By Jen Benepe, June 30, 2012
This year’s Tour de France starts today, and the biggest buzz surrounds predictions about who will win.
With favorites Andy Schleck out with a broken pelvis and planning for competition in the Olympics, and Alberto Contador out for penalties from the Court of Arbitration for Sport for alleged clenbuterol use, the Yellow Jersey is up for grabs, but big time. All three slots on the final Paris podium are being tossed up in the air.
Finally, a Tour that is not predictable!
CI does not agree with the two media greats and NBC Sports announcers Paul Sherwen and Phil Liggett that Brit Bradley Wiggins of the Sky Team will be the Yellow Jersey winner of this year’s Tour, but we do agree –and who couldn’t, that this year’s 21-stage race will offer some interesting surprises.
The opening of the field to new riders will surely bring out the best performance in all of the top riders. No doubt, Cadel Evans, still racing for BMC Racing could pull off another win, especially with help from teammate George Hincapie who will be riding his last Tour this year.
Phllipe Gilbert has defected to BMC from Team Pharma Lotto, and no one can forget how well he did in last year’s Tour. Whether Gilbert will be riding in suport for last year’s Yellow Jersey winner or himself, needless to say Evans’ dogged persistence last year paid off despite the fact that Thomas Voeckler, resplendent in his green Europcar jersey, held the Yellow Jersey for 10 stages.
Both riders suffered torturous attacks in the mountains from Andy and Frank Schleck, as well as many new riders who stood out last year like Ryder Hesjedal, Sammy Sanchez, and a contingent of strong French riders, among them Sandy Casar and Pierrick Fredrigo of FDJ-Big Mat.
Voeckler, who was considered more of a Classics racer prior to TDF 2011 got his feet wet last year, and his learning curve may help him in 2012. We also like Pierre Roland who pulled some major wins, including up the Alpe D’Huez, where he bested Alberto Contador, though he is considered more likely to be a top-10 contender in the overall classification and a Polka Dot jersey winner for best climber.
Don’t discount Frank Schleck, who has always played second to his brother Andy, but showed significant strength in last year’s Tour. Though his team Radio-Shack Nissan has been weakened by the loss of his brother, Andreas Kloden and Chris Horner are strong riders and can support him in the mountains.
Levi Leipheimer has switched teams to ride with Omega Pharma-Quick Step, and again, with Contador and Andy Schleck out, the American might be able to secure a couple of wins in the Tour, but we don’t see him as one of the top three despite the fact that he now has Tony Martins in his court. Rather we see Martins as pulling more wins in this year’s race. What’s worse, both riders were injured this spring, Leipheimer hit by a car from behind on April 1 (no joke,) in Basaque country, and a week later Martins hit by a driver in Switzerland. It’s amazing how drivers don’t even respect the best bike riders in the world.
Ryder Hesjedal, fresh off his win at the Giro D’Italia riding for Garmin-Sharp-Barracuda, will certainly have the guts and the chutzpah to win the grand Tour now. He showed good legs last year, though one thing is certain, a win at the Giro does not guarantee France. With possible help from Christian VandeVelde, David Zabriskie, and Daniel Martin, Ryder could come close to the podium.
Italian rider Vincenzo Nibali of Liquiga-Cannondale who came in second in the Liège-Bastogne-Liège this year is aggressive, but we don’t see him coming to the top three.
We also see Roman Kreuziger and Janez Brajkovic of Team Astana as aggressive pursuers of one-day stage wins, and riders Maxime Monfort and Edvald Boasson Hagen are expected to consistently surprise as they did in last year’s Tour.
So this year we see the top six riders in the GC coming down to Cadel Evans, Frank Schleck, Thomas Voeckler, Ryder Hesjedal, Bradley Wiggins, Sammy Sanchez, and possibly Damiano Cunego who came in sixth at last year’s Tour.
Among the other possibilites we see are Sylvain Chavanel who is the French National Champion and is racing for Team Omega Pharma-QuickStep, Luis Leon Sanchez of Team Rabobank who has done well in the mountains in the past two Tours, American Chris Horner, mostly because he has a big cheering section in Colorado, Johnny Hoogerland of VancanSoleil-DCM, famous for being shunted into barbed wire by an overzealous photographer last year, and Jurgen Van den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol) who showed real racing chutzpah in last year’s TDF.
Also significant possibilities for top 10 classification standing are German National Champion Tony Martin, and Edvald Boasson Hagen.
Remember last year we covered Mark Cavendish’s girlfriend, Peta Todd in Paris as she shouted with her
son, “Cavendish, Cavendish, Cavendish!” before being swallowed up by opportunistic media after we discovered her next to us.
Well this year the Manx Missile, last year’s Green Jersey winner, will have a tough time delivering the Green Jersey. For one, he will be missing two of his greatest lead-out guys on the now defunct HTC-Columbia Team, Matt Goss and Mark Grenshaw who have both defected to other teams (Team Orica Greenedge and Team Rabobank respectively,) and will be competiing against their former star. There is no doubt that when it comes to the final push to the line, Cavendish is the best of anyone, but in the foreplay before the line–say one mile out–he’ll need help getting up to the last 500 to 800 meters.
What’s more, he’s already announced to the press that he will be supporting GC contender and fellow teammate, Bradley Wiggins, but we don’t see that panning out, so maybe the Cav’ will be switching horses mid stream and going for the Green afterall.
If he does, he’s have some stiff competition. His previous buddies, Matt and Mark will be barking at his heels as will be his all time competitor Tyler Farrar of Garmin-Sharp, old time favorite Italian Alessandro Pettachi, newcomer Peter Sagan of Liguigas-Cannondale, Andre Greipel of Lotto-Bellisol, Juan Jose Haedo of Team SaxoBank, and J.J. Rojas of under dog team Moviestar, who finished second to Cavendish in TDF 2011. Also Marcel Kittel of Team Agros Shimano has been racking up wins and is known for his aggressive sprinting.
Besides, the Cav is aiming for a gold in this year’s Olympics, so will he really be trying hard? We see this year’s Green Jersey being up for grabs.
Polka Dot Climber’s Classification
Among the favorites this year are Pierre Roland who crested L’Alpe D’Huez ahead of all the champions in 2011, Daniel Martin of Team Garmin-Sharp who won stages at Tour of Poland, Vuelta a Espana, and was a podium winner at Volta a Catalunya, Jelle Vanendert of Lotto-Belisol who wore the King of the Mountain jersey for five stages last year, and Rigoberto Uran who finished fifth in last year’s White Jersey (best new rider.)
Other possible contenders include Juan Jose Cobo of Moviestar who won the 2011 Vuelta a Espana’s hardest climbing stage on Angliru, besting Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome. Rein Taaramae, Estsonian rider for Team Cofidis, won a mountain stage at the Vuelta a Espana, and could win a couple at this Tour.