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Last year, he peaked in the early mountain stages before fading late as he used up the last of his carefully rationed energy. He very nearly gave the Tour away to Quintana, but there’s debate whether that should be seen as a sign of actual weakness or just a matter of him factoring out the remainder.
Nairo Quintana — Quintana is still young — at 26, this is the first year he can’t compete in the young rider classification — and already has two podium finishes at the Tour de France, both second place to Froome. He is arguably the best pure climber in the Tour, putting a scare into Froome late last year with an impressive five-kilometer solo effort to the top of Alpe d’Huez that helped him erase more than a minute from his deficit.
This year he has been conspicuously quiet, choosing to skip many traditional Tour warm-up races to train at home in Colombia at 10,000 feet in elevation with the NBA Live Mobile Coins Tour foremost in mind. If you want to think of him as Luke Skywalker biding his time on Dagobah, basically, go ahead because I already am.Alberto Contador — At 33, Contador is an elder statesman in cycling. He is also a two-time Tour champion — three if you want to throw in his 2010 title that was stricken after he failed a urine test.
If you can get past the doping allegations, Contador is still one of the most popular riders on the Tour and somehow overlooked as a contender. True, he finished fifth last year, but he was also coming off the 21-stage Giro d’Italia in May, which he won, and arguably wasn’t his best self come Tour time. Contador skipped the Giro this year.
He should be in fine shape.Romain Bardet and Thibaut Pinot — The two young French hopes, 25 and 26, respectively, both immensely talented climbers, both riding into the Tour de France expecting to give the host nation a podium finish, at the very least.
Bardet has kept an aggressive racing regimen this year, which mirrors the man himself. He was named the most aggressive rider of the 2015 Tour and made one of the lasting marks on the event by soloing his way to a Stage 18 win. Pinot is arguably even better at this point — at least, there’s some hope he can salvage France’s poor time trialing reputation. He’s also terribly moody. If he doesn’t crack, he’ll be an obnoxious presence to the three men above.
Fabio Aru and Vincenzo Nibali — Nibali likely gassed himself by making a late comeback at the Giro to win the general classification, which means he should take a backseat during this year’s Tour and help out his Astana teammate, Aru. No one is actually sure whether the 2014 Tour winner can actually get over himself enough to willingly serve anyone, however.
If he finds himself in striking distance of a podium place, he may very well try to swing the team dynamic back to the status quo, relegating Aru to a domestique role even though it seems time that the loyal Astana rider and 2015 Vuelta a Espana winner be given a chance to win the Tour. If it’s delicious drama you crave, Nibali has you covered.