The question is not whether or not Alberto Contador is the favorite for the upcoming Tour de France. The question is who will challenge him and how?
Because there is only one ITT in this year’s Grand Boucle, it could be argued that Andy Schleck’s inherent disadvantage is not as great as last year’s. Will it be enough to cut the 4 minutes 11 seconds he lost to Contador in 2009? Maybe, maybe not. What will certainly be key to Schleck’s ascendancy is brother Fränk’s ability to break Contador’s rhythm in the high mountains. Still, Astana has proven themselves capable of competing in the big races, and el Pistolero will have help from Alexandre Vinokourov in July.
Lance Armstrong’s Radio Shack squad will have added incentive to top the podium next month. First of all, their captain isn’t getting any younger. This is quite probably his last crack at the maillot jaune. Second, having been snubbed by Unipublic for the Vuelta, the Shack has no reason to hold back Levi Leipheimer, Chris Horner and Andreas Kloeden in France. All three of those riders have the ability to climb at the pointy end of things, giving the Lance every advantage against Contador, especially if he can get his time trialing on line. Of course, so far he has sucked this season. Is he sandbagging or just getting old?
According to my friend Jarvis, Team Sky, Dave Brailsford and Bradley Wiggins don’t really think they can win the Tour this go round. Jarvis’s ears are closer to the ground in the UK, so let’s assume he’s right. Wiggins probably doesn’t have the form or the support to equal his fourth place from ’09 anyway.
That leaves us with the Italians, and Liquigas may well have the best chance against Contador and the Astanas. Ivan Basso, Roman Kreuziger, Vincenzo Nibali, Peter Sagan, Robert Kiserlovski et. al. come into the Tour brimming with confidence. Basso seems back to top form after his Giro victory. Sagan has been the young revelation of the season, and Nibali has shown himself capable of riding with the best GC riders in the world. Will Basso turn super domestique for Nibali? Does Sagan have any more gas in the tank to help out? Liquigas have, thus far, shown that they can ride as a team, which, in the end, may be their best asset.
Here at Red Kite Prayer, we enjoy pro racing. If the Tour plays out as we all expect it to, it will be the best summer entertainment on offer. Having said that, RKP celebrates the survival of the breakaway. May we all hope for a dark horse, or whole herd of dark horses, to stampede the French countryside next month.