So the Tour is rolling around again, with the usual doping controversies, contract negotiations and transfer rumours. Teams are redesigning jerseys, naming their lineups in imaginative and unimaginative ways, preparing walk-on music for the team presentation and frantically searching for four safety pins in order to pin on their race numbers. It all becomes such a spectacle that you almost might forget there are bikes to jump on and finish lines to cross. Almost. Of course, nowhere else is there a more desperate struggle to get results, get your name mentioned or get your sponsor's logo on television. Somewhere in that sentence lies each team's realistic ambitions for the Tour de France, so allons-y, let's look at those ambitions and the likelihood of their achievement. We'll go in reverse alphabetical order, because that's as imaginative as I get, I'm afraid.
Who's turning out? Guillaume Martin, Dion Smith, Guillaume Van Keirsbulck, Yoann Offredo, Andrea Pasqualon, Thomas Degand, Frederik Backaert, Marco Minnaard and Pieter Vanspeybrouck are rolling off the start ramp for the Belgian outfit. Martin is a young climbing talent, Smith and Pasqualon are sprinters, at least in races smaller than this, and Van Keirsbulck is in what Belgians call a hostile environment sans cobbled climbs.
What’s an ideal Tour? Martin to stick around on the early mountain stages and take a breakaway win, catapulting him onto the world stage and...ensuring his immediate transfer. Er, Martin to stick around on the early mountain stages and get a passable fifteenth on GC, perhaps? The others should make their presence known in breakaways on flat and rolling stages, from where their only chances of victory should come. Ideally, one throw of the dice works out for them.
What's a disastrous Tour? There's no one objective that if missed, ruins the Tour for Wanty, but if this is a bad Tour for breaks, it's a bad Tour for this team.
What’s most likely to happen? Wanty will show their faces in breakaways. I don't think they have quite the firepower to take stage wins unless they get very lucky, but the chance is there.
UAE Team Emirates
Who's turning out? Louis Meintjes, Diego Ulissi, Darwin Atapuma, Sacha Modolo, Ben Swift, Jan Polanc, Marco Marcato, Vegard Stake Laengen and Manuele Mori arrive in Düsseldorf. Meintjes is the ostensible GC leader, but it's hard to imagine Atapuma and Ulissi getting into line behind them.
What’s an ideal Tour? Meintjes improves on his eighth place from last year, moving into the top five and taking a white jersey home with him. Ulissi ulissis his way into a stage win or even two, while Atapuma makes a good attempt at the KOM jersey.
What's a disastrous Tour? The team puts all their resources behind Meintjes, thinking him capable of a high GC finish, only for him to falter on a later mountain stage, losing several minutes. That means no more time for Ulissi or Atapuma to salvage a result and a wasted Tour for the UAE outfit.
What’s most likely to happen? Meintjes really ought to take the white jersey, and he even has an outside chance at reaching the top five. Ulissi and Atapuma are wildcards.
Who's turning out? Alberto Contador, John Degenkolb, Bauke Mollema, Fabio Felline, Jarlinson Pantano, Michael Gogl, Markel Irizar, Koen De Kort and Haimar Cardoso are riding stage one for the American side. Pretty obvious what's going on here: Degenkolb gets two or three domestiques to have a go at the sprints and rolling stages, while Contador wastes everyone else's July.
What’s an ideal Tour? Contador doesn't bother riding stage one and spends the time building a time machine to transport him back to 2009. He makes a stop in early 2015 to prevent Degenkolb's training crash. Armed thus, Trek are invincible and take the win along with two stages from Degenkolb.
What's a disastrous Tour? Contador is even more mediocre than expected, fading to eleventh or so, all the while grimacing and attacking whenever he gets a chance. Degenkolb didn't recover his 2015 form for the classics, so he sees no reason to do so now. Mollema, tired from the Giro, does nothing of note while Haimar Cardoso is very visible without achieving much.
What’s most likely to happen? Contador, crash-free or otherwise, rides to fourth or lower all the while saying he can win and mounting attacks from the gun. Degenkolb finishes fourth in a few sprints. Pantano, Felline and Mollema are strangled in domestique duty.
Who's turning out? Michael Matthews, Warren Barguil, Laurens Ten Dam, Simon Geschke, Mike Teunissen, Ramon Sinkeldam, Nikias Arndt, Roy Curvers and Simon Geschke line out for Sunweb in the absence of Tom Dumoulin. Matthews is the reasonably well-supported leader looking for a stage hard enough to drop all the better sprinters on a day when he has better legs than Peter Sagan. Barguil is the apparent GC guy.
