Here is our guide to the key riders contending for the Tour de France's polka dot jersey in 2016. Providing a comprehensive list of who to look out for and what stage they're likely to make an impact.
The 2016 Tour de France is fast approaching and with it comes many of the world’s top climbers and single stage victory specialists. Will anyone be able to wrestle the king of the mountain classification away from one of the general classification contenders? With such a strong GC crop it's going to be tough but there are plenty of stages along the way for strong and versatile riders to rack up points for a top spot on the podium.
The 29-year-old Dutchman will be looking to take the next step at this year's Tour with sixth being his highest ever finish in the race back in 2013. Mollema has been on the fringes of GC contention for five years now, since his fourth place at the Vuelta in 2011 but he is yet to podium at a Grand Tour and this year that looks like an especially difficult proposition.
Trek have a two-pronged climbing strategy with Canadian and 2012 Giro winner Ryder Hesjedal also starting the race. This dynamic duo could make for some interesting fireworks when it comes to the hillier stages.
Key Stage: Stage 5 - Limoges to Le Lioran 216KM
Stage five is designed to whet the appetites of the race's pure climbers with two category two and three category three climbs before a lumpy last kilometre that ramps up ever so slightly to the finish at Le Lioran. The stage has a lumpy Ardenne Classic feel to it so Mollema will feel right at home and hopefully take advantage of other GC contenders' hesitation.
Used by Trek Segafredo:
Yet another strong young French rider, Alaphilippe has certainly turned heads during the first half of the season with first place at the Tour of California, sixth at the Dauphine and second at Fleche Wallonne.
The 24-year old will also be a serious contender for the white young rider jersey. He will have to battle with the likes of Fabio Aru in what is arguably the strongest classification of the four, however, expect the Tour debutante to be right up there with the strongest climbers when the race hits the Pyrenees and Alps.
Key Stage: Stage 7 - L'Isle-Jourdain to Lac de Payolle 162.5KM
The Tour de France will be Alaphillipe's first grand tour start so expect him to figure prominently in the opening week before waning in the final week of alpine stages. That said, stage seven could be a perfect opportunity for the young Frenchman to fully announce that he is ready to race for the GC, with a win atop the famous Col d'Aspin.
Used by Etixx Quick Step:
The first few months of Barguil's season did not go entirely to plan after he suffered serious injuries in Giant Alpecin's run in with a car back at their January training camp in Calpe, Spain.
Nevertheless, Since then the 24-year-old French rider has had top ten finishes at the Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege as well third place on GC at the Tour de Suisse. As a promising French talent, Barguil will be looking for stage wins and is a serious contender for both the polka dot and white jerseys at this year's Tour.
Key Stage: Stage 10 - Escaldes-Engordany to Revel 197KM
With a first category climb right out of the blocks, stage ten could be a good opportunity for Barguil to get in a climbing-focused breakaway that could well go all the way to the finish line on what is likely to be a fast and predominantly downhill stage.
Used by Giant Alpecin:
The versatile Portuguese rider will hope to build on Lampre Merida's success at the Giro with a strong showing at this year's Tour. After yet another dominant performance at the Tour de Suisse, the 29-year-old Costa will hope for his form to pay dividends in the first week, with several stages that suit his Ardenne Classics skill set. This is the same skill set that saw him finishing third at this year’s Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
Key Stage: Stage 2 - Saint-Lo to Cherbourg-en-Cotentin 183KM
Similar to the stage back in 2011 that Costa beat Philippe Gilbert and Cadel Evans to the win on, stage two has a nasty finish up a steep three-kilometre climb, with a 120-metre passage, at a leg-popping 14% gradient. While this is not going to net Costa very many KOM points, victory on stage two could mean an elusive spell in the yellow jersey.
Used by Lampre Merida:
Since joining Cannondale at the beginning of the 2016 season, Rolland has had a slow start to the season, however, his pedigree as one of France's premier mountain men should not be overlooked. With three top-ten finishes at the Tour (2011,’12,’15) and a fourth place at the Giro (2014) on his palmares, Rolland could be a good pick to claim the polka dot.
Key Stage: Stage 19 - Albertville to Saint-Gervais Mont Blanc 146KM
Similar to the incredibly hilly stage Rolland won back in 2012, stage 19 is for the pure climbers. The 9.8 kilometre climb up to the finish at Saint-Gervais Mont Blanc averages 8% and has several ramps that reach well over 12%; a true test for any rider looking for polka dot glory.