Tour countdown: the players to watch, part 1-2
Words/images: James Startt
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He is the great French hope and one of the most aggressive riders in the peloton. And after finishing on the podium in the last two Tour de France, Romain Bardet is one of the most promising riders of his generation. And this year’s race seems perfect for the AG2R rider as the individual time trials–his one weakness–have been held to a minimum while the race course favors opportunistic riders like Bardet. It has been over 30 years since a Frenchman has won the Tour. Will Bardet finally succeed Bernard Hinault this year?
He is the winningest Tour de France rider in activity, but in some ways Mark Cavendish will start the 2018 race as an underdog. Little matter that he has won 30 stages. Little matter that he is a world champion and one of the most decorated cyclists of his generation. Cavendish struggled through much of 2017 and crashed out early in the Tour. As a result, for some, his standing slipped. But the British rider has bounced back before, like in 2016 when he won four stages when many considered him to be in decline. At his best he js unbeatable. Only a fool would count him out at the start of this year’s Tour.
He is the three-time world champion and the five-time points jersey winner in the Tour de France. And this year the charismatic Slovak is returning with an eye on redemption after being expelled early in the 2017 Tour after colliding with British sprinter Mark Cavendish. At his best–which is often the case–Sagan can win punchy stages as well as mass sprints. How many will he win this year?
Officially he is riding support for Chris Froome, but Welsh time trial specialist Geraint Thomas has been yearning to play his own hand in the Tour. He won the opening time trial last year and started the race in yellow before crashing out at the end of the first week. And he showed that he is only improving as a stage race rider by winning the Critérium du Dauphiné in early June. Certainly four-time winner Froome starts the race as leader, but if he falters for any reason, Thomas may be in a position to jump in at Sky.
It comes with at least some irony that one of the most respected stage-race riders in activity has yet to climb onto the podium of the Tour de France. After years of riding support for Chris Froome at Team Sky, the amiable Australian moved to BMC in 2016 to pursue his own path. But while he has won prestigious races like Paris-Nice, or most recently, the Tour de Suisse, the 33-year-old has yet to put it together for the three-week Tour as crashes and bad luck have played a heavy had. He is hoping to change that this year and see where his true potential lies.
After being a super domestique for Tour de France winner Chris Froome last year, Spaniard Mikel Landa will be coming into this year’s Tour de France as a co-leader of the mighty Movistar team. While he shares leadership duties with confirmed stars like Alejandro Valverde and Nairo Quintana, Landa may well be the team’s most dangerous rider as he has yet to confirm his true Tour potential despite his fourth-place finish last year while riding support for Froome. “I’ll be reaching the TDF with 30 racing days under my belt, but more importantly than the figures, the approach to the Tour will be completely different to previous years,” he said. “In the last two times I took on this race, I had previously ridden the Giro. You come to the start after having reached your peak form just few weeks before, and it’s about keeping that fitness alive and staying strong. This time I expect to keep progressing during the race and hopefully feel quite fresher at the final part of the competition.”