What’s an ideal Tour? Barguil to make at least some impression for the first time since, you know, that Vuelta where he did, er, something. Matthews has to win at least one stage, with a spell in yellow on the cards if that stage comes early on. If all the rest can stagehunt their way to another, that'd be a dream for the Dutch team, whose season is already a success.
What's a disastrous Tour? Barguil does what he did last year. What was that? Exactly. Matthews is a rider very capable of being narrowly outclassed in a lot of situations, so that could easily keep happening. The rest could go around anonymously.
What’s most likely to happen? Barguil isn't going to have a great GC ride, but between he and Matthews a stage is on the cards.
Who's turning out? Chris Froome, Sergio Henao, Geraint Thomas, Mikel Landa, Michał Kwiatkowski, Mikel Nieve, Vasil Kiryienka, Luke Rowe and Christian Knees are riding for Sky, shocking anyone who thought Christian Knees had evaporated some time in 2013. Froome is the obvious GC leader, everyone else is a capable lieutenant.
What’s an ideal Tour? An ideal Tour roughly follows the pattern of 2016, or better 2015. Actually, maybe 2013. Froome takes the yellow jersey and holds it until the end, regardless of any, preferably mimimal problems. Everybody else does his job to perfection, with no crashes or illnesses. Stage wins are secondary.
What's a disastrous Tour? 2014 is a pretty good blueprint for this. Froome crashes early on and the backup back up poorly. No stage wins and no top fifteen on GC. Either that or Froome is simply beaten. I'm not actually sure which would be worse for Sky.
What’s most likely to happen? Currently, I can't see past Froome making this Tour number four. Despite his poor Dauphiné, his form is still no worse than any proven Grand Tour winner. His team are just as strong as they've ever been and can help him to the Champs.
Who's turning out? Daniel Martin, Marcel Kittel, Philippe Gilbert, Zdenek Stybar, Gianluca Brambilla, Matteo Trentin, Fabio Sabatini, Julien Vermote and Jack Bauer have been selected for Quick-Step. Martin is presumably trying to improve on his ninth from last year, while Kittel is trying to make use of the eighty million sprint stages. Brambilla's hunting stages, probably, while everyone else is a leadout, I guess?
What’s an ideal Tour? Martin forces his way into the top five without suffering a single bad day. Kittel takes advantage of Gaviria and Ewan's absence, Cavendish's sickness and everyone else's slowness to hoover up sprint win after sprint win, enough to narrowly get him the green jersey.
What's a disastrous Tour? Martin looks decent on the early mountain stages but falls ill during the Pyrenees, getting in one unconvincing breakaway before abandoning on the Izoard stage. Kittel finds himself without the legs as a resurgent Cavendish repeats last year's performance.
What’s most likely to happen? Martin will keep a top five position until the Izoard, where he falls back to somewhere between sixth and eighth, then leaves the Tour calling it a resounding success. Kittel looks to be in a very good position for the sprints. I think he'll take at least three stage wins, perhaps as many as five. I'm not certain how well the rest of the team can do.
Who's turning out? Esteban Chaves, Simon Yates, Roman Kreuziger, Michael Albasini, Luke Durbridge, Mat Hayman, Daryl Impey, Jens Keukeleire and Damian Howson make up Orica's squad. With the absence of Caleb Ewan they seem set for a go at the GC, with a few stage hunters to fill out the ranks.
What’s an ideal Tour? Chaves defies everyone's expectations by coming to this Tour like it's a Vuelta, reaching the podium. Yates stays close to him in the mountains, escaping to a stage while clad in the white jersey.
What's a disastrous Tour? Chaves and Yates ride like they did the Dauphiné, achieving nothing in GC. Kreuziger continues to forget how to climb at a high level. Nobody else distinguishes himself.
What’s most likely to happen? Chaves, Yates or both will probably stay around the mid-to-low regions of the top ten. Nobody else will distinguish himself.
Who's turning out? Nairo Quintana, Alejandro Valverde, Carlos Betancur, Jonathan Castroviejo, Andrey Amador, Jesus Herrada, Jasha Sutterlin, Imanol Erviti and Daniele Bennati make up Movistar's nine. Quintana is apparently still going for GC after that great success at the Giro, while Alejandro Valverde is stretching the definition of the word "support."
