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Tour de France 2017 preview: King of the Mountains contenders

Who will win the polka dot jersey at the 104th Tour de France?

With 53 categorised climbs on this year’s route, including giants like the Col du Galibier, Grand Colombier and Col d’Izoard, the Tour de France 2017 is definitely one made for the climbers.

Chris Froome (Team Sky) will do battle with the likes of Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Richie Porte (BMC Racing) in the mountains, in the race for the yellow jersey, but there will be key contests going on in the race to be crowned King of the Mountains too.

The polka dot jersey is up for grabs, with Rafal Majka (Bora-hansgrohe), winner in 2014 and 2016, in contention once again.

Rafal Majka won the polka dot jersey for the second time in 2016 (pic: Sirotti)

While a difficult one to predict – the way the GC battle plays out is likely to have a big bearing – Majka is not alone when it comes to riders who could win the maillot a pois.

Froome and Quintana are also among the former winners – Froome’s victory in 2015 making him the first man to be crowned King of the Mountains and Tour de France champion in the same year since Eddy Merckx.

And while an aggressive GC battle could mean the yellow jersey contenders clocking some serious points in the mountains, we’ve picked out six other riders who be crowned King of the Mountains at the 2017 Tour de France.

Thibaut Pinot (FDJ)

As we’ve mentioned, very often the King of the Mountains contenders emerge based on how the race is unfolding, who has got into the right breaks, who has lost time overall and so on.

But Thibaut Pinot has broken with tradition a little by openly targeting the jersey, as he races the Tour on the back of his fourth-place finish at the Giro d’Italia.

Thibaut Pinot is targetting stage wins and the polka dot jersey (pic – Sirotti)

With the Giro in his legs, Pinot has stated his target for the Tour will be stage wins and a tilt at the polka dot jersey – and he’s certainly capable of achieving both.

A winner on Alpe d’Huez in 2015, Pinot won stage 20 of the Giro d’Italia and was inside the top five on six of the key mountain stages.

If he continues that form at the Tour, without the pressure of the GC battle either, it will be hard to stop him claiming the polka dot jersey.

Rafal Majka (Bora-hansgrohe)

Last year’s winner Rafal Majka must have felt a huge sense of déjà vu as he climbed onto the podium for the second time in three years.

Majka, for the second time, took full advantage of team leader Alberto Contador abandoning by using his freedom in the mountains.

Four top-three finishes in all, and countless miles in the breakaways, all added up to him claiming 209 mountain points – 79 more than second-placed Thomas de Gendt.

Rafal Majka is in good form ahead of the 2017 Tour de France (pic – Sirotti)

He is in good form this year too – gearing up for the Tour with a stage win and second overall at the Tour of California, and then a stage win and overall victory at the Tour of Slovenia.

With team-mate Peter Sagan targeting stage wins and the green jersey, Majka will be expected to come to the fore in the mountains, both supporting white jersey contender Emanuel Buchmann and for his own ambitions.

With three stage wins and two King of the Mountains titles to his name from previous Tours, he certainly knows what it takes too.

Thomas de Gendt (Lotto-Soudal)

Thomas de Gendt geared up for the Tour de France by winning the first stage of the Criterium du Dauphine from the breakaway before dropping out ahead of the final day.

He was second in the King of the Mountains classification 12 months ago, helped in no small part by his win on Mont Ventoux, and he is no stranger to the breakaway.

Thomas de Gendt wore the polka dot jersey at last year’s Tour de France, before finishing second overall to Majka (pic: Sirotti)

If he is given the freedom to get up the road and start collection points from the break, he is very much a contender for the polka dot jersey.

Having finished third at the 2012 Giro d’Italia, he has never managed to follow that up with GC success, but with a huge engine you can expect to see him hunting stage wins and slogging away up the road as ever at the Tour.

And the by-product of that will always be King of the Mountains points – he targeted them specifically at the Dauphine, and if he does so again at the Tour he is very much a contender.

Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale-Drapac)

Rigoberto Uran is leading a two-pronged GC attack for Cannondale-Drapac, alongside Andrew Talansky, but with the American team targeting aggressive racing and stage wins, it is not beyond him to challenge for the King of the Mountains jersey.

Alongside Talansky and team-mate Pierre Rolland – the latter fresh from a successful finish to the Giro, including a stage win – Uran is part of a strong Cannondale climbing unit.

Rigoberto Uran is part of a two-pronged Cannondale-Drapac GC attack, but might find opportunities in the mountains (pic – Sirotti)

And with that promise of aggressive racing, it is likely we will see all three animating the racing from up the road.

Talansky has an outside chance of a GC challenge, but Uran and Rolland can provide a perfect foil by getting up the road and livening up the breakaways.

And both can rack up the mountain points if they do so – with Uran, without the Giro in his legs, the more likely candidate if Cannondale-Drapac do target the polka dots.

Warren Barguil (Team Sunweb)

After the highs of Tom Dumoulin’s Giro d’Italia win, Team Sunweb’s attentions now turn to the Tour de France, where stage wins are the priority.

But in Warren Barguil they also have a rider capable of mixing it with the big riders in the mountains – even if he has failed to show that consistently since bursting onto the scene with a couple of Vuelta a Espana stage wins in 2013.

After Tom Dumoulin’s Giro d’Italia win,Team Sunweb are now targetting stage wins at the Tour de France (pic – Sirotti)

The team is not set up to support Barguil in the mountains – Simon Geschke and Laurens ten Dam, Dumoulin’s key lieutenants at the Giro, are both there, but both have already put in huge efforts in that race.

Instead Barguil may be better served looking for opportunities in the breakaway, and with that King of the Mountains points. If he does, he is well capable of challenging.

Ion Izagirre (Bahrain-Merida)

Ion Izagirre will find himself in unfamiliar territory at the Tour de France, entrusted with a leadership role having previously raced in support of the likes of Mikel Nieve, Alejandro Valverde and Nairo Quintana at Euskaltel-Euskadi and Movistar.

He is in good shape too, following a fifth-place finish at the Tour de Romandie with sixth at the Tour de Suisse.

Ion Izagirre is free from the shackles of team orders (pic – Sirotti)

In terms of mounting a GC challenge, he is very much an outsider, but without commitments to team-mates to worry about he could enjoy the freedom as he targets wins in the mountains.

It was his descending, rather than his climbing, which brought him victory on stage 20 of last year’s race – a rare opportunity for him to attack in the breakaway at the time.

But that win proved what the 28-year-old can do when free of the shackles of team orders, and he is definitely going to be one to watch if he gets himself in the right moves.

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