winner overall), Tirreno-Adriatico (stage win, winner overall), Vuelta Asturias (stage win, second overall), Giro d’Italia (stage win, second overall)
Tour de France starts: three
Best results: second (2013, 2015), third (2016); youth classification winner (2013, 2015); King of the Mountains (2013); one stage win (2013)

Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo)

Alberto Contador appeared off the pace at the Criterium du Dauphine, unable to stick with his GC rivals in the mountains, but the 34-year-old Spaniard should never be discounted ahead of the Tour de France.

Contador extended his career in the winter, signing Trek-Segafredo after shelving his original retirement plans earlier in 2016, but despite a number of near-misses is still looking for his first win for his new team.

Alberto Contador made a good start to the season but looked off the pace at the Criterium du Dauphine (pic – Sirotti)

Having been second overall at the Ruta del Sol, Paris-Nice, the Volta a Catalunya and Tour of the Basque Country, he could not have been much closer.

He took two months off racing after the Tour of the Basque Country, and was short of his best form at the Dauphine – but, as with Froome, that’s no reason to look beyond him just yet.

Nevertheless, the saying goes that you’re only as good as your last race – Contador has to hope that does not ring true at the Tour.

Form guide

2017 highlights:  Ruta del Sol (second overall), Paris-Nice (second overall), Volta a Catalunya (second overall), Tour of the Basque Country (second overall)
Tour de France starts: nine
Best results: winner (2007, 2009, 2010); three stage wins (2007-2009), youth classification winner (2007)

Jakob Fuglsang/Fabio Aru (Astana)

Criterium du Dauphine winner Jakob Fuglsang will share the Astana team leadership with newly-crowned Italian champion Fabio Aru for the Tour de France.

The Dane proved his form by winning the Dauphine, winning stages six and eight to claim overall victory by just ten seconds.

It was a victory which propelled Fuglsang into the limelight, having spent so much of his Astana career in the shadow of Vincenzo Nibali.

Jakob Fuglsang propelled himself into the limelight at the Criterium du Dauphine, having been better known as a key climbing domestique in seasons gone by (pic – Sirotti)

When Nibali moved to Bahrain-Merida, it was expected that Aru – the 2015 Vuelta a Espana champion – would take over his limelight but things have not worked out that way so far.

Injury cost Aru a place at the 100th Giro d’Italia, prompting a reshuffled calendar for the Sardinian.

He has responded well, however, recovering to help Fuglsang to victory and finish fifth himself at the Dauphine, before his win at the Italian nationals.

Fabio Aru, the newly crowned Italian champion, is in good shape after returning from the injury which cost him a place at the Giro (pic – Sirotti)

He was off the pace at least year’s Tour de France, ultimately finishing 13th, but he has proved already he is a better Grand Tour contender than that.

Fuglsang, meanwhile, was seventh in 2013 but is yet to kick on from his performance that year – though he was 12th as team-mate Nibali won last year’s Giro d’Italia.

Both are outsiders, but a two-pronged attack – when applied correctly – can be a deadly weapon for a GC team. That rang true at the Dauphine, and it remains to be seen if the Astana duo can carry their form to the Tour.

Form guide

2017 highlights:  Fuglsang – Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana (sixth overall), Criterium du Dauphine (two stage wins, winner overall); Aru – Tour of Oman (third overall), Criterium du Dauphine (fifth overall), Italian national road race (winner)
Tour de France starts: Fuglsang – six, Aru – one
Best results: Fuglsang – seventh (2013), Aru – 13th (2016)

Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale)

Last year’s runner-up, Romain Bardet – like compatriot Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) – is being heralded as the man to finally end the French Tour de France drought.

The last home rider to win the Tour was Bernard Hinault, when he won his fifth title in 1985 – they have been stuck on 36 wins from 21 riders ever since.

But Bardet will have to step it up based on this year’s form if he is to be the man to end that long wait.

Romain Bardet was second last year, and has the weight of an expectant nation on his shoulders (pic – Sirotti)

Last year, Bardet went into the Tour having finished second at the Dauphine but he was sixth this time around having never looked like being a contender for the yellow jersey.

A brief attack on the Mont de Chat was short-lived, and Bardet remains without a win in 2017 – a year in which the pressure has already cracked him once, when he was disqualified from Paris-Nice for holding onto the team car.

Bardet is still only 26, and does look a serious contender for an overall Tour de France win… but he has a lot to prove if this is to be his year.

Form guide

2017 highlights:  Tour of Oman (sixth overall), Volta a Catalunya (tenth overall), Liege-Bastogne-Liege (sixth), Criterium du Dauphine (sixth overall)
Tour de France starts: four
Best results: second (2016); two stage wins (2015-2016)

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