10 Riders to Watch at Cycling’s Biggest Race of 2016

Marc Lindsay
by Marc Lindsay
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10 Riders to Watch at Cycling’s Biggest Race of 2016

The 2016 Tour de France is underway! With four summit finishes, two time trials and a leg-shattering nine mountain stages, anything could happen at this year’s race. (For our full look at what to watch for, check out our 5-Minute Guide to this edition of the Tour de France.)

Here’s our list of riders sure to make a splash, along with the favorites for each of the major jerseys up for grabs.

1. Chris Froome

The 2015 Tour de France winner and Team Sky rider will look to capture back-to-back yellow jerseys and his third overall victory this year. While the balanced route seems to suit Froome’s strengths, there are four mountain stages in a row during Week 3. With all the favorites gunning for him, all it takes is one bad day for an upset to occur.

Leading up to July, Froome has had a relatively quiet season so far out on the road, betting everything on being in top shape for the Tour. If he’s going to win, look for him to lay the groundwork on Mont Ventoux on July 14 (Stage 12) and the 37-km individual time trial that follows the next day.

2. Alberto Contador

If there’s one man who has proved he can hang with Froome on the mountains and in the time trial, it’s this Spaniard from Team Tinkoff. Contador has won all three Grand Tours, and when he’s on top of his game, he’s hard to beat. He has said repeatedly that 2016 will be his final season before he retires. Will that be enough motivation to dethrone Froome? Though inconsistent, early season results seem to suggest he’ll be ready for the challenge and will look to take a third Tour victory.

3. Fabio Aru

The 26-year-old Italian burst onto the scene in 2015, winning the Vuelta a España and placing second in the Giro d’Italia. For 2016, Team Astana has decided to let Aru lead the team in the Tour de France instead of 2014 winner Vincenzo Nibali, signaling a changing of the guard. Aru has what it takes to be a star and has made a lot of progress in the individual time trial. Whether he’ll be able to ride with the likes of Contador and Froome has yet to be seen, but he’ll get his chance.

4. Nairo Quintana

If you’re looking for an upset pick, this Colombian rider from Movistar should certainly rank at the top of the list. Quintana is the best pure climber among the top Tour contenders, and he will look to do damage on the final week when four consecutive mountain stages will favor his riding style. Where Quintana usually falters though is in the individual time trial. The good news for him is that the crucial Stage 18 time trial is mostly uphill, where he should be able to hold his own. If Quintana is going to make a serious run at yellow in Paris, this may be his year to do it.

5. Fabian Cancellara

One of the absolute legends of the sport, 2016 will be the last for Trek Factory Racing team’s leader. While Cancellara won’t be in contention for any of the major jerseys by the time the race rolls into Paris, don’t discount the Swiss rider from snatching a stage or two. Look for him to light up the road on Stage 13 during the individual time trial and on Stages 16 and 17 when the race heads into Bern, Switzerland, which just so happens to be Cancellara’s hometown.

6. Peter Sagan

The defending World Cycling Champion can pretty much do it all. Sagan won’t be in contention for the overall race lead, but the Slovak is the clear favorite for the green jersey, which he’s won four times in a row. Look for Sagan to try to hit it big during the first week of the Tour on the flatter stages, where he could wind up in yellow.

7. Mark Cavendish

One of the most exciting sprinters ever to race a bike, Cavendish has already stated he won’t stick around for Week 3 of the Tour in favor of his dream of chasing gold at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. That said, he’ll start the Tour and make a big effort to claim his first yellow jersey. Stages 3, 4 and 11 could also set up as possible wins for the Brit from the Isle of Man.

8. Marcel Kittel

After a nightmare 2015 season in which the German sprinter had to overcome a nasty virus he caught at the Tour Down Under, Kittel’s switch to team Etixx-Quick Step seems to have put him back on track. He has the best top-end speed of any sprinter in the world, and his ability to maintain that velocity for considerable distances makes him a serious challenge to Sagan’s bid to repeat as a green jersey winner. If Kittel can hang around for Stage 21, look for him as a favorite to claim victory on the Champs-Élysées in Cavendish’s absence.

9. Romain Bardet

It’s no secret the French have had bad luck in recent years when it comes to overall winners at the Tour. While Bardet and fellow countryman Thibaut Pinot represent a new wave of cyclists about whom the French should be excited, it’s still a long shot for either to step onto the top steps of the podium in Paris. If Bardet finds himself out of contention early, look for the him to challenge for the King of the Mountains competition instead.

10. Richie Porte

A longtime domestique for Froome, Porte will finally get the chance ride the Tour on his own with Team BMC. He lacks the punch of pure climbers and is more in the mold of fellow Australian Cadel Evans, who has shown that it’s possible to win the biggest race without being spectacular at any single discipline. For Porte to get a Top 3 finish in Paris, he’ll likely need some bad luck from the other favorites. A go at the polka-dot jersey could also be in the cards if things don’t go his way.

About the Author

Marc Lindsay
Marc Lindsay

Marc is a freelance writer based in Scottsdale, Arizona. He holds a master’s degree in writing from Portland State University and is a certified physical therapy assistant. An avid cyclist and runner of over 20 years, Marc contributes to LAVA, Competitor and Phoenix Outdoor magazines. He is the former cycling editor for Active.com.

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