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  The 2014 edition of the Tour de France looks set to be one of the most competitive in years. Defending Champion Chris Froome returns to defend his title but faces a strong Contador as well as last years Giro winner and Vuelta runner up Vincenzo Nibali. Valverde is also here and has been on good form all year although hasn't raced much of late. After a difficult two years with injury Jurgen van den Broeck returns as does a number of others.

The Contenders

General Classification

Chris Froome

He won last year in convincing style but is unlikely to be as dominant again this year. Has done four stage races this year, won the Tour of Oman and Tour de Romandie and finished 6th at Volta Ciclista a Catalunya. The Critérium du Dauphiné is the only one he finished outside the top 10. Froome won the opening time trial and the stage 2 summit finish. Froome was able to drop everyone but Contador, but even Contador lacked the ability to come around him for the stage win.

Froome lead for most of the race but a crash on stage six saw him suffer on the final two stages. How much of his time loss and fall outside the top 10 on the final two mountain stages is down to his crash is unclear. What it does make clear is that Froome doesn't go in to the Tour looking invincible. Say what you like about the team and the exclusion of 2012 winner Bradley Wiggins and others but Sky have put together a strong squad. Friend and key Lieutenant Richie Porte will again be by his side and Thomas, Lopez, Nieve will provide additional support in the mountains.

Very strong on the climbs and the penultimate stage 54km time trial suits him as the best TT rider of the overall contenders. The route is undulating but that helps Froome as well, though the gaps might not be quite as big as if it was flat.

Alberto Contador

Contador has won the Tour twice before, some might consider it three but his third was taken off him after a positive test. In his first full year after returning from suspension Contador didn't look anything like his former self despite winning the 2012 Vuelta. This year Contador has been dominant. Finishing 1st or 2nd in every race he has done. Wins at Tirreno-Adriatico and Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco and 2nd at Volta ao Algarve, Volta Ciclista a Catalunya and Critérium du Dauphiné. While not able to get away from Froome on the first summit finish at the Dauphine he could stay on his wheel, more than he could last year. Was a level ahead of Froome in the final two stages but again Froome's crash had an impact there.

Contador suffered a blow with Roman Kreuziger ruled out due to a biological passport case but he didn't seem anywhere near last years level at the Tour de Suisse anyway. Still backed by a strong team including former top 10 finisher and winner of two stages at the Giro this year Michael Rogers. Nicholas Roche will also be there to support Contador and he is almost always better in his second Grand Tour of the year. Rafal Majka was a late call up to replace Kreuziger and was critical of the decision saying he wasn't ready. Although he quickly changed his mind on that. Must be remembered he did ride the Giro finishing 6th and wasn't expecting to ride the Tour so is unlikely to be at his absolute best.

Vincenzo Nibali

The 2013 Giro winner and runner up at the Vuelta (won the Vuelta in 2010) returns to the Tour to try and claim the complete set of wins. Hasn't seemed the same rider this year as last, hadn't managed a single win before the Italian Championships last weekend. While disturbing for some including reportedly his team manager Alexander Vinokourov his form at the Italian Nationals shows he is ready and coming in to form at the right time. Before the Tour de Romandie Nibali had not finished inside the top 10 all season and his 7th at the Critérium du Dauphiné showed was still more work to be done.

In his first Tour de finished 19th in 2008 then 6th the following year. After two years away from the biggest race in the World Nibali again returned in 2012 where he finished on the podium. A result that didn't gain as many headlines as he might have hoped with a Sky 1-2. Nibali has won the other two Grand Tours and finished on the podium here before showing he has the ability. The question is can he match the likes of Froome and Contador. He hasn't so far this season and it will be a hard task to here but if anyone else can match the two favourites expect it to be Nibali.

Alejandro Valverde

Got the nod to ride the Tour ahead of last year’s runner up Nairo Quintana. With Quintana having gone on to win the Giro is commanding style this year it will likely be Valverde's final change to win the Tour. He looked likely to finish on the podium last year but a mechanical saw him lose over 10 minutes and drop out of contention.

Has been winning races since the start of the season in February. Three stages and the overall at Vuelta a Andalucia, Vuelta Ciclista a Murcia, Roma Maxima, GP Miguel Indurain, La Flèche Wallonne and the Spanish Time Trial Championship. Valverde has also collected numerous podiums including 2nd Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Took almost two months off from racing after the Ardennes but made a strong return at Route du Sud finishing 2nd. Took a surprise win in the undulating Time Trial at the National Championships and 2nd in the Road Race behind teammate Jon Izaguirre.

Despite his National TT win the time trial is not his strength although he has clearly improved there but will still lose time to the likes of Froome, Contador and Nibali.

Andrew Talansky

The 25 year old won the Critérium du Dauphiné thanks in no small part to his tactical racing. Made it in to a large break on the final stage with a number of other top 10 riders and held an advantage to the finish that saw him take the jersey. It is a big step from winning the Dauphine to winning the Tour but Talansky's confidence will be high and a top 10 even a top 5 ride is likely. He did finish 10th overall last year including a number of top 10 finishes on stages. Talansky usually hits his best levels in the final week and that could be the most important thing here.

