Who will challenge Chris Froome at the 2017 Tour de France?

There was a lack of suspense this year but here are five challengers, led by Romain Bardet, who could upset things next time around

Suspenseful it may not have been, but the 2016 Tour de France was nip and tuck in one way: the time gaps behind the win. Chris Froomes victory margin was 3min more than in 2015 ahead of Nairo Quintana, but the gap to the rider in 10th was only 7min compared with 17 min last year; 21 min in 2014 for Vincenzo Nibali and 17 min again in 2013. Incredibly, after 89 hours of racing, a mere 180 seconds spanned the riders between second and 10 th. What this says is that Froome may be a decisive win but he is not as dominant as, say, Miguel Indurain or Lance Armstrong who would pulverise the race. This points to a levelling of the playing field within cycling, given that merely one squad Movistar placed more than one rider in the top 10 overall.

Some of Froomes future challengers will lie within that top 10, but there are absentees. Similarly, it doesnt figure that just because a rider has finished, say, eighth in 2016, that he will automatically return in 2017 stronger, wiser, and with a better team, and in a position to challenge Froome as he and Sky attempt to win a fifth Tour for the British squad in six years.

Some of those within the top 10 rendered their best Tours in several endeavors, suggesting this might be an outlier performance Daniel Martin is the obvious instance here, with all due respect to one of cyclings best climbers and most spectacular riders. Thus far, Martin looks like a brilliant one-day rider who has turned in the best Tour of his career; there is nothing to say he will improve further.

Beyond the obvious names, who have won at the least one Grand Tour and confirmed that performance Nairo Quintana, Vincenzo Nibali and Alberto Contador and old lags such as Richie Porte and Thibaut Pinot, what prospects for 2017 have been thrown up by this years race?

Romain Bardet

The obvious name, bearing in mind the fact that he has produced two decent Tours in a row( fifth in 2015, with one stage win, second in 2016, with one stage win ), he is improving year by year and he doesnt appear to suffer from the inconsistency that afflicts French cyclists, who appear to suffer from being in the spotlight. Crucially, Bardet seems able to get through the first week of the Tour without struggling too much, while he is clearly learning year on year to detect openings for himself. He has imperfections compared to Froome, however, starting with his squad, Ag2R. While likely the best value for money squad in cycling Leicester to Skys Chelsea and a model to its implementation of youth growth, with eight home-grown riders in this years Tour team, they dont have Skys budget or firepower. Bardet will have to get lucky to beat Froome. He will also have to improve his time trialling.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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