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Buy/sell/hold round three: the GC contenders

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While we wait for the CX worlds, something totally different for you to think about – 2017 prognostications for the stars of the Grand Tours

Le Tour de France 2016 - Stage Sixteen Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

As we get ever closer to the release of the VDS costs, it is time for another round of buy/sell/hold. By now you should be getting an idea of how this works – my key considerations are regression to the mean, opportunity and age. There is no attempt at science – it is just my view on whether I anticipate this year’s results being better, worse, or similar to 2016. Disagreements are welcomed.

As far as any broader themes for GC, well, I would be tempted to say more of the same for 2017, and you’ll see lots of hold ratings. I know there are those who are bored by Froome’s victories, but I don’t see him being beaten this year, so long as he keeps the rubbery bit of his bike at the bottom for three weeks in July.

A tl;dr version of the below: GC riders will be basically the same as last year except that the old will get worse and the young will get better. Additionally, there are riders who looked good in 2016 in Italy or Spain and are therefore keen to “prove themselves” in France in 2017. Avoid them. There are also riders moving their focus to the other races from the Tour. Embrace them.

Froome – HOLD. Simply, the best all-round GC rider of his generation. Showed he had a bit of moxie in ensuring that an occasionally bizarre 2016 Tour had the expected winner. He wouldn’t mind some more TT kms in 2017’s route map, but I don’t think the loss will be significant. His programme will be different without the Olympics, and even running on fumes after two Grand Tours, it’ll be a good rider who can beat him in a very hilly world TT.

Quintana – SELL. He’s a talented all-round rider and a superb climber, but he won the Vuelta and finished 3rd in the Tour. I can’t see him repeating that level of success. This is partly because his team is weaker, with Izaguirre and others moving on, and Valverde’s focus on the GTs reduced, and partly because his plan to go to the Giro and the Tour seems like the definition of an unclear and misguided goal. He could easily end up isolated and slightly undercooked in both races.

Aru – BUY. I spoke about this buy on the first PodCafSt. Annus horribilis in 2016, and it was the first year since 2013 he missed a GT podium. Back to riding for the Giro/Vuelta double and aged only 26, he has the capacity to thrive. Astana have lost Rosa and Nibali, but they have hired some useful domestiques and he’ll be well-supported with a top team for whom he’s the unquestioned number one. Two podiums seems like a realistic goal, he could win either race, and if he has anything left in the tank it is worth noting that Il Lombardia is a race he’s quietly done well in for the last two years.

Porte – HOLD. There’s a theory going around that he deserved a podium spot in the Tour, only held back by bad luck on stage 2. After that, he could ride with the bigs. All true, insofar as it goes. The problem is, because he lost those 105 seconds so early, he was ignored – we’ll never know if he could have been marked out of the podium in the high mountains. He’s a good rider but I think we’ve seen his ceiling. Roche is a nice acquisition to make up for Van Garderen’s move away from the key lieutenant role. Less objectively, his mapatasi chain annoys me more than any other fashion in the peloton, which is saying something.

Nibali – SELL. This is hard. He’s a rider who has truly maximised his considerable talent, and I admire that. However, I think in 2017 he’ll drop off the list of meaningful GC contenders in the GTs. A much weaker team and a stronger field in the coming (100th) Giro are against him. So too, alas, is Father Time.

Contador – SELL. Fun to watch, extraordinary on his day, and clearly still able to climb with just about anyone most of the time. Inconsistency is creeping in, and it has started to show in his results. Probably should have stuck to his guns and left after last season.

Bardet – SELL. I loved watching Bardet’s 2nd place in the Tour last year – he was great for animiating the race, great for French cycling, and great for my betting records (66/1!). I’d love to see him winning the Tour but I just can’t. Still a liability when suits get skin-tight, and will be marked more in 2017 than he was last year. Away from the Tour, he is a threat in the toughest one-day races and week-long stage races, but again he’ll need to go well to match his exploits in 2016. I see a similar level of performance rewarded by slightly poorer results.

Kelderman – HOLD. I don’t think a change in team will have a significant effect on the big Dutchman, who is a great timetrialler and tries to survive in the biggest mountains. Easy to think he’d do better with a focus on the week-long WT races but will do his thing in GTs as well, and pick up his share of the glory.

Jungels – BUY. This comes with a caveat; it’ll be a hold if he goes for the Tour. I think Quick-step are sensible enough to keep him away from it and he’s a threat in the other two tours. As I said over on my blog, his TT skills make him a threat to the pure climbers in every race he competes in, and he’s gaining in smarts and climbing prowess all the time.

Pinot – BUY. Nice to see FDJ recognising that he has a better chance away from the Tour. His improvement as a time triallist is one of the more extraordinary developments of the last couple of years and that alone suggest the Giro is the right race for him. However, I think he’ll be held back by a lack of support from his team (who must still aim to send someone to their home GT, weakening his potential support) and a nagging concern that he hasn’t raced since he left the Tour with a virus. I’m intrigued by his proposed entry into Strade Bianche, which could be anything from masterstroke to disaster.

