Following the resolution of his salbutamol case in the week counting down to this year’s race, four-time champion Chris Froome will arrive on the starting line in Noirmoutier-en-l’Île as the bookmakers’ favourite to win the 105th edition of the Tour de France. Despite being given the all clear to race after the International Cycling Union (UCI) dropped the case against Froome, the Kenya-born rider and his team-mates cannot expect an easy ride from large swathes of the public and world’s media. How Team Sky cope will be fascinating.
From a purely sporting perspective, Froome will be in high spirits following his historic Giro d’Italia victory in May. Following a slow start to the race, Froome claimed two highly memorable results having won the toughest two stages at the Giro after prevailing atop Monte Zoncolan ahead of race leader Simon Yates before, three days later, going on a Fausto Coppi-esque solo breakaway over the top of the Colle delle Finestre to take his second stage and, more importantly, the overall lead. If Froome can carry that form through to the Tour, easier said than done in a World Cup year when there is an additional week between races, then he may just be unbeatable.
Team Sky, once again, will have one of the strongest teams at the race and in Michal Kwiatkowski and Geraint Thomas has two riders capable of taking over leadership duties should Froome falter.
Tour de France record: Froome won the race in 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017 and also took the mountains classification in 2015. In addition to his jersey collection, he has seven stage wins on his palmarès.
The Bahrain-Merida leader may have spent much of the season riding below the radar – he has finished no higher than 11th in a single stage race and was 24th in the recent Critérium du Dauphiné – but Vincenzo Nibali is a rider who should be ignored at your peril. As just one of just seven riders to win all three grand tours – the others being Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Felice Gimondi, Bernard Hinault, Alberto Contador and Froome – in addition to two Il Lombardia titles (2015 and 2017) and this year’s Milan-Sanremo, Nibali boasts one of the most well-rounded palmarès in the peloton. The Italian nicknamed ‘the Shark’ is, in simple terms, one of the greatest bike racers of the modern era.
With a course that suits a rider who is equally comfortable on the cobbles or gravel as he is in the high mountains, Nibali would appear to be the ideal man to challenge Froome, despite what form suggests.
In Gorka Izagirre, Ion Izagirre and Domenico Pozzovivo, Nibali arrives with a world-class group of mountain domestiques who, providing they can all survive a treacherous looking opening week, can spearhead a very credible challenge alongside Nibali who never, ever, gives up.
Tour de France record: Has started six editions of the Tour and managed to finish each of them, including the 2014 race when he also added four stages to his palmarès. Added a fifth stage to his list of wins the following year when he finished fourth overall.
Article Source: The Telegraph