The wait is almost over. The riders are taking in the sights of Copenhagen; all Covid tests have been taken and eleventh-hour substitutes drafted in; Quick-Step have finished toying with fans over their lamentable will-they-won’t-they selection of Mark Cavendish (they won’t); at least seven teams have released new or limited edition Tour kits; even EF Education-EasyPost have awoken from their dreams of dragons and deigned to make their cutesy eight-man squad selection known a few seconds before the deadline…
Some 3,328km of rampant riding over the roads of Denmark, France, Belgium and Switzerland now lie in store, along with 20km of cobbles, 18km of exposed sea bridge, over 53km of time trialling, 61 categorised climbs and no fewer than six mountaintop finishes.
Whoever emerges as the man in yellow in Paris on 24 July will need to master all these terrains and, crucially, stay out of trouble. There will be thrills. There will – sorry, Geraint and Primoz – be spills. But there will be entertainment aplenty, with twists, turns and more curveballs than an entire season of Lost.
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In this, the last of our Tour de France previews, we look at the riders vying for the ultimate prize: the fabled maillot jaune. We’ve looked at all 22 teams and their star riders, we’ve assessed all 21 of the stages, we’ve speculated over who will be in green, polka dots and white. But now it’s time for the big one: rating the contenders for the yellow jersey.

5 star: Tadej Pogacar

Tadej Pogacar is the big favourite for this year's Tour de France.

Image credit: Getty Images

Stay upright and keep out of trouble and nothing will feasibly come between Pogacar and his third successive Tour win. If and when the Slovenian becomes only the seventh rider in history to win three Tours on the bounce, he’ll be the first to do it in his first three appearances – all wrapped up two months before his 24th birthday.
Pogacar’s meteoric rise has been nothing short of magnificent, coming as it has alongside victories in two of cycling’s Monuments and amid multiple other stage race and one-day wins. It’s true, Pogacar has yet to hit the deck or be caught out by a badly timed mechanical, puncture or split in the peloton – but that could well be a reflection of his stardom just as much as his luck.

Watch as Pogacar and Majka play rock, paper, scissors to decide winner at Tour of Slovenia

The defending champion comes to the Tour as the focal point of UAE Team Emirates’ squad. George Bennett, Rafal Majka, Marc Soler, Brandon McNulty and Marc Hirschi offer ample support for the mountains, with the American McNulty a viable Plan B should the unthinkable happen to the yellow jersey elect. Add to this the solid support of Scandinavians Mikkel Bjerg and Vegard Laengen for the flat stages, valley roads and cobbles, and this is arguably the strongest team Pogacar has ever had on the Tour. They even have an inside man in former Jumbo rider, Bennett.
Everything is pointing towards a third victory except one glaring thing: the 23-year-old has yet to come up against a fully fit Roglic-and-Vingegaard combination on a Grand Tour.

4 star: Primoz Roglic and Jonas Vingegaard

Race winner Primoz Roglic of Slovenia and stage winner Jonas Vingegaard celebrate at finish line during the 74th Criterium du Dauphine 2022

Image credit: Getty Images

Nothing separates the two co-leaders at Jumbo Visma who enter the race on an equal footing in their shared bid to knock Pogacar off his yellow perch.
One year ago, many of us had not even heard of the Danish debutant who would go on to finish runner-up in Paris to help fill the void left at Jumbo Visma following Roglic’s early withdrawal. Now, with a string of strong results this season, 25-year-old Vingegaard is a star in his own right – much more than merely his teammate’s understudy.
As for Roglic, he enters his fifth Tour in fierce form and fighting fit, having emerged from the Dauphiné not just with the overall win but, crucially, with no falls setting back his preparation. Much has been written about the 32-year-old’s implosion in the final time trial in 2020, but that Tour loss represents the only time Roglic has ever lost a major stage race to his compatriot, and that came in a year when his participation was in doubt following a nasty fall in the Dauphiné.

