Tour set for Battle Royal on treacherous course

Wed Jul 1, 2015 7:15am EDT
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By Julien Pretot

PARIS (Reuters) - Alberto Contador will cement his status as the best grand tour rider of the modern era if he emerges as the winner of the Big Four's battle royale at the Tour de France -- the most highly anticipated race in decades.

The Spaniard is looking to achieve the Giro d'Italia/Tour double for the first time since the late Marco Pantani in 1998 but the competition has never been fiercer for the seven-time grand tour champion who will retire at the end of next year.

Chris Froome, the 2013 champion, and Nairo Quintana, who hopes to become the first Colombian to win the Tour, look fresher while defending champion Vincenzo Nibali will also be in the mix on a treacherous course.

The first goal will be to make it to the first rest day after riding on cobbles, through potentially bunch-splitting winds and mastering dangerous courses as well as a tricky team time trial, a discipline Team Sky have failed to master lately.

"Organizers want to create a show every day, but they put the riders at risk," Eusebio Unzue, Quintana's Movistar team manager, told Reuters.

Last year, Froome and Contador crashed out of the Tour and Nibali powered to victory as Quintana had skipped the race.

This time, all four should be in decent shape when the three-week race starts in Utrecht, Netherlands, on Saturday.

Should they fail, a swarm of second fiddles or young guns led by France's Thibaut Pinot and Romain Bardet, will be ready to seize their opportunity in a very mountainous Tour.   Continued...

Tinkoff-Saxo rider Alberto Contador of Spain, pink jersey holder and overall leader, waves before the start of the 178 km (110 miles) 21st and last stage of the  98th Giro d'Italia cycling race from Turin to Milan May 31, 2015.  REUTERS/LaPresse/Fabio Ferrari