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

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.

  • The Awakening

    IMHO, too early to predict what is going to happen at the 2016 Tour De France.

    There will be an improvement by Geraint Thomas and that may impact on Froome at Sky. Also, one of Froome’s domestiques has left and will be a BIG rival next year, which again may influence the outcome.

    Whilst I have great respect for Eddy Merckx, Chris Froome won the 2015 Tour De France, but was challenged closely all the way. It made for a great race, because it was not a forgone conclusion. I fully expect 2016, may go the same way.

    The 2016 edition of the Tour De France, is not a forgone conclusion either, because the other teams know Chris Froome was close to breaking point in 2015…

    2016, will be another epic battle and something to look forward to.

  • Andrew Bairsto

    Fabulous rider but not a good judge of people.

  • Robin Mainwaring

    “Valverde’s acceptance of playing a domestique role in the tour”…yeah, like that will happen. Valverde is a great rider but I don’t recall seeing him really ride for someone else, unless there was a zero chance for Valverde to achieve anything…and there lies the rub. The fact that he is always capable of pulling a stage/one day win out of the bag means that he won’t truly give his all for another rider when it really matters (one only has to watch the efforts of Stannard and Thomas on stage races to see what a super domestique can really achieve for his leader). Shame really as I think Quintana could have won the tour last year if Valverde had done a little more at key times, and perhaps Quintana may have had the balls to actually try something if he knew that he was going to get 100% commitment from Valverde. I suspect Purito may also be thinking the same about those world champs that got away.

  • Hyun-ji Song

    You’re meant to read it like, in the 2016 tour, Contador won’t be coming into the tour after winning the Giro (like in 2015).

  • > Contador, meanwhile, won’t be coming into the Tour off the back of winning the Giro in 2016

    News from the future? Amazing.