With the Giro d’Italia in the books, La Grande Boucle (July 4-26) is the next big stop on the UCI WorldTour. After an injury and crash-plagued 2014 edition, cycling fans are in a tizzy as four of the best three-week racers in the world are set to go head to head (to head to head) for the maillot jaune.
Not only will the 2015 edition of the Tour de France feature last year’s winner, Vincenzo Nibali, and 2012 champ Chris Froome, it will also see this year’s Giro winner (and two-time TDF champ) Alberto Contador going for the rare Giro-Tour double, plus arguably the best climber in the world, Nairo Quintana, looking for his first TDF victory.
(While Quintana is the only one of the quartet that has yet to win the TDF, he does have a Giro crown on his palmares and also claimed the King of the Mountains classification at the 2013 Tour.)
Who is going to separate from the pack on the likes of l’Alpe d’Huez and La Toussuire? Let’s take a look at the odds.
Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo): 5/2
Some cycling experts may balk at the notion of Contador as the TDF (co-)favorite. After all, he’s the only one of the four who raced the Giro – which was extremely hard, even by Grand Tour standards – and no one has pulled off the Giro-Tour double since a thoroughly drugged Marco Pantani in 1998.
So why is El Pistolero the (co-)favorite? Because he’s the best Grand Tour rider of his generation and he’s still in his prime; he’s won the last two Grand Tours (the 2014 Vuelta a Espana and this year’s Giro) and showed just how dominant he can be on the fearsome Mortirolo. The Spaniard rarely finishes Grand Tours anywhere but first. (Including results that would late be disqualified, he’s won nine of the 13 Grand Tours he’s entered.)
Nairo Quintana (Movistar): 5/2
The diminutive Colombian has had mixed results this year, winning Tirreno-Adriatico and then finishing a disappointing eighth at the Tour de Romandie. But it’s not unusual for the TDF winner to have a slow start to the season, hitting peak form at just the right time. And if Quintana is in peak form, good luck sticking with him on the tougher climbs. At 5’6 and just 126 pounds, Quintana’s power-to-weight ratio is off the charts, allowing him to keep a steady cadence up steep pitches that force larger riders out of the saddle and into the red. With Contador likely to be a tad on the tired side, it’s a toss up whether Quintana will be able to distance him in the crux.
This year’s route gives Quintana’s hopes a boost; there is only one short (13.8 km) individual time trial but five mountain top finishes.
Chris Froome (Team Sky): 3/1
Froome took the Tour title in 2013 (and came second to teammate Bradley Wiggins in 2012). But the last 12 months have been tough for the native of Kenya, as he crashed out of the 2014 TDF and was beaten fair-and-square by Contador at the 2014 Vuelta. He got a measure of redemption at this year’s Vuelta a Andalucía, topping Contador by two seconds, but that was a mere five-day race way back in February.
Though he has an awkward climbing style, Froome “has a V02 max … close to the limits of known physiological science,” according to French physiologist Frederic Grappe, meaning he can sustain an enormous effort for a short period of time (about five minutes) even at the end of a challenging stage. In sum, Froome will be incredibly tough to drop if he’s in top form. He’s only a slight underdog to Contador and Quintana because he has his challenges staying upright.
Vincenzo Nibali (Astana): 5/1
How can the defending champion be last on the list? That’s more a testament to the quality of the competition than a slight on the “Shark of Messina.” Some may argue that Nibali only won last year because Froome and Contador had to abandon. But that’s an undeserved slap to the 2014 champ. Nibali was full value for the win even though his main rivals didn’t finish.
Nibali also has Vuelta and Giro titles on his resume, making him and Contador the only two current riders to win all three Grand Tours.
That said, Nibali has looked pretty dreadful this year, and not the kind of dreadful that leads one to conclude he’ll be rounding into form for the Tour. He came 16th at Tirreno-Adriatico and tenth at the Tour de Romandie. Perhaps Vincenzo will be back to his old self by the time the TDF rolls around. But, at this point, the trio of Contador, Quintana, and Froome lead the pack.
Lest you leave here thinking these four are the only ones who will be racing come July, we’ll end with the odds for the remaining “favorites,” if we can use that term loosely.
- Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha): 15/1 – Once among the best climbers in the world, Purito hasn’t been able to stick with the likes of Contador, Froome, and Quintana on the toughest climbs over the past couple seasons. A podium would be a great result.
- Thibaut Pinot (FDJ): 20/1 – The youngster is France’s best hope for a win. He came third last year after the peloton had been decimated. His time may come, but don’t expect it to be this year – not against this field.
- Mikel Landa (Astana): 35/1 – Landa was a revelation at the Giro, outpacing teammate and team leader Fabio Aru early in the race, and keeping pace with Contador on the toughest climbs. But he’ll only get a chance at the General Classification if Nibali falters. Otherwise, he’ll be doing pacing duties for the Shark.