Friday, July 2, 2010

Tour de France 2010

Winning three Tours de France puts you in special club of cycling greats, joining Greg Lemond, Louison Bobet and Philippe Thys. Doing it at the age of 28 probably gives you another five or six attempts and a shot at all out legend status; looking towards the five Tours of Indurain, Hinault, Merckx and Anquetil and onwards to the dizzy heights of Armstrong's seven wins.

So, the question is can Contador win it again this year and join the club of greats? My answer would have to be ... probably. He is still the strongest rider, his preparation has been good and the course is so suited to him you almost have to wonder if Christian Prudhomme wants anyone else to win.

But. And there are a lot of buts. His team is nowhere near as strong or tactically astute as last year, the tensions and conflict will be gone, but will he have the support when he needs it? I doubt it, but even so I still can't see anyone else managing to get ahead of him. The tough Belgian stages in the first week will also be strange and unfamiliar, with the other favourites doing all they can to make him suffer. Even so, the lack of team time trial and just one individual time trial will play to Contador's strengths, as will the tough Pyrenean stages a few days before the end.

Until the race gets to the Pyrenees I think it is going to be one of the most open and interesting Tours we have seen for many years and there are more genuine challengers this year than I can ever remember, so who else will be joining Contador on the podium?

I think Armstrong will be next. He is looking stronger and more dangerous than last year. Radioshack is also a much stronger team than Astana and you can guarantee that they will work for Armstrong like no other team in the race. Also it is his last chance and if he has enough time on Contador before the Pyrenees, he could just hang on to make it eight. Unfortunately, unless Contador and Astana make mistakes I just can't see where he is going to gain enough time.

And moving up one place on 2009, I think Bradley Wiggins will be finishing on the podium for the first time. He looks ready, thinks he is in better form than last year and Team Sky are hungry to show that they can compete at the highest level with the best in the world.

After that there probably another ten riders that could round out the top five. The Schleck brothers still look strong, but I think Andy is not quite on his best form and Franck just isn't strong enough in the mountains. Cadel was very strong at the Giro, the lack of team time trial will be an even greater relief for him than Contador, but I think he will struggle to crack the top five. Michael Rogers on the other hand looks like he is in the form of his life and, although Columbia will be working hard to put Cavendish into the green jersey, I still think he will have enough support to strongly challenge for yellow. And in fifth, Roman Kreuziger, will show how much potential he has as well as wresting the white jersey from the shoulders of Andy Schleck.

1 Alberto Contador
2 Lance Armstrong
3 Bradley Wiggins
4 Michael Rogers
5 Roman Kreuziger

1 Mark Cavendish
2 Thor Hushovd
3 Robbie McEwen

1 Carlos Sastre
2 Luis León Sánchez
3 Cadel Evans

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