When the 2016 Tour de France kicks off in Mont-Saint-Michel on Saturday, July 2, it will boast the strongest line-up of British riders in the race’s 103 editions.
There are also ascending general classification challengers Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) and Adam Yates (Orica-GreenEdge), plus Tour stage winner Steve Cummings (Dimension Data), up-and-coming sprinter Daniel McLay (Fortuneo Vital Concept) and powerhouses Ian Stannard and Luke Rowe.
Although the seven Brits are part of three rival teams, between them there is a viable option for a victory in every category of stage, be it flat, mountains, hilly or time trial.
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Chris Froome (Team Sky)
Froome goes into the 2016 Tour as defending champion and the leading favourite to take the race victory. Not only did he win the race overall last year, but he also claimed the King of the Mountains title and won stage 10. His path to the 2016 Tour has been solid: overall victory in the Critérium du Dauphiné against some of his key Tour rivals show that he’s on good form. Should he win again this year, he’ll be the only current rider to have won the Tour on three occasions – he’s already the first British rider to win the Tour more than once.
Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data)
There’s an expectation that Cavendish will come away from the Tour de France with at least one stage victory, such is his record at the race. His tally of 26 Tour victories puts him in third place in the all-time list of Tour stage winners behind Eddy Merckx and Bernard Hinault. Given that Hinault has 28 wins, Cavendish could feasibly equal or surpass him this year. The only things stopping him are a switch in focus to the track, where Cavendish will contest the omnium for Great Britain at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, and the form of sprint rival Marcel Kittel.
Geraint Thomas (Team Sky)
After his performance in the Tour last year, where Thomas spent much of the race in the top 10 overall, he has been given the chance by Sky to be a solid ‘plan G’ behind Froome. Thomas is likely to ride with Froome for as much as possible, providing an option for the British team should Froome fall or falter. It’s also a chance for the Welshman to prove he has what it takes to lead during a three-week Grand Tour.
Watch: Tour de France 2016 contenders
Steve Cummings (Dimension Data)
The ever-popular Cummings has found his niche in recent years as an attacking specialist, launching solo moves at the end of tough stages to grab the victory. It’s a tactic that saw him upset French duo Thibaut Pinot and Romain Bardet last year to claim victory on stage 14, and it’s a tactic that has already seen him take three victories this season, in the Critérium du Dauphiné, Tirreno-Adriatico and Tour of the Basque Country. Of the seven Brits in the Tour, Cummings is the most exciting rider to watch.
Adam Yates (Orica-GreenEdge)
Yates goes into the Tour as the youngest of the Brit contingent, and as one of the brightest young stars of the UK cycling scene. Much as been made of his climbing talent – and that of twin brother Simon – and he’ll be seeing how far he can push himself in what is still relatively unknown territory for the Bury man. His Orica-GreenEdge team will not be putting pressure on him to provide a top 10 finish overall, but will be seeking stage wins.
Luke Rowe (Team Sky)
After a solid spring classics campaign that saw him place fifth in the Tour of Flanders, Welshman Rowe changes mode to being super-domestique for team leader Chris Froome. Along with Ian Stannard (see below), Rowe provides a huge engine to power Team Sky’s control of the peloton and assist in chasing down escape groups. As such, you will not see Rowe riding for himself – simply in the service of the team.
Ian Stannard (Team Sky)
Few riders have the engine of Stannard, who along with Rowe can be relied upon to crank up the pace of the entire peloton when the need arises. His hard work on the front of the bunch is often missed by the TV cameras, as he is generally used earlier on in the stages before the live video pictures start. Every general classification contender’s team wants – and needs – a rider like Stannard.
Daniel McLay (Fortuneo Vital Concept)
McLay has been quietly amassing victories and top placings in a number of continental races over the past few seasons riding for the French Fortuneo Vital Concept (formerly Bretagne) team. His selection for the Tour will hand him a golden opportunity to sprint alongside the very best in the world. Though a stage win may be a tall order for now, watch out for McLay in the future as his experience builds.
And who is not there…
British time trial champion Alex Dowsett missed out on selection for the Movistar team; Simon Yates (Orica-GreenEdge) is currently serving a four-month suspension and will miss the race.