Chris Froome looks to be on cruise control, but Nairo Quintana, Romain Bardet, and others will surely challenge the Briton next July. Photo: Tim De Waele | TDWsport.com
MILAN (VN) — Chris Froome dominated the 2016 Tour de France over the last three weeks and rode into Paris on Sunday with a 4:05 winning margin over his nearest rival. Will victory be his again in 2017, and if not, who will challenge him?
The Sky rider took his third title in what many critics called a boring edition of the Tour. What bodes well though is that only 1:12 separated second place from fifth place. Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale), Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Adam Yates (Orica – BikeExchange), and Richie Porte (BMC Racing) — who finished second through fifth, respectively — all had a shot at the podium and all showed promise for the 2017 edition.
“I’ve won it three times, I can’t say the novelty has worn off,” said Froome, confirming his plans to return for next year’s edition. “It’s such a big dream to have the yellow jersey. It’s an honor, the biggest in our sport. I hope to be back next year to fight again.”
It is not just Froome, but the Froome/Sky combination that makes the possibility of a fourth title appear likely. Froome, in many key moments, had two to three helpers by his side when his rivals had none.
Colombian Nairo Quintana appears most likely to take Froome’s crown. He has been knocking on the door since his debut in 2013, and after 2015 he appeared ready to step up and win the race after two second-place finishes. He pedaled anonymously through this Tour and only his steady, defensive riding earned him a third place.
Quintana’s Spanish WorldTour team Movistar may need to make changes. It could start with the results of expected medical tests because at the Tour, Quintana said, “my legs are not working as they normally do.” The team may decide to tweak his training and racing so that he spends more time in Europe instead of Colombia.
Just as Froome has done with his Tour titles, Richie Porte clearly won the right to lead BMC Racing in the future. American Tejay van Garderen struggled to hang on in the third week and had no explanation why.
“It does give me confidence [for the future],” Porte said of his fifth-place result. “A few times, I had a bit of bad luck, but it’s exciting for next year. I hope to come back and give it another crack and see what I can do.”
Had Porte not punctured in stage 2 or crashed in stage 19, a podium place would have been likely. Along with Bardet, he sparked the race when it smoldered. He attacked on the Finhaut-Emosson summit finish and time trialed like a grand tour winner. If BMC reinforces its team, it could have its second Australian Tour winner after Cadel Evans in 2011.
France is looking for its first grand tour victory since 1985. It hinges its hopes on Bardet after this year’s stage win at Le Bettex and second overall. Bardet, however, will need to improve his time trialing if he hopes to win one day.
Tinkoff’s Alberto Contador would normally sit higher up the favorites list, but next season he will be 34 years old and adjusting to his new Trek – Segafredo team. The American WorldTour team will likely support the Spaniard from Madrid, who already counts seven grand tour wins, over Dutchman Bauke Mollema. Mollema sat second overall in this Tour, but cracked and slipped to 11th.
Italian Vincenzo Nibali will likely lead his new Bahrain team in the 2017 Tour. He has one Tour, one Vuelta, and two Giro titles on his palmarès.
Going deeper, fans have reason to be excited with Yates, Esteban Chaves (Orica), Fabio Aru (Astana), Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL – Jumbo), and Tom Dumoulin (Giant – Alpecin) all improving.
The bad news is that American fans will have to wait some years before they celebrate another Tour win, without an obvious challenger in sight.