Nairo Quintana

Ten riders to watch at Tour de France

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Ten riders to watch at the Tour de France, live on NBC Sports from July 7-29 (broadcast/streaming schedule here) … 

Chris Froome
Team Sky/Great Britain
2013, 2015, 2016, 2017 Tour de France winner

If there’s one storyline this year, it’s Froome’s bid to tie the Tour de France titles record amid at least a microscope and at most a drug-testing controversy. Jacques AnquetilEddy MerckxBernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain all won five. Lance Armstrong of course claimed seven, but they were all stripped. Froome’s history chase is clouded by a September doping test that revealed twice the legal limit of an asthma drug. Froome was cleared of wrongdoing by the International Cycling Union five days before the start of the Tour, but he is sure to be the target of (at least) verbal barbs from fans.

Nairo Quintana
Movistar/Colombia
2013, 2015 Tour de France runner-up

Once Froome’s biggest challenger and still may be. Quintana won the Giro d’Italia in 2014 and the Vuelta a España in 2016, the latter being the last time Froome was beaten in a Grand Tour. Quintana struggled to 12th at last year’s Tour de France, but that was after racing the Giro that spring. Quintana skipped the Giro this season, but matters are complicated by having two other GC riders on his team.

Richie Porte
BMC/Australia
Fifth place, 2016 Tour de France

Porte was Froome’s right-hand man in the mountains for his first two Tour titles. He moved to BMC in 2016 and was tapped by Froome last year as his biggest threat, but Porte crashed out of stage nine in the 2017 Tour. Porte returned to win the Tour de Suisse last month (Quintana was third; Froome was resting after winning the Giro). Team BMC, which also includes American Tejay van Garderen, faces an uncertain future without a title sponsor beyond this season.

Mikel Landa
Movistar/Spain
Fourth place, 2017 Tour de France

Landa succeeded Porte as the strongest non-Froome rider on Sky. He missed the podium by one second last year and certainly looked strong enough helping Froome in the mountains to be leading his own team. Landa’s move to Movistar for this season doesn’t necessarily boost his yellow-jersey hopes. He’s on a team with two other GC contenders — Quintana and Alejando Valverde.

Vincenzo Nibali
Bahrain–Merida/Italy
2014 Tour de France winner

The only man in the field with a Tour title other than Froome. Like Froome, Nibali has also won all three Grand Tours (seven men have done this in history). Nibali, who left Astana for Bahrain-Merida in 2017, has finished on the podium in 10 of his last 14 Grand Tours dating to 2010. But he was 30th in his last Tour de France in 2016 and unimpressive in spring races.

Tom Dumoulin
Sunweb/Netherlands
2017 Giro d’Italia winner

Dumoulin’s success can be separated into two pots — time trials and the Giro. He earned Olympic time trial silver in Rio (between Fabian Cancellara and Froome) and won the world title last year (ahead of bronze medalist Froome). He captured the Giro in 2017, becoming the first Dutch man to win a Grand Tour since 1980, and was runner-up to Froome in Italy this year. Dumoulin’s best Tour de France finish was 33rd, and this is his first time racing the Tour after completing the Giro.

Romain Bardet
AG2R La Mondiale/France
Tour de France runner-up (2016) and third place (2017)

At 27, the youngest rider on this list. Bardet is again tasked with trying to end France’s longest Tour victory drought, now dating 33 years since Hinault’s fifth and final title in 1985. Strong in the mountains, Bardet is known for struggling in time trials. He nearly squandered a place on the podium on a 14-mile time trial in the Tour’s penultimate stage last year, losing 72 seconds to Landa.

Rigoberto Uran
EF Education First–Drapac p/b Cannondale/Colombia
2017 Tour de France runner-up

The surprise of the 2017 Tour podium. Uran was best known for taking 2012 Olympic road race silver. He went into the 2017 Tour with a best previous finish of 24th, though he was runner-up at the Giro 2013 and 2014. Uran helped usher in a strong group of Colombian riders, but no South American has won the Tour de France. Uran, flying under the radar by his spring results, will again have help from American Taylor Phinney and, especially in the mountains, veteran Frenchman Pierre Rolland.

Peter Sagan
Bora–Hansgrohe/Slovakia
Eight Tour de France stage wins

The most magnetic figure in the sport returns after being wrongly disqualified for his clash with Mark Cavendish in the fourth stage last year. Sagan is nicknamed “The Terminator,” is known to pop wheelies at races and inhale gummy fruit candy after victories. And that happens often. Sagan has won three world road race titles and five Tour de France points classifications as the top sprinter. One more green jersey in Paris to match Erik Zabel‘s record.

Mark Cavendish
Dimension Data/Great Britain
30 Tour de France stage wins

Cavendish’s Tour ended after four stages last year, breaking his shoulder falling from that clash with Sagan. That meant he remained four stage wins shy of Merckx’s record. Time is running out. Cavendish is 33 years old and won five stages total from the last four Tours. It’s getting more and more difficult for the Manx Missile to outsprint Sagan and the other 20-somethings chasing the green jersey.

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MORE: Froome cleared to race Tour, doping case closed

Chris Froome takes yellow jersey at Tour de France

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The new leader of the Tour de France is a familiar one — three-time champion Chris Froome.

