June 29, 2013, By Jen Benepe
Oh what a year it’s been! While we haven’t seen any of the top contenders for this year’s 100th Tour de France embroiled in scandal, this year has been a roller coaster of drug accusations, suspicions and confessions.
So when this year’s Tour started, everyone is expecting the riders to be drug-free. But will they?
Lance Armstrong who confessed about his performance enhancement use in front of the world on Oprah wouldn’t even be in this Tour because he had left the pro cycling sport before his confession.
But Frank Schleck, brother of Andy Schleck, will not be in the line up this year because of adverse analytical findings last year.
And Sir Bradley Wiggins, the winner of last year’s big race will not be here either due to crashes that left him with a hurt knee and in poor training state. Or so the story goes, fans and riders are suspicious of any top rider that drops out right before the Tour. One couldn’t help wonder and he and Sky teammate Chris Froome pedaled easily up the Alps, even though Wiggins exploded with East Ender expletives last year when a reporter had the audacity to ask him about suspicions of doping on the Sky Team.
Still the field is left with a lot of question marks. Wiggins performed well thanks to help from Chris Froome of the Sky Team, who will be in this Tour, but we’ve never seen the young Brit on his own, and he won’t have the same powerful backup from Team Sky that Wiggins did. Still if he can stay upright through the first fast flat stages of the Tour, without losing any time deficits, he could be well on his way to a podium finish this year.
The “Pistelero del Pinto” Alberto Contador, who has now paid his more than one year of dues for an adverse analytical finding for clenbuterol in the 2010 Tour, will be chomping at the bit to win this year.
Still after taking last year off from the big race, he’ll have to prove himself on the race course before he becomes the chosen leader. The question still remains, after the drug finding erased his 2010 Tour win and his 2011 Giro d’Italia, will the Saxo-Tinkoff rider have the legs without the juice?
Then there’s Andy Schleck who has placed on the podium but has never won the Tour and this year was recovering from a broken sacrum. Without his brother Frank Schleck who is out of cycling temporarily since drug tests found the banned diuretic xipamide in his urine, to help him in the mountains, again, he’s a question mark until we see his performance in the stages before the mountains.
The RadioShack-Leopard-Trek rider does has support from several big power riders, however. Four time TT champion, Fabian Cancellara will help the team and Schleck come closer to the podium, as will Andreas Kloden who at 38 can still hold his own in the mountains.
Power houses Chris Horner and Haimar Zubeldia make this team strong and a potential podium finish.
The lack of a solid previous performer opens the field to others who might enjoy good support in the mountains, but who also have enough strength in the time trial, the team trial and the long flat stages to make it to the top.
There are some new guys in the field that we have seen do well, like BMC’s 24-year-old Tejay van Garderen, the young wunder-kind who has been winning the best young rider for a couple of years now, and came in fifth in 2012. Given his age of 36, many don’t think teammate Cadel Evans can make it to the top after winning the 2011 Tour, but he certainly can help van Garderen make the podium, if he wants to. And that’s the essential question: will Evans work for van Garderen?
I can just picture their directeur sportif now giving them instructions: wait to see who is doing best in the early stages, and we’ll make a decision later on. That’s how it worked–with or without the directive of team managers in 2009 when Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong rode for RadioShack. Contador, hot-headed Spaniard that he is, just made his own decision on the Col du Verbier, pulling away from Armstrong just when the twists and turns of the road eased up a bit.
But BMC has another secret weapon concealed under it’s skirts, and that’s Phillipe Gilbert. The 31-year-old has been a prolific rider. Add Thor Hushovd, who despite his age of 35 is a great sprinter and breakaway artist. Watch out for Team BMC this year.
Another great rider who has a chance at the podium is Ryder Hesjedal of the Garmin-Sharpe team, and that’s also partly because he has a great team behind him. Brit David Millar excels at the time trials, as does Dave Zabriskie, and Christian vande Velde was 4th overall in 2008.
