Sigma Sport's guide to the key riders competing for the Tour de France's yellow jersey in 2016. Providing a comprehensive list of who to look out for and what stages they're likely to make their mark on the race.
It's every cycling fan's favourite three weeks of the year again; the Tour de France. The sun is out (in theory) and the world's top riders are coming together for cycling's most prestigious event. We take a look at the riders in contention for the coveted maillot jaune.
Chris Froome - Team SKY
The reigning champion has had as good a preparation for this year's Tour as he could have hoped for. First place in the 'mini-Tour' Criterium du Dauphine back at the beginning of June against a stand-out field has put the two-time Tour winner firmly in the favourite spot going into this year's race.
However, with a GC contender field packed tighter than a Rapha skinsuit he will have his work cut out for him. Froome will have to trust himself and his team's form in the mountains as, unlike last year, where a particularly windy second stage tore apart the peloton and distanced Nairo Quintana by over a minute and a half, this year will likely be decided in the mountains.
Key Stage: Stage 12 - Montpellier to Mont Ventoux 184KM
Froome will have fond memories of The Bald Mountain. He won on Mount Ventoux the last time the Tour ventured up its steep slopes back in 2013. This year's trip up to the Weather station takes place on Bastille Day so expect French fans to be even more passionate than usual!
Used by Team Sky:
Fabio Aru - Astana
After taking his first grand tour victory at last year's Vuelta, Aru has had a quiet 2016 in preparation for a concerted effort at the Tour. This will be the first time the 25-year-old Sardinian has raced the Tour and he will have the backing of one of the strongest teams in the race.
Aru has spent much of the first half of the season training at altitude and will be hoping to assert himself as Astana's main GC hope, especially with rumours circulating that his 2016 Giro d'Italia winning teammate, Vincenzo Nibali, is heading for the new Prince of Bahrain backed team in 2017.
Key Stage: Stage 9 - Vielha Val'Aran to Andorre Acalis 184.5KM
With a similar Spanish and Andorran parcours to the stage that Aru took the red leader's jersey on at last year's Vuelta, stage 9 will prove to be one of the most decisive of the Tour. Three category one climbs come before a summit finish up to Andorre Arcalis. Here Aru will be looking to attack and make a bid to hold onto the yellow jersey till the peloton reaches the slopes of Mont Ventoux four days later.
Used by Astana:
Nairo Quintana - Movistar
The diminutive Colombian would have likely won last year's Tour with his sparkling attack on stage 20 on the slopes of Alpe d'Huez if it had not been for losing time on the windy stage 2 over the Dutch dykes. This year's Tour route suits the 5'5" 26-year-old as it features only two time trials - one of which is uphill.
A minimalistic race calendar over the first half of the season, which included a win at the Tour de Romandie, sees Quintana heading into the Tour with fresh legs and an exceptionally strong Movistar team.
Key Stage: Stage 19 - Albertville to Sait Gervais Mont Blanc 146KM
The first of the final two brutal mountain stages in the Alpes, Stage 19 features two beastly climbs up to Montee de Bisanne and Saint-Gervais Mont Blanc. Quintana's altitude training will come in handy up the Bisanne with the summit topping out at 1,723m in elevation after a 12.4KM 8.2% average climb.
Used by Movistar:
Alberto Contador - Tinkoff
El Pistolero rounds out the four Galacticos at the Tour this year. A strong first half of the season which saw him take first at the Tour of the Basque Country, second places at Paris-Nice and the Volta a Catalunya and fifth at the Dauphine means the 33-year-old Spaniard comes into the Tour in great form.
With his teammate Peter Sagan fighting for stage wins and an almost inevitable Green Jersey, the pressure will be off Contador to pick up stage wins, allowing him to focus on the long game of winning his third Tour.
Key Stage: Stage 20 - Megeve to Morzine 146.5KM
The penultimate stage of this year's Tour, like that of last year will prove to be the crucible upon which the race is decided. Two first category and one HC climb will see the pro peloton climbing over 4,500 metres. The downhill finish to the famous ski resort at Morzine will favour Contador's superb descending skills and he may need all the time he can get by this point to steal the yellow jersey before Paris the next day. Note: this is also the route for this year's Etape de Tour.
Used by Tinkoff:
Ritchie Porte - BMC Racing
The 31-year-old Tasmanian has had a relatively successful start to his 2016 season at his new BMC team with podium places at Paris-Nice, the Tour Down Under and fourth place finishes at the Dauphine and Volta a Catalunya. The question for Porte and the team is, who's leading the team? Both he and American teammate Tejay Van Garderen have GC ambitions and will be looking for the full backing of their team but just who will support who?
Key Stage: Stage 18 - Sallanches to Megeve 17KM
This slightly uphill and short time trial will suit Porte who won a similar if slightly steeper uphill time trial at last year's Paris-Nice. If Porte manages to get over his second-week grand tour jinx then this stage will be decisive in his bid for a top-5 finishing spot, especially ahead of two monumental mountain stages on stages 19 and 20.
Used by BMC Racing:
Romain Bardet - AG2R La Mondiale
One of the two French riders looking to perform well on GC, Bardet will be looking to build on his one stage victory and a third place in the mountains classification at last year's race. Runner-up by just 12 seconds at the Dauphine, Bardet has looked the strongest of the French hopes going into the race and an especially mountainous parcours will suit the 25-year-old.
Key Stage: Stage 8 - Pau to Bagneres-de-Luchon 184KM
This classic Pyrenean stage will be one of the most picturesque and competitive of the entire race with riders taking on the Tourmalet, Val Louron-Azet and Peyresourde. Bardet will look to attack on the Peyresourde and distance the chasing field on the descent as he did in his stage victory at stage 18 of last year's Tour.
Used by AG2R La Mondiale:
Thibaut Pinot - FDJ
The second great French hope for GC success, Pinot will have his sights firmly set on a podium finish at this year's Tour. The prodigal son of French cycling, Pinot will aim to pick off mountain-top finishes and stay upright on the descents, where he is known to be a little shaky.
Key Stage: Stage 7 - L'Isle-Jourdain to Lac de Payolle 162.5KM
The gateway stage to the Pyrenees, stage 7 starts off relatively flat before climbing up to the first category Col d'Aspin seven kilometres before the finish line. This will be the first real opportunity for GC riders to take serious time out of their rivals so look for Pinot and his compadres to ferociously attack each other all the way to the top.
Used by FDJ:
The yellow jersey (maillot jaune in French) is awarded to the leader of the General Classification which is determined by the total time riders take to complete each individual stage.
The rider who claims the yellow jersey after the last stage in Paris is pronounced the overall winner of the Tour de France.
The overall yellow jersey winner stands to take home €500,000, a €50,000 increase on the 2015 prize pot. these winnings are traditionally shared with the winner's teammates.
2015 - Chris Froome
2014 - Vincenzo Nibali
2013 - Chris Froome
2012 - Bradley Wiggins
2011 - Cadel Evans
Jacques Anquetil (5)
Eddy Merckx (5)
Bernard Hinault (5)
Miguel Indurain (5)
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