The 2017 Grand Tours are (all but) over. Chris Froome picked up the Vuelta a Espana crown, following another triumph at the 2017 Tour de France. While the end of the Vuelta signals a respite for the cream of the cycling crop, I’m not so lucky. No rest for the wicked(ly insightful). Let’s take an early look at the 2018 season, starting with the UCI’s crown jewel.
The official route for the 2018 Tour de France will be revealed on October 17th, but we’ve already been given a few clues on what to expect. The “Grand Départ” takes the Tour back to its roots, starting in the Pays de la Loire — a region that featured in the very first race back in 1903.
The three-week race will kick off on July 7th (one week later than planned due to the World Cup) and — as ever — will span 21 stages, including a team time trial. That’s pretty much all we know for sure at the moment.
Despite the lack of details, the favorites are already established. Chris Froome (10/11 odds) opens as the overwhelming favorite. The four-time Tour winner was more dominant than ever in 2017, picking up two Grand Tour titles in the same year for the first time in his career. Throw in a supporting cast of riders that could be considered General classification (GC) contenders themselves — Sergio Henao, Michal Kwiatkowski, Mikel Nieve, Geraint Thomas — and another Froome victory seems almost inevitable.
The usual cast of chasers — Richie Porte (8/1), Nairo Quintana (10/1), Vincenzo Nibali (40/1), Fabio Aru (33/1) — have all been underwhelming recently. Porte has struggled to establish himself as a serious Grand Tour contender since leaving Team Sky; Aru hasn’t lived up to expectations at Astana; Quintana finished outside of the top ten at the Tour this year; and Nibali doesn’t have a strong enough team at Bahrain-Merida.
The biggest challenge to Sky’s rein could come from some of the GC newcomers. Tom Dumoulin (7/1) shocked the cycling world this year when he won the Giro d’Italia, shedding his reputation as a time-trial specialist and establishing himself as a dominant all-rounder. Froome’s time trialing prowess has given him a strong advantage over the rest of the GC in previous years, but against Dumoulin, he’d be evenly matched.
Froome’s “super domestique,” Mikel Landa (12/1), spent this year’s Tour riding in support of his team leader. He’s spent the bulk of his career riding for other cyclists, first for Fabio Aru at Astana and then for Froome at Sky, and each time he seemed capable of contesting the Grand Tour if given the opportunity. Now, after signing with Movistar for next season, the unflappable Spaniard may finally have the chance to ride for himself. Or he may find himself playing second-fiddle once again to a rejuvenated Quintana.
Astana’s Miguel Ángel López (19/1) is also one to watch. A relative unknown before the Vuelta a España, the 23-year-old Colombian exploded onto the scene with two stage wins, finishing ahead of teammate and Astana leader Fabio Aru. It looks like Astana will prioritize their promising young rider next season.
Odds to win the 2018 Tour de France
Chris Froome (Team Sky): 10/11
Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb): 7/1
Richie Porte (BMC Racing): 8/1
Nairo Quintana (Movistar): 10/1
Mikel Landa (Movistar): 12/1
Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana): 19/1
Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale Pro Cycling): 25/1
Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale): 30/1
Fabio Aru (Astana): 33/1
Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida): 40/1
Pick: Chris Froome (10/11)
The safe bet is with Froome, and getting him at roughly even money is decent value. He’s remarkably, almost inhumanly consistent, and Team Sky is strong enough to deliver him the Yellow Jersey on a silver platter.
If you’re feeling bold or chasing a bigger payday, either Dumoulin, Landa, or Lopez is the play. The other members of the second tier — Quintana, Nibali, Aru — have had ample opportunity to dethrone Froome and they’ve come up short each time.
As for France’s best hope, Romain Bardet, until his time-trialling improves, he’s always going to concede too much time in the contra-le-montre.