The 2016 edition of the legendary Tour de France is less than a week away, and all of the 2016 contenders and riders are busy finalising their preparations for the big race. The three week stage race is arguably the most gruelling sporting event on the planet, and will test the resolve of even the most talented and dedicated rider.
This year there are plenty of contenders looking to topple Team Sky and their leader, defending race winner Chris Froome. But will they be able to stop him from claiming a third tour title come Sunday 24th July, and standing on the podium under the Champs-Elysees in Paris. Let’s take a look at the nine man Team Sky line up tasked with helping Froome win his second successive Tour.
Chris Froome – Great Britain – Age 31
For Froome, anything less than a third Tour victory will be a disappointment. The talented British rider has proved himself as the benchmark in professional cycling over the past three years, and is coming off a strong Criterium du Dauphine victory, one of the key warm up races before the Tour.
With a very strong team supporting him he will enter the race as the favourite, although the magic with the tour is that anything can happen. If Froome can avoid a crash or illness expect him to be showing his immense time trialling and climbing ability, the two key skills which make him such a formidable grand tour contender.
Sergio Henao – Colombia – Age 28
Colombian Henao makes his TDF debut this year, after a difficult beginning to the season marred by questionable biological passport readings. Now cleared and back to competing, Henao will be key ally of Froome in the mountains.
He is a very good climber who will be capable of stage wins for himself, but will likely be fully focused on supporting Froome. Along with Mikel Landa and Mikel Nieve he will be the key if Froome is to neutralise any potential advantage from rival Nairo Quintana, who has shown in the past he can take time out of Froome in the key mountain stages.
Mikel Landa – Spain – Age 26
Spaniard Landa is the new signing at Team Sky, and will be a key domestique for Froome throughout the three week race. Landa proved his credentials in the Giro D’Italia last year, but his season so far has been hampered by illness.
Now back to full health he will be crucial for Froome to claim victory. Left to his own devices and Landa could likely contend to the top ten in general classification, but supporting Froome he will take on the super domestique role that got him noticed at his previous Astana team.
Mikel Nieve – Spain – Age 32
Another key member of Team Sky in the mountains will be fellow Spaniard Mikel Nieve, who has already shown his talents with a brilliant solo stage win to somewhat save a difficult Giro for Team Sky.
With top ten’s in previous grand tours, Nieve will help shepherd Froome up the difficult mountains, whilst also helping claw back any rivals should they make an escape. In a three week tour, the help of his team mates will be crucial for Froome to win, and in the mountains is where the likes of Nieve will shine for his team leader.
Geraint Thomas – Great Britain – Age 30
Welshman Thomas is a rider who seems to improve with every passing season. He has already won the Paris-Nice stage race earlier this year. If he can recapture the form that very nearly propelled him to the overall top ten last year, Thomas will provide a key supporter for Froome.
If he’s given free reign on a stage he could very well claim his first TDF stage win, or if he’s in a high placing he could prove to be a very important strategic help to Team Sky. He could prove a key ally as he could be used by the team to burn out their rivals, as they would have to mark him if he’s in the top five or ten.
Ian Stannard – Great Britain- Age 29
Ian Stannard will be used to help keep Froome safe during the first week of flat stages, where it’s very easy to be caught up in an accident and your tour could be over after a few days. He is also an underrated climber who could help protect his team leader once the medium level mountains hit. Whilst the climbers usually get the headlines, Stannard is a very important member of Froome’s support team.
Luke Rowe – Great Britain – Age 26
Along with Stannard Luke Rowe will be key help to Froome on the flat stages that are prevalent in the first week. A noted classics rider with considerable skill, he can help keep Froome safe and ensure he doesn’t lose any time to his rivals early on. Rowe will prove himself to be an integral part of any potential Team Sky and Chris Froome victory, as he did last year.
Wout Poels – Holland – Age 28
Poels achieved a first for Team Sky this year, securing their first ever classics monument victory after winning the prestigious Liege-Bastogne-Liege race. Along with his ability on the flat road stages he could also help Froome in the mountains, something he did to crucial effect in the latter stages of last year’s tour.Poels can provide assistance to Froome in almost every type of stage in the tour, and this is what makes him so important to Team Sky.
Vasil Kiryienka – Belarus – Age 34
Experienced rider Vasil Kiryenka will be another key road marshal for Froome in the early stages of this year’s race, ensuring he goes into the key stages at the very least level with his rivals. Aside from his support role, expect the reigning world time trial champion to seriously challenge for victory in the two time trial stages. Expect to see Kiryienka throughout the race, at the front protecting his team leader.
That concludes my preview of Team Sky and their line up for this year’s Tour de France. They will be squad every other team is targeting this year, but will this be enough to stop this very strong outfit from claiming consecutive Tour victories?
Any comments would be greatly appreciated and thank you for reading. Find me on Twitter @JWjournalism.