Chris Froome looks to maintain Tour de France champion title

Sky's English rider Christopher Froome © Lionel Bonaventure
The Tour de France gets underway on Saturday featuring one of the most competitive looking fields in recent memory.

Defending champion Chris Froome is the man to beat once again, as he will be backed by one of the strongest support teams ever seen on the Tour.

Froome’s previous Tour victories in 2013 and 2015 were both preceded by success in the Criterium du Dauphine, and with the British rider winning this year’s event, it’s clear he is in peak condition.

Colombian rider Nairo Quintana finished second to Froome last year and looks likely to be his main rival for the yellow jersey once again.

He has enjoyed an excellent season, winning the Volta a Catalunya, Tour de Romandie, and Route du Sud, and with the course appearing to suit his style, Quintana should push Froome all the way.

Alberto Contador is also bidding for a third Tour title, but the Spaniard’s chances of success hinge on his ability to keep pace with Froome – something he struggled to do in the mountains at the Dauphine.

French hopes rest mainly on the shoulders of Thibaut Pinot and Romain Bardet.

Pinot won the Criterium International and then finished an impressive second at the Tour de Romandie earlier in the season, but flopped at the Dauphine, finishing a disappointing 16th overall.

Bardet finished sixth and ninth in the last two Tours and his second-placed finish at the Dauphine proved he is in form for this year’s event.

Vincenzo Nibali won the Tour in 2014 and followed up by finishing fourth last year. The Italian aims for success in the upcoming Olympic Games road race, but he should still be a force to be reckoned with in France.

Russia’s Ilnur Zakarin will make his Tour debut this year, having announced that he had arrived on the world stage by winning the prestigious Tour de Romandie in 2015.

The event features 21 stages covering a total of 3,519 kilometers (2,186 miles).

Each team has nine riders including a “mountain climber” and a “sprint specialist.” The eventual winner is the rider with the lowest time over all 21 stages.

The first major summit finish on Stage 9 of the Tour is always a good pointer towards who will be in contention at the finish, while Mont Ventoux is the hardest of all the mythical climbs and could open up big gaps between the favorites on Stage 12.

This year’s winner will receive around $560,000 from a total prize fund of over $2.5 million.

Last year’s Tour saw its best viewership in five years, dating back to Lance Armstrong’s last time in the event.

NBCSN averaged 365,000 viewers during the event – a rise of 77,000 from the previous year.

Stage 8 drew the highest figures with 951,000 people tuning in, while the final stage attracted 509,000 viewers.

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