The Tour de France race organizers have decided to switch up the route for 2018. The three-week stage race will contain a bit of everything: cobbled roads, gravel sections, a team time trial, and a short, punchy 65 km (40 mi) mountain stage.
Most notably, stage nine features a large cobbled section that includes 15 sectors of pavé on the way to Roubaix. It adds a splash of uncertainty to a Grand Tour that has been a little too predictable in recent years.
Interestingly, the route does not favor Romain Bardet (AG2R-La Mondiale) or Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), the two great hopes for France. The cobbled sections and the team time trial will be a huge handicap for the Frenchmen. However, there will be plenty of chances for Warren Barguil to snatch a few mountain stages.
The lengthy time trial for the penultimate stage could decide the winner, and if it does, the focus will be on Chris Froome (Team Sky) and Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb). With six stages in the high mountains and two pivotal time trials, Froome (10/11 odds) and Dumoulin (10/3) are best equipped for the newly revealed route.
Chris Froome (Team Sky): 10/11
Having won four of the last five Tours, Chris Froome is naturally the favorite. He’s the strongest rider in the peloton and has a star-studded supporting cast at his disposal. Team Sky is well-positioned for the team time trial and can neutralize almost any stage by setting a relentlessly high pace.
Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb): 10/3
After his dominant display at the Giro last year, Tom Dumoulin (10/3) has well and truly shed his reputation as a time trial specialist and proved himself to be a well-rounded General classification rider. He’s the current world time trial title champion, beating Chris Froome in Bergen by over a minute. So if the race is still close by stage 20, there’s a good chance he’ll clinch it. However, before that he needs to hold on for six long stages in the high mountains. He did well to out-climb Nairo Quintana and Vincenzo Nibali last year, but holding Froome’s wheel will be significantly tougher task.
Richie Porte (Team BMC): 6/1
Richie Porte (6/1 odds), Froome’s former super-domestique, left Sky to lead Team BMC. But he hasn’t been able to grab results at the Grand Tours. His ability to handle three-week stage races has come under question and he doesn’t have the team or the ability to consistently rival Froome. BMC have an amazing time trial team and Porte is still one of the best all-rounders in the peloton, so we can’t completely rule out the Aussie.
Nairo Quintana (Movistar Team): 8/1
Nairo Quintana (8/1 odds) has somewhat fallen out of favor after a disappointing 2017, but we shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss him. He’s a former Vuelta winner and has finished in the top-three at six Grand Tours. The diminutive climbing specialist will be punished during the time trials, but if he’s in good form, the high mountains are his for the taking. If he can establish a decent lead by penultimate stage, he’ll have a great shot at winning his first Tour.
And now for my personal favorite …
Mikel Landa (Movistar Team): 12/1
Mikel Landa (12/1 odds), who is now out from under Froome’s shadow at Team Sky and will ride for Movistar next year. The Spaniard has been held back for far too long. At Astana, he was riding in support of Fabio Aru even though he was arguably the better rider. And at Sky, he was forced to devote himself to Froome. Time and time again, we were left wondering “what if…” when it came to Landa.
However, at Movistar he’ll have to share the leadership role with Quintana. Co-leaderships can be extremely volatile so this could backfire spectacularly. However, if it works, we could finally see Chris Froome lose the yellow jersey.
The Best Value Bet
We don’t know Movistar’s plan of attack yet, so I recommend sprinkling a little on both Landa and Quintana. Landa has been underestimated his whole career and Quintana is still one of the best Grand Tour riders in the world despite his poor year.