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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.