A look at the top contenders for overall victory in the 103rd Tour de France, which starts Saturday at Mont-Saint-Michel and concludes July 24th in Paris:
The overwhelming favorite after his victories in 2013 and 2015, Chris Froome is aiming to join an elite club of just seven riders who have won cycling’s biggest event at least three times.
Born in Kenya and representing Britain, the 31-year-old Froome will be supported by a Sky squad that is considered the sport’s best.
Froome enters in top form, having won the Criterium du Dauphine warmup race – just as he did before his two Tour victories.
With Lance Armstrong having been stripped of his seven consecutive titles, Froome can become the first man to win consecutive Tours since Miguel Indurain took the last of his five victories in 1995.
While often criticized as an ugly rider for his high-cadence seated technique on climbs, Froome’s frenetic pace is often unbeatable once the road tilts uphill.
He’s also an able time trialer, although in 2014 his weaknesses on cobblestones, technical descents and wet roads were exposed.
A pure climber and a two-time runner-up at the Tour, Nairo Quintana is looking to make his breakthrough in the Grande Boucle.
Having finished second to Froome on his Tour debut in 2013 at the age of 23, Quintana won the Giro d’Italia in 2014 and returned to the Tour in 2015, only to finish second to Froome again.
Small and light at about 130 pounds (less than 60 kilograms), Quintana developed his technique while cycling to school in the Colombian town of Combita, which has an altitude of nearly 3,000 meters (10,000 feet).
Riding for the Movistar team, Quintana will have his eye on the penultimate stage, which ends in Morzine and is the final mountainous leg before the mostly ceremonial finish in Paris.
Fellow Colombian greats Luis Herrera, Fabio Parra and Santiago Botero posted wins in Morzine in 1985, 1988 and 2000, respectively. And Quintana’s first WorldTour victory came in the Alpine town during the 2012 Criterium du Dauphine.
At 33, this could be Alberto Contador’s last chance to take a third Tour victory.
Last year, the Spaniard with the Tinkoff team made a declared attempt to follow up his Giro victory with a Tour triumph and finished only fifth, acknowledging that he ran out of steam.
This year, Contador has built his entire season around the Tour, finishing fifth in the Dauphine, 35 seconds behind Froome, and winning the Tours of Catalunya and Basque Country.
One of six riders to have won all three Grand Tours, Contador’s record includes two Tour de France wins (2007, 2009), two Giro wins (2008, 2015) and three Spanish Vuelta wins (2008, 2012, 2014).
Contador once seemed destined to dominate cycling. But a failed doping test at the 2010 race for the fat-burning, muscle-building drug clenbuterol punctured his progression. Stripped of his first-place finish that year, Contador has not won the Tour again.
Nicknamed El Pistolero, Contador likes to celebrate his wins with a mock-gun salute using his right thumb and index finger. But after the November terrorist attacks in France, Contador suggested he might abandon the salute at the Tour.
RICHIE PORTE AND TEJAY VAN GARDEREN
Australian standout Richie Porte and top American rider Tejay van Garderen are joint co-captains of the BMC team.
Previously with Sky, the 31-year-old Porte was the top support rider for both of Froome’s Tour wins, and for Bradley Wiggins’ yellow jersey ride in 2012. Now he has a chance to challenge Froome.
First, though, Porte may have to battle Van Garderen for leadership within BMC.
The 27-year-old Van Garderen was in third place when he had to abandon last year’s race in tears due to illness during Stage 17.
ROMAIN BARDET AND THIBAUT PINOT
Romain Bardet and Thibaut Pinot represent the best chance to give France its first home winner since Bernard Hinault’s fifth and final win in 1985.
Riding for the AG2R La Mondiale team, Bardet finished second behind Froome in the Dauphine.
FDJ rider Pinot, who placed third in the 2014 Tour, has shown improved time trial performance this season.
FABIO ARU AND VINCENZO NIBALI
At 25, Fabio Aru is attempting to win the Tour on his race debut.
A climbing specialist, Aru won the Spanish Vuelta last year and has also achieved two podium results at the Giro in his short but successful career.
Aru is expecting to be paced through the mountains by fellow Italian Vincenzo Nibali on the deep Astana team.
Fresh off a dramatic Giro win where he took the pink jersey on the penultimate stage, Nibali is meant to use the Tour as preparation for the Olympics.
But having won the Tour in 2014, Nibali could take over team leadership if Aru struggles.