The hard final week including the long time trial will suit Talansky and allow him to take back some time on his rivals. Backed by a very strong team including Janier Acevedo, Tom-Jelte Slagter and Ben King.

Tejay van Garderen

In 2012 van Garderen finished a strong 5th ahead of teammate and Defending Champion Cadel Evans and also took the White jersey. Naturally a lot was expected last year but last year only managed to finish 45th although came very close to winning the stage up Alpe d'Huez. The Dauphine did not go as planned only managing to finish 13th although his ride on the final stage showed he was improving.

He has sole leadership this year and a strong team to support him but the pressure is also there to deliver now with Cadel Evans not racing. Will be well supported on the flat stages from the likes of Oss and Burghardt but also has a strong team of climbers with him. Atapuma, Stetina and Peter Velits will be crucial support in the mountains as he goes up against the teams of Froome and Contador.

Jurgen van den Broeck

His past two seasons have been impacted with injury and while he is often under the radar of fans van den Broeck is very consistent. Has finished top 10 in all three Grand Tours but his two best results are 4th at the Tour de France in 2012 and 2010. Had been consistent but quiet in his racing this year but his result at the Dauphine shows he is ready.

After twice finishing 4th and once 5th at the Dauphine, van den Broeck finally cracked the podium this year with a very solid third place. Not a stand out time trialist but a very solid one. Will lose time on the penultimate stage but should be able to hold his own despite its length. They key test will be in the mountains with a lot of his team here to support Andre Greipel in the sprints but expect to see Adam Hansen leading him in to the climbs.

Bauke Mollema

Heading in to the Tour de France last year Mollema was 2nd at the Tour de Suisse on route to his 6th at the Tour. Has followed a very similar race program to last year and it has again left him in a good position ahead of the Tour. Mollema finished third at the Tour de Suisse last month with 2nd and 3rd on the final two summit finishes.

The time trial is what will worry him most at over 50km a lot of time could be lost despite the undulating nature of the course suiting him more than if it was flat. Unlikely to be able to follow Froome and Contador on the climbs but if he keeps his own rhythm will limit his losses. With Belkin pulling its sponsorship at the end of the season a strong performance will go a long way here either attracting a new sponsor or securing a new team.

Mathias Frank

Frank is untested as a GC contender over three weeks. Moved from BMC to IAM at the end of last year to lead the team. Had a slower start to the year than others but started picking up results from the end of March. Won the Queen stage and finished 2nd at Critérium International, 4th Tour de Romandie, won the Queen Stage and again 2nd at Bayern Rundfahrt and added yet another second overall at the Tour de Suisse.

Leading a team over three weeks will be another challenge but he seems up to it after a number of years learning at BMC. Will lose time in the time trial but the final week will be the real test as we see how he fares.

Rui Costa

18th in 2012 and 27th last year but he is a different improved rider since then. Has won three stages in the past including two last year. This year Costa comes in to the race as the World Champion having won his third consecutive Tour de Suisse title. Much was said about the curse of the rainbow jersey and while it took him to the final stage of the Tour de Suisse to get a win so what? His start to the season was better than it has been in the past. With the win finally in his pocket it should give him more confidence.

Despite his solid GC finishes in the past this is the first time he is focused on a strong GC performance. Has good form and is backed by a team including 2013 Vuelta winner Chris Horner, Jose Serpa and Kristijan Durasek.

Michal Kwiatkowski

What a season Kwiatkowski has had so far. Has won Trofeo Serra de Tramuntana, 2 stages and the overall Volta ao Algarve, Strade Bianche by dropping Sagan, prologue Tour de Romandie and National Time Trial Championship. Finished top 5 in all 3 Ardennes races including 3rd at both La Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Also finished 2nd behind Contador at Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco after beating him at Volta ao Algarve.

We are still yet to see the full extent of what Kwiatkowski is capable but has lead both Tirreno-Adriatico and Tour de Romandie this year. Despite his strong start his last few races will not have been what he hoped. Didn't finish the Dauphine after struggling but his win in the Time Trial at the National Championships showed he is heading in the right direction. Wore the White Jersey last year and could do so again.

Leopold Konig

Has only ridden one Grand Tour in his career the Vuelta last year but he didn't disappoint. Attacked in the closing stages of the fist road stage and was caught but still took 4th in the uphill finish. Several days later he timed his attack perfectly and took a stage win. A solid ride over the three weeks saw him finish 9th overall.

NetApp-Endura has secured a wildcard and Konig will look to show organisers it was well earned. The team left sprinter Sam Bennett at home in order to better support Konig. Has been quiet all year but finished 4th at Bayern Rundfahrt and 11th at Critérium du Dauphiné in a sign he is coming in to form right when he wants to be,

Romain Bardet

This will be only the second Grand Tour for Bardet after his debut at the Tour last year. Finished a solid 15th for the then 22 year old. Came out of the race with good form winning the Tour de l'Ain in mid August and wrapping up the season with 5th at the Tour of Beijing.

