Tour de France 2016: Who is challenging for the jersey's?

The 103rd edition of the most recognisable of the three Grand Tour's poses many questions; Will Sagan retain green? Can Quintana add a second king of the mountains title to his name? And can Froome steal yellow again?

Tour de France 2016: Who is challenging for the jersey's?
2015's jersey winners from left to right: Peter Sagan (points), Chris Froome (general and mountains), Nairo Quintana (young)

The biggest race of the cycling calendar starts today as the biggest names in the pro peloton go head-to-head in one of the toughest races in the world.

Some will be vying for the points Jersey, some will be eyeing the King of the Mountains Jersey and then finally the likes of Chris Froome, Nairo Quintana, Vincenzo Nibali, and Alberto Contador will be fighting for the ultimate prize, which is the Maillot Jaune.

It should be a fascinating three-weeks, if you thought last year was a tightly fought battle; this year will be even tighter - Froome is coming into form. Quintana is gunning for victory after two close calls, and then after a miraculous turnaround in the Giro D'Italia Nibali will be dangerous. And, finally Contador, the old wily campaigner will also be out for a victory as the Spaniard looks to wind down his illustrious career.

GC Contenders

Before all the action begins, we look at the potential candidates for the yellow jersey.

Chris Froome

With the first road race of the Rio Olympics being held only 13 days after the closing stage of the Tour de France, Froome will want to prove himself as the best. The course favours the Brit with a 37km time-trial, as his performances against the clock were key in his 2013 win.

This could be hugely influential towards the Team Sky man's cause of getting a third Tour title - which would make him one of only four to achieve such a feat. His climbing ability, as shown in 2015, is phenomenal, but he will struggle against the power of Quintana. 

Nairo Quintana

Quintana is a deceptive character. At only 26-years-old, the Columbian has only competed in two editions of the Tour de France; however, two second-placed finishes for the Movistar rider show why he is rightly a race contender in the 103rd edition of the Grand Tour.

With an abundance of challenging gradients on offer throughout all three weeks, Quintana can play to his overwhelming strengths, and aim to distance himself from Froome et al in both the general classification as well as his favoured king of the mountain challenge. 

The widely loved Quintana could use the mountainous route to aid in his push for yellow | Credit: Getty
The widely loved Quintana could use the mountainous route to aid in his push for yellow | Credit: Getty

Alberto Contador

After stating that he will retire after the 2016 calendar draws to a close, this is likely Alberto Contador's final Grand Boucle. His last official win in the race came in 2009, but he is always up-and-around the top come the final stage. The Spaniard is saving himself for the Tour de France, having not raced since early April in the Tour of the Basque Country, making him a force to be reckoned with; expect him and his Tinkoff-Saxo team to make an early charge for yellow.

Fabio Aru

Having never raced in the second Grand Tour of the calendar, it is hard to predict how the Italian will fair up against the likes of Froome and Quintana.

Aru cannot be ruled out, as the Astana man still has a Vuelta a Espana title to his name along with a second and third placed finish in the Giro d'Italia at the age of just 26.

It will certainly be interesting to see how Aru and Nibali co-exist; the pair, it seems are not the best of friends. But what can be said is that they are two fabulous bike riders, and if they can exist together, Astana could see a one-two on the podium if they are smart enough.

Points classification

Another battle that will be intruiging one will be the battle for the points jersey; in previous years Peter Sagan has run away with that jersey, but with the likes of Marcel Kittel, Mark Cavendish, Andre Greipel all milling around, it might be closer this year.

Peter Sagan

Despite having a poor stage record; with the Slovak's most recent of his four wins coming in 2013, Peter Sagan has held the green points jersey for four successive years. This immense reputation makes Tinkoff's terminator one to watch in terms of the points classification.

