Merckx: Froome will win the Tour again as he has no real rivals

Five-time Tour de France winner Eddy Merckx doesn't believe Chris Froome has any real challengers for the 2016 yellow jersey

Chris Froome with Eddy Merckx at the 2013 Tour de France

Cycling great Eddy Merckx is backing Chris Froome to win his third Tour de France in four years next July, claiming the Team Sky rider has no real rivals for the crown.

Froome blew the peloton away on stage 10 of the 2015 Tour, beating eventual runner-up Nairo Quintana by a decisive 64 seconds and defending his lead all the way to Paris.

But Merckx says the Colombian's weaknesses in the time trials will be his downfall in 2016, while Froome other main rival, Alberto Contador, will be too old to present a real challenge.

“Of course he’s going to win it again,” five-time Tour winner Merckx said in an interview with L'Equipe. “If it’s not him, then who else?”

He added: “It won’t be Quintana who will worry him, because he’s too limited in time trials. Quintana climbs well, but he’s a bit weighed down, too cautious. Waiting for the penultimate day and Alpe d’Huez [in the 2015 Tour] to attack Froome revealed a lack of calibre.

“As for the others: Nibali won’t be there, Contador will be another year older, Aru I don’t really know… No, on paper, Froome hasn’t really got any rivals.”

With two individual time trials, including a mountain test in the third week, Froome's dominance against the clock is likely to be a leading factor in him retaining his title.

Nibali, who came fourth in 2015, will not likely not have the chance to win his second Tour as he is targeting the Giro d'Italia, leaving Fabio Aru to lead Astana in his debut Tour.

Alejandro Valverde, third in 2015, will also not challenge Froome, with the Spaniard also racing the Giro and using the Tour to gain form for the Olympic Games. His acceptance of playing the domestique role could play into Quintana's hands, though, with Valverde providing a strong motor in the mountains.

Contador, meanwhile, won't be coming into the Tour off the back of winning the Giro in 2016, but Merckx doesn't believe the 33-year-old will have the legs to hold off Froome's assault at another title.

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Stuart Clarke is a News Associates trained journalist who has worked for the likes of the British Olympic Associate, British Rowing and the England and Wales Cricket Board, and of course Cycling Weekly. His work at Cycling Weekly has focused upon professional racing, following the World Tour races and its characters.