Joaquim Rodriguez, 33, is the guy to watch for Team Katusha, especially if he can enjoy the support of Denis Menchov, and Dani Moreno. He’s a tough person to catch in the mountains, and with Froome and Schleck without their climbing buddies Wiggins and brother Schleck, Rodriguez has a chance to put a dent in their run. The only problem the team will face is if Menchov decides he’s the contender for the podium and fails to support Rodriguez who comes to the Tour for only the second time, and came in 7th at his first Tour de France in 2010.
Another rider to watch is Robert Gesink of Blanco Pro Cycling, and his racing partner Luis Leon Sanchez. Gesink was 5th overall in 2010 and Sanchez had four stage wins. The team also has Mark Renshaw, the famous previous lead out man for sprinter Mark Cavendish, who almost could not win without his British teammate.
Another team to watch for the overall podium win is Lotto-Belisol. With Jurgen van den Broeck and Jelle Vanendert, the team has a chance at the podium. Van den Broeck was 4th overall in 2012 and 5th overall in 2010. Vanendert had a 2011 stage win and was third in the King of the Mountain in 2011. The weakness for this team will be in the team time trial and individual time trials. But if Van den Broeck does get to the podium he will be the first Belgian to do so since Lucien van Impe won in 1976.
Don’t totally discount Europcar’s Thomas Voeckler, who held onto the Yellow Jersey for more stages than we can remember in 2011 and was 4th overall that year. Pierre Rolland is a great get-away artist and enjoyed 2 stage wins in 2011, and was 8th overall.
Sprinter Green Jersey Predictions
Manx Missile Mark Cavendish who is now riding for the Omega-Pharma Quick Step team is still the fastest man on earth. But when it comes to bunched sprints, without a strong team he could get thrust to the middle, or worse to the back. With support from Tony Martin and Sylvain Chavanel, the 27-year-old Missile has a chance to chalk up more of his previous 23 stage wins. He’s also got more grist to grind: with a new baby from porn model Peta Todd, he’s a daddy now with a family to support. Plus he’ll want to conquer the Tour this year after his performance unhappily played second fiddle to Bradley Wiggins’ bid for Yellow on the Sky Team in the 2012 Tour.
Still, Cavendish’s prospects for a Green Jersey will be in serious contention with the presence of lean mean green machine Peter Sagan. The 23-year-old Cannondale rider has legs for the mountains, which means he can pick up points at mid-course sprints.He also won three sprint finishes at the 2012 TDF.
But Cavendish is likely to win many more final sprints on the flat stages. Look for a big battle between the two this year.
Peter Sagan has the cajones to get the Green Jersey. For one, the man may not be faster than Cavendish, but he really has no fear and the legs to back that up. Like Cavendish, the seemingly unstoppable Sagan also appears to be doing it all without drugs. Amazing. Still 2004 stage winner Ivan Basso is the only other really strong member of the Cannondale team, which raises the question, can Sagan do this on his own? He’ll have to.
Lotto-Belisol rider Andre Greipel has a good chance to slip in between any of the team weaknesses as he has in the past.
He’s a powerful sprinter who has often not had the lead out talent that Cavendish enjoyed in 2011 with Matt Goss and Mark Renshaw. If Greipel enjoys the back up of team riders van den Broeck and Vanendert, he’ll have a chance to put a dent in the Manx wins, but we don’t see him winning the Green Jersey this year.
Mattie Goss who is riding for Team Orica-GreenEdge this year used to be part of the lead out team for Mark Cavendish in 2011. But Goss has never won a stage win despite a strong showing at Milano-Sanremo, stages at Paris-Nice, the Amgen Tour of California, Tirreno-Adriatico and the Giro d’Italia. Goss was also second to Cavendish in the 2011 world road championships.
Interestingly Tyler Farrar of Team Garmin Sharp has a chance for several sprint wins, but can he get the Green? It’s a big question mark, but his team has some heavy hitters on it. Tyler has often faded to second or third or fourth position in a bunch sprint, but he’s got Ryder Hesjedal on his team this year, as well as Christian vande Velde, Dave Zabriskie, Johan Vansummeren, Dave Millar, Tom Danielson and Daniel Martin. Though none of those riders are pure sprinters, if Farrar can’t get more wins with this team behind him, then it’s unlikely he would ever be able to.
More later on predictions for the Polka Dot and White Jerseys.