The 198 riders have been presented to the public and media. The thousands of support crews are all in place. The media multitudes are assembled and desperate to write/report about something that actually happened rather than endlessly speculate about what might happen. Yes, it is christmas eve for cycling fans – the day before the Tour starts – and time for some predictions about who will be standing on the podium in Paris in just over three weeks time.
Two in a row for Cadel? I doubted it straight after last year's victory, but looking at his form and the strangely depleted competition combined with a course that seemed to be designed to play to all his strengths I think he will manage it.
Interestingly Cadel's strongest competition looks like coming from a rider with very similar strengths and approach, indeed Bradley Wiggins has commented that Cadel's victory last year inspired him to believe that he really could win. Brad's preparation has been faultless, he is clearly in the form of his life and with wins in Paris–Nice, Tour of Romandie and Dauphiné Libéré it makes sense that he is the bookmaker's favourite.
On top of that Sky are probably the strongest team on the race, with Froome, Rogers, Porte all likely to figure in the top 10 on GC and even their domestiques looking like they could be team leaders in lesser squads.
So what could go wrong?
Well, I think the important difference between Brad and Cadel is that Cadel has realised that to win he has to take some risks, go for the unexpected moves and try to grab seconds whenever he can. Sure Sky will do a great job of shutting most things down and keeping Brad safe, but they won't be able to control everything and their predictability will work against them. Having said all that I would love to see Brad win the overall, especially since it is 50 years since Tom Simpson became the first British rider to wear the yellow jersey. (The CyclingTips article that alerted me to this fact is well worth a read and the pictures are wonderful.)
Scrapping for the final podium place there will be a group of riders all very close. I am hoping that Thomas Voeckler finally makes it on to the podium, but Gesink or Hesjedal could be there along with another three or four riders.
I doubt Mark Cavendish will make it to Paris this year – the lure of a home Olympics and the possibility of picking up Team GBs first gold medal of the games is going to be too hard to resist. It is going to be fascinating watching Cav come up against the hugely impressive Peter Sagan (they seem to have been avoiding each other so far this year) and I suspect Cav is going to have a real battle in the sprints this year. So, in Cav's absence on the Champs Elysees Sagan will take the maillot vert with Matt Goss and André Greipel scrapping for the leftovers.
And my favourite jersey – the maillot à pois – will be Johnny Hoogerland. It is only fair after his horrible crash last year and the relative lack of really big mountains and summit finishes will play right into his hands.
2 Bradley Wiggins
3 Thomas Voekler
4 Robert Gesink
5 Ryder Hesjedal
1 Peter Sagan
2 Matt Goss
3 André Greipel
1 Johnny Hoogerland
2 Samuel Sanchez
3 Robert Gesink