What’s an ideal Tour? Castroviejo storms into the yellow jersey by winning the prologue. Quintana realises that he forgot his lucky shoes for the Giro, finds them and wins the Tour by five minutes, outclimbing Froome when it counts for the first time, er, ever. Valverde ghosts around,, winning some stages with downhill finishes, sneaking into third.
What's a disastrous Tour? Valverde actually supports Quintana, who miraculously finds out that doing the Giro-Tour double is harder than you might think. He fades off the podium while breakaway wins prevent Valverde getting stages.
What’s most likely to happen? People will treat Quintana as a serious contender until Froome, Porte or whoever drops him without so much as a glance on around the second mountain stage. Valverde will stick around and yeah, probably get a stage.
Who's turning out? André Greipel, Tony Gallopin, Tiesj Benoot, Tim Wellens, Jurgen Roelandts, Thomas De Gendt, Adam Hansen, Lars Ytting Bak and Marcel Sieberg ride for Lotto, with Greipel poised to take yet another Grand Tour sprint win or two, helped by four leadout men. The rest look like a good stagehunting unit.
What’s an ideal Tour? Kittel doesn't hit top form and Greipel dominates the sprints as he did in 2015, the difference being that this time there are more of them. He takes five stages. Tim Wellens wins a medium mountain stage in the rain and Tiesj Benoot wears the white jersey for a while.
What's a disastrous Tour? Greipel figures out that fast-twitch muscles are supposed to be slower-twitch at the age of thirty-five, while the Tour is altogether too sunny for Wellens to switch on.
What’s most likely to happen? Greipel will probably win his customary one stage without ever looking likely to stamp all over the sprints. I can see Wellens or Gallopin pulling another out of somewhere.
Who's turning out? Dylan Groenewegen, Robert Gesink, Primoz Roglic, George Bennett, Paul Martens, Jos Van Emden, Timo Roosen, Robert Wagner and Tom Leezer will start for the Dutch team. Groenewegen is the designated sprinter, obviously. He seems like the team's real leader.
What’s an ideal Tour? Van Emden takes yellow in the prologue and Groenewegen takes if off him on stage four thanks to a couple of sprint wins. He gets another couple while Roglic jumps out of the peloton to win a hilly stage.
What's a disastrous Tour? Groenewegen not finding top gear pretty much ruins this Tour for Lotto. He has a very good chance at getting some important victories. Missing them would be a disappointment.
What’s most likely to happen? I think Groenewegen will get enough chances to take one stage. Roglic is dangerous for one as well.
Who's turning out? Alexander Kristoff, Tony Martin, Robert Kiserlovski, Nils Politt, Rick Zabel, Reto Hollenstein, Marco Haller, Tiago Machado and Maurits Lammertink make their bow for Katusha. Kristoff's going for the sprints and Martin for the time-trials, of course, while Kiserlovski and Machado make a climbing duo to fill out the third week's breakaways.
What’s an ideal Tour? Martin wins tomorrow and in Marseille, Kristoff finds some sprinting form and Kiserlovski finds himself in the right break on one of the mountain stages.
What's a disastrous Tour? Martin comes out second best in the time-trials, while Kristoff does the same in the sprints.
What’s most likely to happen? Martin will probably start and finish Katusha's Tour well, but Kristoff should not win any stages in between.
Who's turning out? Dan McLay, Eduardo Sepulveda, Florian Vachon, Brice Feillu, Romain Hardy, Elie Gesbert, Maxime Bouet, Pierre-Luc Perichon and Laurent Pichon will wear Fortuneo's colours. McLay will be sprinting while his team mates get in breaks, it seems.
What’s an ideal Tour? Dan McLay gets one stage win. That's pretty much the dream for Fortuneo, and given his third place on stage six last year it doesn't even look that unlikely.
What's a disastrous Tour? Fortuneo haven't had the best of it in any of the Tours they've ridden, and so long as they maintain the same country of UCI registration they have no consequences to fear if they don't win any stages.
What’s most likely to happen? McLay will likely show up in a few sprint finishes, even if he may not come away with any victories. The rest of the gang will show up in breaks along the way. If you don't know what the Fortuneo jersey looks like, you soon will.
Who's turning out? That would be Arnaud Démare, Thibaut Pinot, Arthur Vichot, Davide Cimolai, Mickaël Delage, Jacopo Guarnieri, Ignatas Konovalovas, Olivier Le Gac and Rudy Molard. Démare will go for the sprints in his new tricolore while Pinot's legs remember that he did the Giro.