Froome finished third on a Stage 5 summit finish Wednesday, 20 seconds behind stage winner Fabio Aru of Italy and four seconds behind runner-up Dan Martin of Ireland.

Froome made up a seven-second deficit on teammate Geraint Thomas, who was the overall leader going into the three-week stage race’s first mountain day. Thomas, a longtime support rider for Froome, finished 40 seconds behind Aru in 10th place at La Planche de Belles Filles.

Froome now leads Thomas by 12 seconds in the overall standings through five of 21 stages. The goal is to keep the yellow jersey through to Paris on July 23.

“This is going to be the hardest-fought battle [for the Tour title] I’ve ever had,” said Froome, Tour winner in 2013, 2015 and 2016.

Froome attacked Wednesday with one mile left chasing Aru, the 2015 Vuelta a Espana champion who had opened a 20-second lead with a move a half-mile earlier.

Froome was joined by general-classification rivals Richie Porte and Romain Bardet. Contenders Alberto Contador and Nairo Quintana fell off, finishing six and 14 seconds behind Froome, respectively.

TOUR: Results/Standings | Highlights | Broadcast Schedule

The new overall standings:

1. Chris Froome (GBR) — 18:38:59
2. Geraint Thomas (GBR) — +:12
3. Fabio Aru (ITA) — +:14
4. Dan Martin (IRL) — +:25
5. Richie Porte (AUS) — +:39
7. Romain Bardet (FRA) — +:47
8. Alberto Contador (ESP) — +:52
9. Nairo Quintana (COL) — +:54

The peloton caught the last two breakaway riders — Belgians birthday boy Philippe Gilbert and Jan Bakelants — with two and a half miles left.

Wednesday marked the first Tour de France stage in 30 years to start without any rider who had previously won a points classification title.

Peter Sagan, top sprinter at the last five Tours, was disqualified Tuesday after his contact with 2011 green jersey winner Mark Cavendish caused Cavendish to break his shoulder-blade and abandon the Tour.

Thursday’s Stage 6 will be a day for the remaining sprinters. The 134-mile trek from Vesoul to Troyes crosses the River Seine and is straight and flat for the final kilometer. Expect Germans Marcel Kittel and Andre Greipel and Frenchman Arnaud Demare to vie for the stage win.

NBC Sports Gold coverage starts at 6 a.m. ET. NBCSN’s coverage starts at 7:30 a.m.

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MORE: 10 Tour de France riders to watch

Geraint Thomas wins crash-filled Tour de France Stage 1

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A Team Sky rider leads the Tour de France after Stage 1. Will another one wear the yellow jersey in Paris in three weeks?

Geraint Thomas became the first Welshman to lead the Tour after clocking the fastest individual time trial on a crash-filled rainy day in Duesseldorf, Germany, on Saturday.

“I didn’t even think about it [winning], to be honest,” said Thomas, the most experienced member of favorite Chris Froome‘s support team. “I didn’t believe it was going to happen. I thought [German world time trial champion Tony] Martin‘s going to beat me. Or so-and-so’s going to beat me.”

Thomas covered the flat, wet, nine-mile course in 16 minutes, 4 seconds. He was five seconds faster than Swiss Stefan Kueng.

TOUR: Results/Standings | Highlights | Broadcast Schedule

Several riders crashed earlier on the course. The biggest was to Alejandro Valverde, the third-place finisher in 2015 who slammed into a metal barrier and abandoned the Tour.

That boosts the hopes for Froome, who is looking for his fourth Tour title in five years. Froome ended up in sixth place, 12 seconds behind his Team Sky mate Thomas.

More importantly, Froome is the highest placed of the general classification contenders. He is 35 and 36 seconds ahead of Richie Porte and Nairo Quintana, respectively.

The top American was Taylor Phinney in 12th place, 17 seconds behind Thomas. Phinney, 27 and a three-time Olympian, is making his Tour debut three years after suffering a broken tibia, broken patella, a severed patella tendon and a ruptured PCL from hitting a guard rail at the U.S. Championships.

“I wasn’t really thinking about the journey, but it’s been quite a ride,” Phinney said on NBCSN afterward. “Can’t complain. Didn’t crash today. Jazzed.”

Thomas, in his eighth Tour de France, notched his first stage win in a Grand Tour. The 31-year-old won Olympic team pursuit gold medals on the track with Great Britain in 2008 and 2012.

Sunday’s Stage 2 is a mostly flat 126 miles from Duesseldorf to Liege, Belgium, that should set up well for sprinters. A fourth-category climb about 12 miles before the conclusion likely won’t prevent a mass finish.

NBC Sports Gold‘s live coverage starts at 5:55 a.m. ET. NBCSN coverage starts at 7:30.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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MORE: 10 Tour de France riders to watch

Stage 1
1. Geraint Thomas (GBR) — 16:04
2. Stefan Kueng (SUI) — +:05
3. Vasil Kiriyenka (BLR) — +:07
4. Tony Martin (GER) — +:08
5. Matteo Trentin (ITA) — +:10
6. Chris Froome (GBR) — +:12
12. Taylor Phinney (USA) — +:17
49. Richie Porte (AUS) — +:47
53. Nairo Quintana (COL) — +:48