Tour de France: Ones to watch

Niall McGlone picks out nine riders to keep an eye on

Last Updated: 05/07/14 9:29am

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The 2014 Tour de France promises to be one of the closest in years, but away from the general classification battle there are a host of riders bidding for their own piece of glory.

There is a mixture of old hands and young pretenders all looking to steal a famous stage win.

Here are nine riders to look out for over the next three weeks…

Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha)

Joaquim Rodriguez will target stages wins in the mountains rather than the general classification

The 35-year-old Spaniard wasn’t initially due to ride the Tour de France, but following his withdrawal from the Giro d'Italia in May, he has rescheduled his season. Rodriguez has had a modest year so far, with his overall victory at the Volta a Catalunya his only win. Third in the Tour in 2013, the Katusha rider has said that he is targeting stage wins rather than the general classification this year and with his climbing talent, he will no doubt be targeting the summit finishes. A strong start could see him refocus his attention on a tilt at the GC, but given his lack of race time leading into the Tour, hunting for stage wins remains his best bet.

Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge)

Simon Gerrans is targeting stage two in Sheffield

The 34-year-old Australian started the season in fine form by taking overall victory at the Tour Down Under back in January and he will be on the hunt for stage wins at this year’s Tour. The Orica-GreenEdge rider took his second Tour stage win on stage three last year and he is likely to target stage two of this year’s race as the peloton tackles the steep Jenkin Road climb on the run in to Sheffield. Gerrans has shown in the past that he is more than capable of racing up the short, punchy climbs and his win at Liège-Bastogne-Liège back in April was further proof. The lumpy second stage should suit him and it presents another opportunity for him to pull on the yellow jersey.

Thomas Voeckler (Europcar)

Thomas Voeckler is traditionally one of the most attacking riders at the Tour de France

The eccentric Frenchman can always be counted on to light up the Tour with his trademark attacks. The 34-year-old divides opinion between his fellow pros and fans, but his daring attacks are always entertaining, if often doomed. Expect to see the Europcar rider to the fore when the peloton reaches France as he attempts to bid for victory from breakaways and solo efforts. Voeckler took two stages on his way to claiming the polka dot jersey in 2012 and don’t be surprised to see him target the mountains classification again this year.    

Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing)

Fabian Cancellara is likely to target the cobbled fifth stage and stage 20's time trial

The 33-year-old Swiss legend will head into this year’s Tour with two stages in mind: the cobbled fifth stage and the time trial on stage 20. The three-time Paris-Roubaix winner is no stranger to the French cobbles that the peloton will face on day five and a strong performance from the Trek Factory Racing rider could see him move into the yellow jersey. Cancellara is riding his first Tour since pulling out midway through the 2012 race and he will be hoping to add to his eight stage wins on his return. A training crash ahead of the Tour de Suisse wasn’t the best preparation for the former four-time time trial world champion, but he should be back to full fitness in time for the Tour.   

Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale)

Romain Bardet will be looking for a place in the top ten overall

The 23-year-old Frenchman finished 15th in his debut Tour last year and he will be targeting stage wins and a top-ten finish this time around. The young climber has continued to develop this season and top fives at the Volta a Catalunya in February and the Criterium du Dauphine in June showed that he is more than capable of climbing with the best. Bardet is undoubtedly one for the future and he should be a contender for the best young rider’s classification after finishing fourth in the competition last year.

Chris Horner (Lampre-Merida)

Chris Horner sprang a major surprise by winning last year's Vuelta a Espana

The veteran American will play second fiddle to Lampre-Merida team leader Rui Costa, but having sprung one of the biggest surprises in modern cycling history last year by winning the Vuelta a Espana, it would be remiss not to keep at least half an eye on the now 42-year-old. Horner out-climbed the likes of Vincenzo Nibali, Alejandro Valverde and Joaquim Rodriguez at the 2013 Vuelta, and although his season has been hampered by a serious training injury, it would not be a major surprise to see him mixing it up in the mountains should Costa’s climbing legs fail him.

John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano)

John Degenkolb is a versatile sprinter who could challenge on rolling stages

The German is by no means a small name in cycling, but the fact that he shares a team with Marcel Kittel means he is often overlooked when it comes to the sprints. However, Degenkolb is a far more versatile sprinter than his compatriot – and also has the brute power to challenge for victory on days not suited to a bunch finish, so don’t be surprised to see his name popping up fairly frequently. Having finished second at Paris-Roubaix this year, Degenkolb could be eyeing the cobbled fifth stage, while he also cannot be discounted from contention for the hilly second stage into Sheffield. Rivalling Peter Sagan in the battle for the green points jersey might be a big ask, but Degenkolb has the potential to at least given the Slovakian a headache.

Mathias Frank (IAM Cycling)

Mathias Frank goes into the Tour with good form

The Swiss rider goes into the Tour in fine form after finishing fourth overall at the Tour de Romandie, second at Bayern Rundfahrt and second at the Tour de Suisse. He has proven himself to be more than adept in the mountains and not too shabby in a time trial either, so could be a decent outside bet for the top ten. IAM Cycling will no doubt be keen to make an impact at their debut Tour de France, and along with Sylvain Chavanel, Frank is their best hope of success.

Christophe Riblon (Ag2r-La Mondiale)

Christophe Riblon won on Alpe d'Huez in last year's Tour

The 33-year-old Frenchman’s win at the top of Alpe d’Huez at last year’s Tour was one of the highlights of the race, and the plucky climber will be going in search of stage wins in the high mountains yet again. Riblon is likely to be one of a host of French riders who will be targeting the mountainous stage ten on Bastille Day.

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