Mollema – HOLD. I made a joke on PdC many years ago about the boss’ cat, Bauke. I suggested he must have been a good kitten and a frustrating cat. I mention this because Mollema is now 30, still hasn’t improved on his 4th in the Vuelta in 2011, and the joke still works (for the rider - I haven’t checked in with the cat). He was 11th in the Tour, as sustained excellence in three-week races seem to be beyond him. One could argue he was unlucky to crash in the third week but these things do keep happening. On the other hand, he’s a podium threat in the big week-long races and even some classics.

Kruijswijk – HOLD. It took me longer to spell his name correctly than it took him to lose the Giro. Whether that was bad luck or a lack of something (experience? bike handling? nerve?) is an interesting question. Either way, the psychological pain must have been as considerable as the physical, and it remains to be seen what it will do to his performance in 2017. Leaving psychology aside, he’s thrived on the responsibility of leading his team but as a marked rider I’m not sure I see him taking a step forward.

Yates A – HOLD. This Yates brothers thing really is annoying. Not only can I not tell them apart, but all the good jokes about them being interchangeable have been taken. So, let’s just deal with them both here. They’re good. They climb well, can finish, and have GC and one-day chops. Time-trialling is far from a weakness. They’re also both behind Chaves in the pecking order on a suddenly-loaded Orica Grand Tour squad. Will go well in their races but might be forced into supporting roles or put on parcours that aren’t quite right. Maintaining 2016 results at their age is actually bloody impressive, so this isn’t a slight.

Yates S – HOLD. See (sigh) Yates A.

Chaves- HOLD. Blimey, this little lad can ride a bike, can’t he? Only 26 (and, visually, pre-pubescent) he’s one to watch in every race he goes into, the leader of a great GC group (see Yates A) and can improve. However, he set the bar awfully high in 2016 with a monument win and two grand tour podiums. Can’t see him exceeding that performance unless his time-trialling improves dramatically.

Lopez – HOLD. Another Columbian with a knack for going up long hills quickly, and I think he might be the most talented of the lot – certainly he’s got a realistic chance of joining Quintana as a GT winner. I went from believer to fanboy when he outpaced Cancellara, Kelderman and Talansky to finish second in the Swiss TT and win the overall GC. Time trialling is typically a weakness for the Climbians, and being superb at it is a very transferrable skill. Was going to be one of my five riders to follow before he broke his tibia – but combining that injury with his failure to finish a GT so far in his brief career means that I’ll temper my expecations for this year. 2018 should be different.

Talansky – BUY. I was pleased to see Talansky’s renaissance as last season wore on. He rode nicely and appears to be returning to the form that saw him shock everyone en route to a win in the Dauphine in 2014. Won’t be winning GTs but he does everything well enough to keep him in contention in every stage race he rides. Don’t think a broken thumb very early in the year will hold him back dramatically.

Van Garderen – BUY. We know who Van Garderen is by now, and this rating has less to do with any perceived improvement than by his expected move to ride away from Porte and the Tour. If he can cope with the experience of his first Giro, he has the talent to compete there, and he’s only 28. Needs to show more in his other stage races, as he has tended to have one sharp peak per season.

Meintjes – HOLD. Talk about an experienced 24. I definitely had him down as older. Fine climber and proven top-10 talent in GTs, but doesn’t win many races and could be held back by his team, where he can expect little support on the road, and a degree of chaos off it.

Formolo – BUY. I like Formolo. I like his style and I like his climbing. He’s going to get chances to ride for himself on a Canondale squad with a lot of body but not much head. However, he’s going to need a Pinot-esque improvement in his time-trialling to become a podium contender (and even a Pinot-esque improvement would only get him up to mediocre). Could ride with the bigs in the Giro and finish 5th-7th ish, which would be another step forward. No reason he can’t improve in hilly classics, either.

Majka – HOLD. I don’t really know what Majka is riding for at the moment. He’s managed four top tens in GTs (including a podium) so in that sense he’s a GC threat. He’s also worn polka-dots into Paris twice, and picked up an Olympic bronze and a monument podium, so he’s a bit of a climby finisher, too. Scheduled to ride the Giro and Tour again, and I wish he wouldn’t. With a different campaign (Paris-Nice, Ardennes, Tour, World Champs) he’d be a clear buy, but I think he might be spread a little too thinly against some good fields this year. The apparent confusion over race programmes at Bora might simply be a problem in their communications department, or might speak to a broader lack of planning.

König – BUY. The fact I totally forgot to add him to the list until I was trying to figure out Majka’s race programme tells you that this isn’t the strongest buy recommendation I’ll make. He’s good enough, especially with lengthy time trials, to compete now he’s riding for himself, but I can’t see him really excelling. I think we’ll look back and realise he spent his best years riding tempo at Sky. Such is the way of modern cycling, I suppose.

Gesink – HOLD. I forgot Bobby G for even longer than I forgot König. It was nice to see him back from injury and to something like his best last year. I think he can maintain that level but he lacks the consistent brilliance to improve on it, I suspect.