Vingegaard takes Queen Stage win as Roglic secures Criterium du Dauphine glory

One serious question mark for both Jumbo riders is their ability to emerge from the cobblestones unscathed. If Pogacar proved his worth over the pavé this spring at the Tour of Flanders, neither Roglic nor Vingegaard has ever ridden Roubaix or the Ronde; they will be relying on beginners’ luck and the expertise of experienced teammates Wout van Aert, Christophe Laporte, Nathan Van Hooydonck and Teijs Benoot in Stage 5.
With additional help from climbers Sepp Kuss and Steven Kruijswijk in the mountains, the co-leaders will be in good hands over all terrain in July. Together they will hope to wear Pogacar down, although it may take one of Roglic or Vingegaard to sacrifice their own chances if the other is to don yellow in Paris – otherwise both could find themselves bridesmaids at Notre Dame…

3 star: Aleksandr Vlasov

Russia's Aleksandr Vlasov competes in the 5.1 km prologue of the Tour de Romandie UCI World Tour 2021 cycling race on April 26, 2022, in Lausanne, western Switzerland

Image credit: Getty Images

Whisper it quietly, but Vlasov enters his Grande Boucle debut with his best chance yet of a maiden Grand Tour podium.
The Russian whippet has taken things to another level since swapping Astana for Bora-Hansgrohe this winter. He appears more confident and more clinical, with three stage wins and overall victories in both the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana and Tour de Romandie, 18 top 10 finishes and 11 podiums from his 42 race days. Perhaps it’s just Bora’s far superior kit? Or perhaps Vlasov has grown in stature.
Bora will be flying sky-high off the back of Jai Hindley’s Giro victory, with Lennard Kamna, Patrick Konrad, Felix Grossschartner and Max Schachmann key allies for Vlasov in the mountains. A few question marks remain, however. Can Vlasov bounce back from his recent Covid positive? Can he cope on the cobbles? Will leading a new team in his debut Tour prove too much?
But provided Vlasov keeps his cool and rides like he has all season, the 26-year-old could take the final spot on the podium in Paris.

2 star: Geraint Thomas, Dani Martinez, Enric Mas, Ben O’Connor

Geraint Thomas wins the Tour de Suisse in preparation for this years Tour de France.

Image credit: Getty Images

Ineos Grenadiers will have to think out of the box if they want to upset the Tour’s new Slovenian hegemony. Thomas’s days of leading a team in a Grand Tour looked to be well over, but Egan Bernal’s terrible training crash this July has given the Welshman a reprieve. Now 36, Thomas will target a podium finish four years after his overall win in 2018 – and his recent Tour de Suisse triumph will boost his confidence ahead of the 12th Tour of his long career.
Joining Thomas as co-leader at Ineos will be the Colombian Martinez, who has never finished higher than 28th in the Tour but came fifth in last year’s Giro when he proved instrumental in countryman Bernal’s triumph. The 26-year-old came third in both Paris-Nice and the Volta a Algarve before winning Itzulia Basque Country and coming eighth in support of Thomas at the Tour de Suisse.
If Thomas has the experience, Martinez has the younger legs and superior kick; neither will win the Tour, but both could finish in the top five if Ineos play their cards right.

‘I want to go there and race hard’ - Thomas looking ahead to Tour de France after Tour de Suisse win

Also occupying this two-star step on the ladder are the Spaniard Mas (Movistar) and Australia’s O’Connor (Ag2R-Citroen). A stage winner in Andorra in the Vuelta in 2018, Mas has since been more renowned for his inconspicuous consistency rather than his panache or palmares. Runner-up behind Roglic at last year’s Vuelta, the 27-year-old came fifth and sixth in his last two Tour outings.
But the form and results are lacking for Mas this year: he failed to complete both Tirreno-Adriatico and the Dauphine, and he’s yet to pick up a win. He’ll need to stay out of trouble and ride up a few levels in the first half of the race – but even then, surely a top five is the ceiling.
The same can be said for O’Connor, although his results have been far better this term – with a win in the Tour du Jura and third place in the Dauphine behind Roglic and Vingegaard. Acting against the 26-year-old will be the surprise factor: there’s no way he will be allowed up the road in the same manner as he was last year en route to winning in Tignes and blasting back into the top 10.
Fourth last year, fourth again is perhaps as good as it could get for O’Connor this time round – although even that may be a Great Belt Bridge too far.

1 star: Nairo Quintana, Rigoberto Uran, Damiano Caruso, Thibaut Pinot, Romain Bardet, Jack Haig

Thibaut Pinot

Image credit: Twitter

We all know that the yellow jersey ship has long since sailed not just for Colombian veterans Quintana (Arkea-Samsic) and Uran (EF Education-EasyPost) but also the perennial home favourites Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) and Bardet (Team DSM). Uran and Quintana are now clingers-on and there’ll only be space for one of those, at most, in the top 10.
Bardet looked back to his best in the Giro before illness saw him pull out halfway through. Pinot, meanwhile, recently picked up his first win in almost three years at the Tour of the Alps, swiftly following it up with a nice solo win in the Tour de Suisse. Neither are targeting the yellow jersey so polka dots and stage wins may represent more realistic expectations this July, with a top 10 a coincidental by-product.