Has stepped it up this year with 4th in March at Volta Ciclista a Catalunya. His final Tour de France preparation saw him just miss out on the Young Riders Jersey at the Dauphine despite his strong 5th overall. The long time trial will see Bardet lose a lot of time.

Thibaut Pinot

Won a stage and finished 10th overall on debut in 2012 but abandoned last year. It didn't take long for Pinot to bounce back though finishing the year with 7th in the Vuelta. After a hard start to the year Pinot has finished top 10 at Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco, Tour de Romandie and Bayern Rundfahrt. FDJ have brought Arnaud Demare and a number of riders for his sprint train leaving little support in the mountains.

His last race was the Tour de Suisse where he took 15th where he wasn't quite able to hang on to the best on the final part of the climbs. His time trialing has improved but at over 50km a bad day could see you lose a lot of time and placed on GC.

Other names to watch: Laurens Ten Dam, Daniel Navarro, Joaqium Rodriguez, Chris Horner, Pierre Rolland, Richie Porte, Michael Rogers, Nicholas Rocher, Haimar Zubeldia and Frank Schleck.


Mark Cavendish

Is he still the fastest sprinter? We may see that tested here. Last year he won two stages, which by any other riders standing would be a success but for Cavendish it was a little disappointing. Has nine stage wins this year and brings his very strong leadout train including Mark Renshaw, Alessandro Petacchi, Matteo Trentin plus names like Tony Martin and Niki Terpstra. He wants the stage 1 win and the yellow jersey, something he hasn't managed before.

Marcel Kittel

Won four stages last year including stage one and with it the Yellow Jersey. His Tour wrapped up in style winning on the Champs Elysées. It was a very successful Tour for Kittel and one that took him to another level. Won the fist two road stages at the Giro before had to pull out due to illness. Says he will be happy with just one stage but he will really want more than that. Giant-Shimano have put together leadout train after leadout train and come in with John Degenkolb, Koen de Kort, Tom Veelers and Albert Timmer.

Andre Greipel

Greipel has five stages over the past three years, but just one last year. Like his rivals brings a very strong train including Adam Hansen, Greg Henderson, Jurgen Roelandts and Marcel Sieberg. Defending his German Championship over the weekend so will again be ready to win in his National Champions jersey.

Michael Matthews

As of writing Matthews may not start. He crashed in training and has six stitches in his hand. Was to start his third Grand Tour in a row after taking stages in last years Vuelta and the Giro this year. Referred to as a sprinter but those who have watched his career since his under 23 days know that is only partially accurate. Yes he can sprint and sprint well but will never beat pure sprinters on the flat. His strength comes in his ability to climb and not just climb for a sprinter (he has finished 8th at the Tour de l'Avenir). The first stage is far from easy but with his hand may not be at his best.

Sacha Modolo

The 27 year old is only in his first year as a professional but he has not disappointed. Has seven wins this year including a recent win at the Tour de Suisse. With Rui Costa and Chris Horner on the team wont get as much support as others but can count on Ariel Maximiliano Richeze.

Arnaud Demare

Got selected over Nacer Bouhanni to be FDJ's sprinter at the Tour. Comes in with seven wins in 2014 including the French National Championship. Demare has come a long way since winning the U23 World Championships in 2011. It will be a big ask to upset Kittel, Cavendish and Greipel but he will get strong team support and be motivated to show off the French Champions jersey.

Peter Sagan

A sprinter? Well again while Sagan can definitely sprint he is no pure sprinter. Only picked up one stage win last year and that came on a very undulating stage where Cannondale destroyed the peloton on the climb dropping the sprinters. His consistency and ability to climb will see him pick up points on days pure sprinters cannot and will likely lead to another Green jersey.

Alexander Kristoff

Rode the Tour for the first time last year with his best result 2nd on the opening stage followed by a run of top 10's in other sprint finishes. Climbs reasonably well and will no doubt be looking at some of the harder stages. Nine wins this year including outsprinting Sagan at Milano-Sanremo.

Bryan Coquard

Comes from the Track, the Omnium especially and has picked up a number of wins in his first two years as a professional. Six last year and five so far this year but they have mostly come in smaller French races will little top tier sprinting competition. Won the first stage of the Tour de Picardie this year ahead of Demare the same race he actually beat Kittel in the previous year. It is his first Grand Tour and first test against the world's best.

John Degenkolb

Will support Kittel in the bunch sprints but will get opportunities for himself. Can climb better than the pure sprinter but will still have to face the likes of Sagan and Matthews. Five wins this year and second twice only just losing to Cavendish at the Tour of California.

Other names to watch: Elia Viviani, Romain Feillu, Ariel Maximiliano Richeze, Jose Joaqium Rojas, Heinrich Haussler, Daniele Bennati and Danny van Poppel.
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