Can anyone knock the Slovak off his rightful throne? | Credit: Getty

Marcel Kittel

Kittel will have yellow in his sights on the first stage, but in terms of overall goals he will be predominantly focused on winning the green jersey. The German giant will be hoping to add to his previous eight Tour de France stage wins, and will have plenty of confidence going into the race, following points classification wins in the Tour of Dubai and the Volta ao Algarve

Andre Greipel

Another German powerhouse who will be amongst the best come the end of the race will be Lotto-Soudal's Greipel. The 33-year-old may not have the youth of Kittel and certainly Sagan, but he certainly has a fearsome track-record; 20 individual stages at all three of the Grand Tours. With half of them coming in France prove that Greipel will not give in easily. 

Nacer Bouhanni

At Cofidis, Bouhanni has the luxury of having a team that is completely built around delivering him to stage wins. Although the Frenchman has never won a Tour de France stage, he has three individual stages at the Giro d'Italia and two at the Vuelta a Espana at only 25 years old.

The one thing Bouhanni can have levelled at him is that he has a reputation of bottling it at the Grand Boucle, but he is a great sprinting talent capable of beating anyone on his day, so he is certainly suited to winning the points classification.

Mountains classification

When the race enters the Mountain, that is when the sparks begin to fly; in other terms 'all hell brakes loose,' attacks start left, right, and centre. But for the 'pure' climbers of the race all they are looking at is the Polka Dot jersey.

Nairo Quintana

After winning both the Volta a Catalunya and Tour de Romandie as part of the 2016 UCI World Tour, Quintana asserted his ever-growing dominance in mountain stages. With four summit finishes between the races, both clearly favoured climbing specialists – and Quintana may be the best of the best. Surprisingly, the general classification contender has only won the polka dot jersey once in his career, when he was only 23-years-of-age, but he will certainly be challenging once more in this year's edition. 

Chris Froome

Froome was a suprise winner of the polka dot jersey in 2015, after Team Sky only expected him to challenge for yellow. A series of ambitious and well-executed attacks on the various mountain stages of the race saw the Brit finish a total of 11 points ahead of generally stronger climber, Quintana. It proves to be a very close race this year between the two rivals, as both are likely to take a jersey one way or another. 

Chris Froome won both the yellow and polka dot jersey in last year's race | Credit: Getty
Chris Froome won both the yellow and polka dot jersey in last year's race | Credit: Getty

Thomas Voeckler

Team Direct-Energie don't really have a rider suited to challenging the likes of Froome and Contador for the GC, so instead they will aid the 2012 mountain classification winner Thomas Voeckler by giving him a team that is capable of propelling him into the Polka Dot jersey. The fan favourite has only competed in two stage races this campaign in the form of the newly formed Tour la Provence and Tour de Yorkshire, so may not be fit enough to repeat his heroics from four years ago, especially with ageing legs. With his whole team – and France behind him, Voeckler is definitely one to watch.

Young rider classification 

Fabio Aru 

Even if the odds are against the talented Italian in terms of challenging for the yellow jersey, the white young rider's jersey is definitely up for taking. Only one year under the eligible age of 26, Aru is perhaps one of the favourites to take this title due to his 'experience'. Astana will be hoping that their domestique-deluxe Vincenzo Nibali will aid in helping the 25 year-old in securing at least one jersey in his maiden voyage of France. 

Romain Bardet

Leading France's charge to get one of their own riders back on the podium come the final stage in Paris is AG2R-La Mondiale's Romain Bardet. With FDJ rival Thibaut Pinot now being 26, the general classification contender will also have more of a chance to claim the white jersey to add to his palmares. The youngster already has one stage to his name in this tour, and will be aiming to better his form from his impressive Criterium du Dauphine.

The French faithful will be hopeful of Bardet's chances | Credit: Getty
The French faithful will be hopeful of Bardet's chances | Credit: Getty

Warren Barguil 

The French hold more hope in some form of a podium finish in the form of Giant-Alpecin's Warren Barguil. After the then 23 year-old finished in 12th on his debut outing, his team hold high expectations that the climber can finish in a strong position in not only the young riders classification, but the general and mountains classifications also. Barguil goes into this Grand Tour following a third-place finish in the recent Tour of Switzerland.