Highlights from Stage 7 of the Tour de Suisse as Pinot takes win

With Mikel Landa resting up before his fifth place in the Vuelta, Bahrain Victorious go with their second tier two-pronged attack of Haig and Caruso. The Australian’s Tour was over before it started last year when Haig was forced out after a nasty spill in Stage 3, from which he bounced back with an impressive third place in the Vuelta.
After sitting out the Giro one year after a career-best podium finish, veteran Italian Caruso has made the Tour the focus of his season and he enters off the back of a string of solid, if unspectacular results. Both riders made the top five in the Dauphine and will look, rather ambitiously yet understandably, to replicate that this July. The bottom end of the top 10 is perhaps a little more realistic. Worse, still, if the Danish or French police have their way...

Dark horses: Martin, McNulty, Gaudu, Meintjes, Fuglsang, Woods, Froome

Chris Froome

Image credit: Getty Images

An extra classification level to accommodate those who could sneak their way into the top 10 off the back of an opportune break or misfortune suffered by a teammate or some of their rivals.
Frenchman Guillaume Martin (Cofidis) will once again favour that elusive stage win over a high finish so expect no end to his yo-yoing ways – baffling and infuriating in equal measures, and hardly conducive for a GC push. His countryman David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) has twice finished just outside the top 10 and recently picked up a win on the Dauphine. But the two TTs will be a struggle for a rider for whom a stage win and a polka dot push may represent his best chances of glory.
Sixty-ninth in his debut last year, Brandon McNulty (UAE Team Emirates) was forced to battle on in support of teammate Pogacar after a nasty crash on the opening day. He did so valiantly and there’s no reason he can’t deliver the Slovenian to glory this time round while targeting the top 15. And should something happen to Pogacar, the 24-year-old may find himself spurred on as the white jersey becomes a possibility.
Twice eighth overall in the Tour, Louis Meintjes (Intermarche-Wanty-Gobert) ghosted himself to 14th place last year and will do his usual of sticking around for as long as possible in the group of GC favourites in the mountains.

Froome ‘injury free’ and ready to challenge once more after returning to Criterium du Dauphine

And finally, the ageing Israel-Premier Tech trident: less flammable than its Movistar equivalent, but far older and probably much blunter, too. The condition of four-time champion Chris Froome remains a big mystery: was he really chuffed with an 11th place in the Mercan’Tour Classic Alpes-Maritimes or is this all an elaborate joke and he really, actually, has shot his bolt?
Given what he’s achieved in the past, it’s not wholly unreasonable – if a little wistful – to think the 37-year-old’s results and upbeat musings to the media are simply a smokescreen from which he will emerge in his bid to join the likes of Anquetil, Merckx, Hinault and Indurain in the five-Tour club. But no one, surely, can pretend to be as bad as well as Froome has been these past two years?
The more likely scenario is that Froome knows he cannot return to his pre-injury levels and is riding this Tour to 83rd overall while in support of teammates Jakob Fuglsang and Michael Woods as part of his swansong.
Denmark’s Fuglsang has not cracked the Tour top 10 since 2013 although his sixth in last year’s Giro showed a return to form. Canada’s Woods, meanwhile, wants a stage win more than anything else; he’s only ever broken into the top 10 of a Grand Tour once and that was back in 2017, so don’t expect anything more from the 35-year-old.

‘Definitely not’ – Fifth title is beyond Froome, says McEwen

Tour de France 2022 top 10 prediction

Unless you’re Tadej Pogacar, the Tour rarely goes to plan. There are always upsets, crashes, crosswinds and curveballs – and this will be no different in 2022, especially with an opening week that includes the 18km Great Belt Bridge and almost 20km of cobblestones. Riders will see their dreams go up in smoke; there will be tears, upsets and surprises; Covid will no doubt raise its ghastly head.
But this predicted top 10 takes none of those unknown variables into account. It’s simply how Felix Lowe sees the battle for yellow panning out if everyone manages to stay in the race and on their bikes. Feel free to disagree – and if your feelings are that strong, drop the author a line on Twitter
and have your say…

Tadej Pogacar celebrates in yellow

Image credit: Getty Images

1. Pogacar, 2. Vingegaard, 3. Vlasov, 4. Roglic, 5. Martinez, 6. Thomas, 7. O’Connor, 8. Mas, 9. Haig, 10. Caruso
  • Green jersey: Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma)
  • Polka dot jersey: Ruben Guerreiro (EF Education-EasyPost)
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