What’s an ideal Tour? Démare finds an extra k per hour in the sprints and wins a few stages for France. Pinot makes a successful attempt at the polka dot jersey, cemented by a win on the Izoard.
What's a disastrous Tour? Pinot wilts in the heat while Démare continues to be unable to find the top gear to compete in the sprints at this level.
What’s most likely to happen? Pinot does look like a really good shout to win the KOM jersey. In my head at least, he's the overwhelming favourite for that classification. Démare seems less likely to be as successful, but a stage is certainly in the offing.
Who's turning out? Not Bryan Coquard, need I say more? Yes? Oh, alright. They're bringing Lilian Calmejane, Thomas Voeckler, Sylvain Chavanel, Thomas Boudat, Adrien Petit, Perrig Quemeneur, Yohann Gene, Angelo Tulik and Romain Sicard. Calmejane is here to be the new French hope, whatever that entails, Voeckler is here for a lap of honour and everyone else is here for a reason I can’t quite fathom.
What’s an ideal Tour? Voeckler finds himself in the right break and miraculously pulls of a stage win, that's surely Direct Energie's dream, short of Coquard recovering in the next few hours and taking the start. Calmejane doing well would be a huge bonus.
What's a disastrous Tour? Again, disastrous is a relative term for a pro conti team. Missing out on breaks and not challenging for a stage win is possible, but there aren't many worse situations.
What’s most likely to happen? I can see Calmejane really making a name for himself in this Tour. He should be Direct Energie's only real success story, but a stage win is very possible for him.
Team Dimension Data
Who's turning out? Mark Cavendish, Edvald Boasson Hagen, Steve Cummings, Bernhard Eisel, Mark Renshaw, Reinhardt Janse Van Rensburg, Serge Pauwels, Jaco Venter and Scott Thwaites ride for Dimension Date. Cavendish is being Cavendish, while Cummings and Pauwels will get into breaks.
What’s an ideal Tour? Cavendish turns up in Liège fully recovered from his Epstein-Barr and makes the sprints his own, equalling his 2009 score of nine stage wins and overtaking Eddy Merckx in the all-time stakes. Cummings does what he does and nicks a stage against the odds for the third year in succession.
What's a disastrous Tour? Cavendish is too ill to sprint properly and the rest of the team remember that they really aren't well set-up to challenge in this Tour if they aren't leading out.
What’s most likely to happen? Cavendish might find the first week difficult if his performance in the Tour of Slovenia is anything to go on. For the rest of the team, surely Cummings’ luck has to run out at some point. Boasson Hagen’s already has.
Cofidis, Solutions Credits
Who's turning out? Nacer Bouhanni, Daniel Navarro, Dimitri Claeys, Florian Senechal, Julien Simon, Luís Ángel Maté, Nicolas Edet, Christophe Laporte and Cyril Lemoine fly the flag of the French team, riding their twenty-first Tour de France, all under the Cofidis banner. Getting into breaks and supporting Bouhanni are the objectives here.
What’s an ideal Tour? Bouhanni actually taking the start would be a good thing. Getting to France would be even better. Once he's there, a few stages would be good. Cofidis haven't had a sniff since Samuel Dumoulin’s breakaway foxed the sprinters on stage three in 2008.
What's a disastrous Tour? Pretty much 2015. Bouhanni crashes on stage five and abandons. Nobody else manages anything because come on, it's Cofidis.
What’s most likely to happen? If Bouhanni makes it to the finish, he'll have enough opportunities to get a stage or two.
Cannondale Drapac Professional Cycling Team
Who's turning out? Rigoberto Uran, Andrew Talansky, Pierre Rolland, Taylor Phinney, Alberto Bettiol, Dylan Van Baarle, Simon Clarke, Patrick Bevin and Nathan Brown wear Cannondale green. Again, it's an ensemble of capability with no real inspiring names. Talansky or Uran will make a GC attempt while Rolland rollands his way around.
What’s an ideal Tour? Everyone delivers, the team win two mountain stages and the polka dot jersey, while Talansky gets into the top ten on GC. That's not absolutely impossible.
What's a disastrous Tour? No one delivers, and all we see of Cannondale is light green jersey decorating the back of the peloton. That, also, is not even slightly impossible.
What’s most likely to happen? Given Cannondale's history, you could say that nobody delivering seems quite likely. It's difficult however to say that all that firepower can't succeed. Cannondale are here to be overestimated.
