We pick out the leading contenders for this year's Tour de France

When Chris Froome lines up in Leeds on Saturday for the Grand Depart of the 2014 Tour de France, he will become the first Briton to attempt to defend the win in the race’s history.

Injury has meant that Froome has not enjoyed quite the same run-up to the Tour as last year, and he seems to be very closely matched to a resurgent Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo). Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) are waiting in the wings, should either of the leading contenders falter over the tough three-week race.

Here we pick out the main contenders for overall honours, in addition to a few riders worth looking out for for stage wins and entertainment.

Chris Froome, SkyChris Froome’s 2014 hasn’t gone anywhere near as smoothly as his 2013, but he still looks like the man to beat. A back injury scuppered his chances in the Volta a Catalunya and he was unable to retain his lead in the Criterium du Dauphine after suffering a crash in stage six, but has looked imperious when fully fit, winning both the Tour of Oman and the Tour de Romandie. His performances at the Dauphine before the aforementioned crash were equally impressive, and he should peak for the Tour.

Alberto Contador, Tinkoff-SaxoThe 2007 and 2009 champion Alberto Contador looks set to be to Froome what Quintana was last year – his main adversary in the mountains. He’s enjoyed a very impressive 2013, winning both the Tirreno Adriatico and the Tour of the Basque Country, and gave Froome all kinds of problems by attacking him at the Dauphine. He should have won that race after Froome’s crash, but was tactically ambushed by Garmin-Sharp and could only manage second. He’ll need greater awareness if he’s to win the Tour.

Alejandro Valverde, MovistarCycling Weekly rating four out of fiveDespite not racing at all during May and most of June, Alejandro Valverde looks in good nick for the Tour having finished second in the Route du Sud and the Spanish National Championships, and, more surprisingly, winning the National Time Trial Championships. He’s been in good form all season in fact, and will be hoping to ride as well as he did last year without falling out of contention in the crosswinds. A podium finish is on the cards.

Vincenzo Nibali, AstanaCycling Weekly rating three out of fiveHad Vincenzo Nibali the form he had in the Giro last year, he’d be up there with Froome and Contador. But the Italian has endured a difficult season, and only managed his first win a few days ago at the Italian National Championships. The unpredictable, opportunistic nature of the route suits him, however, and the green, white and red of his National Champion’s jersey should become a common sight at the front of the race.

Andrew Talansky, Garmin-SharpCycling Weekly rating three out of fiveFor the last few seasons, the 25-year old American has been gradually improving, but his win at the Dauphine seems to have catapulted him into a full-blown yellow jersey contender. His Dauphine success was the latest triumph of Garmin’s trademark inventively aggressive tactics, but even before the ambush that won him the race he had climbed almost toe-to-toe with Froome and Contador. A top five finish certainly seems possible.

Rui Costa, Lampre-MeridaCycling Weekly rating two out of fiveRui Costa has yet to translate his talent for one-week stage races into grand tour challenges, but that finally looks set to change this month. Now riding for Lampre, he goes into this Tour for the first time as leader and, if his classy win in the Tour de Suisse a few weeks ago is anything to go by, should become the first rider in the rainbow jersey to contest for overall honours since Abraham Olano in 1996.

Tejay van Garderen, BMCCycling Weekly rating two out of fiveSince a great early season which saw him finish second in the Tour of Oman and win a mountain stage of the Volta a Catalunya, van Garderen has struggled for top form. He could only manage 13th at the Dauphine and, despite his great talent, will struggle to better his career best fifth place unless he can improve fast.

Jurgen Van Den Broeck, Lotto-BelisolCycling Weekly rating two out of fiveVan Den Broeck finally looks back to his best having overcome the fitness problems suffered after his crash at last year’s Tour. He rode very well in the Dauphine to finish third overall, but has still done nothing to show he can translate his frequent top-five finishes into victory overall.

Ones to Watch

Mark Cavendish, Omega Pharma-Quick Step
For once, Mark Cavendish won’t enter the Tour as the undisputed best sprinter in the world. In fact, this year there is no undisputed best, although both Cavendish and Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) can stake a claim by dominating the sprints over the next three weeks.

Peter Sagan, Cannondale
Despite the excellence of Cavendish and Kittel, and the emergence of Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) as a good all-rounder, there still seems to be no-one capable of competing with Peter Sagan for the green jersey. The numerous hilly stages in the opening week should give him an early lead that he should defend into Paris, and there are plenty of opportunities for stage wins too.

Romain Bardet, Ag2r
Twenty-three-year-old Romain Bardet is arguably the best of an exciting new generation of French cyclists, and seems certain to entertain the home fans by going on the hunt for stage wins in the mountains. The French also have FDJ’s duo of Thibaut Pinot and Arnaud Demare to cheer for in the mountains and the sprints respectively, as well as the ever-reliable Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), although teammate Pierre Rolland will be tired having competed in a difficult Giro.

Joaquim Rodriguez, Katusha
Joaquim Rodriguez only rides the Tour due to having crashed out of the Giro, so it’s difficult to know what sort of shape he’ll be in. The 35-year-old has said that he does not intend to ride for the GC and is building towards the Vuelta later in the season, so he looks set to ride for stage wins in the mountains.