Who's turning out? Peter Sagan, Rafał Majka, Emanuel Buchmann, Maciej Bodnar, Marcus Burghardt, Jay McCarthy, Pawel Poljanski, Rudiger Selig and Juraj Sagan are thwarting my expectations that I'd say "Peter Sagan and irrelevant others." Majka and Buchmann can make a good attempt at the GC and white jersey while Sagan gets another maillot vert.
What’s an ideal Tour? Sagan gets a yellow jersey early on, returning it for a green one which he takes to Paris. Majka makes a good run for GC, Buchmann beside him in the white jersey the whole time.
What's a disastrous Tour? Sagan has a Tour a little like 2014, with about twelve top ten finishes and the green jersey. That is the worst it gets for him if he stays on his bike. Majka and Buchmann don't have a lot of expectations to live up to.
What’s most likely to happen? Sagan will win a couple of stages, that seems pretty certain. Majka is a definite podium contender, in my opinion. I think he'll get a top five at least. Buchmann should not manage a white jersey with the strength of the field.
BMC Racing Team
Who's turning out? Richie Porte, Greg Van Avermaet, Stefan Küng, Nicolas Roche, Amaël Moinard, Damiano Caruso, Alessandro Di Marchi, Michael Schar and Danilo Wyss are turning up, the aim being to put another Australian in the yellow jersey. They're pretty focused on that objective, with maybe only Van Avermaet autonomous in the team.
What’s an ideal Tour? Porte wins. However that's achieved, it's the only real objective towards which BMC can work.
What's a disastrous Tour? Porte does the same thing he's done whenever he's gotten an opportunity at a Grand Tour, crashing, puncturing, getting caught in a crosswind or, I don’t know, forgetting where the depart is. Not even Van Avermaet going on a stage winning rampage could save the Tour if he does so.
What’s most likely to happen? Porte is perhaps the most unconvincing second favourite for a Tour de France that I remember. That is not to say he doesn't deserve to me and it is certainly not to say he does not have the capacity in his legs to win. I will need to see it to believe it from him.
Who's turning out? Ion Izagirre, Sonny Colbrelli, Janez Brajkovic, Grega Bole, Ondrej Cink, Borut Bozic, Javier Moreno, Tsgabu Grmay and Yukiya Arashiro are dressing up as a Tour de France team. Izagirre is a GC leader, which nobody told me. Colbrelli is lamenting the lack of hilly stages.
What’s an ideal Tour? Izagirre defies everyone's beliefs about him, apparently? He's too good a rider to have gone so under the radar as he has, but he's capable of a top ten, or better.
What's a disastrous Tour? This is another example of low expectations. Almost everything's a bonus here.
What’s most likely to happen? Very little. A stage win, somewhere, perhaps.
Astana Pro Team
Who's turning out? Fabio Aru, Jakob Fuglsang, Dario Cataldo, Michael Valgren, Alexey Lutsenko, Andrei Grivko, Dmitriy Gruzdev, Bakhtiyar Kozhatayev and Andrey Zeits are on the Kazakh team. Aru and Fuglsang are going for some kind of dual leadership thing that will last eight minutes and the last few spots on the team were presumably decided by a "who's got the longest name" contest.
What’s an ideal Tour? Aru rides like the Grand Tour winner he is (seriously) and takes a podium spot, while Fuglsang backs him up in the top ten.
What's a disastrous Tour? Aru can't quite hack the Tour de France pace, as was true last year, falling to an anonymous result, while Fuglsang still manages to get pressed into support duty as always.
What’s most likely to happen? Aru looks like Astana's better bet for a good result in this race. The third spot on the podium looks open to him if he puts together a performance of which he seems capable.
AG2R La Mondiale
Who's turning out? Romain Bardet, Alexis Vuillermoz, Oliver Naesen, Pierre Latour, Jan Bakelants, Mathias Frank, Cyril Gautier, Axel Domont and Ben Gastauer wear AG2R's brown shorts. Improving Bardet's second place to a first is the priority here.
What’s an ideal Tour? That exactly happens. Bardet takes France's first Tour win since Hinault, French cycling is saved and the celebrations on the Champs-Elysees are not exactly quiet.
What's a disastrous Tour? Bardet's Tour follows his Dauphiné. He simply can't hold the wheel when it counts, finishing nowhere important.
What’s most likely to happen? Bardet's second last year looks like his peak, for the time being at least. There’s no evidence he's on as good form as he was at this time last year. Without his raid on stage nineteen last year, he was headed for fifth place. Fifth place looks like where he should end up this year.