Friday Group Ride #26

The middle of June. The precipice. The brink. Just a few weeks left to tune up for the Tour de France, which means that all the “just riding this race as training” is almost over. Top Tour contenders will be getting in their last minute collarbone fractures at the Dauphiné and the Tour de Suisse. Aerodynamic positions are set. The UCI is getting its crack Reject-a-Bike squad ready for the time trials, and the AFLD and UCI are ratcheting up their those-guys-don’t-know-what-they’re-doing rhetoric in anticipation of some really wearisome l’Equipe headlines.

At this stage we are beginning to draw up our list of favorites, a list that must begin with Alberto Contador and include Andy Schleck, but from that point breaks off and meanders through the peloton with a lot of maybes and possiblys.

From last year’s podium there is Lance Armstrong to consider. The now 38-year-old former champion and globe-trotting cancer fighter has had an early season to forget, one in which he made the biggest news by being accused of serial doping. Again. Between injuries, illnesses and general lack of form, you have to wonder if the Lance v. Alberto narrative we’re bound to have crammed down our collective throats is even worth spinning in the first place.

Then there’s Bradley Wiggins. Team Sky’s million dollar baby has thus far flattered to deceive in the black and blue of his new squad. With a nose for the controversial headline, Mr. Wiggins’ 2010 has been remarkable for an utter lack of remarkableness. He can’t possibly sneak up on the competition this year, but could expectations for the Brit be any lower?

And what of the Italians? Ivan Basso won the Giro going away, but could he possibly be strong enough to do the double? Or will he turn super domestique for Vincenzo Nibali, the young talent who served him so well on their native roads?

World Champion Cadel Evans can’t be discounted entirely, but the Giro might have proven that BMC don’t have the riders to support a Grand Tour winner. Evans has done the rainbow stripes proud, but the last time the World Champ won the Tour was Bernard Hinault in 1981, nearly thirty years ago.

You’ve also got riders like Denis Menchov, last season’s Giro winner, moving his focus to the Tour in an attempt to round out his palmares. In a similar situation to Evans, you have to wonder if Rabobank have the riders to deliver Menchov to the top step. The Russian also has an amusing habit of falling off his bike, which is usually a bad idea in July in France. Ask Joseba Beloki.

This week’s Group Ride looks at the favorites for the maillot jaune and wonders who is in the best form and why? Is it one of the riders mentioned above or is there an outsider you think has the goods? Has Contador done too much with wins in Volta ao Algarve, Paris-Nice and Vuelta a Castilla y León, not to mention his current escapades at the Dauphiné? Will Andy Schleck’s knee be strong enough to let him dual with Contador in the high mountains? Let the pre-race chatter begin.

Image: John Pierce, Photosport International

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  1. SinglespeedJarv

    Unless he bins it badly in the Low Countries, Contador will win.

    The Schlecks can’t drop him in the mountains and aren’t as good at time-trials.

    Armstrong will take most of the media interest, will probably crash and take even more media interest, before abandoning and then everyone will forget about him. If he starts at all.

    The Italians are Italians and as such will not perform well in France.

    Menchov can’t descend.

    Cuddles will be in the mix, irrespective of his team, but the lack of a decent team will cost him the win.

    With a herniate back (I know all about those) Sastre is unlikely to make the start so allowing Cervelo to concentrate on Hushovd, or showing off their nice kit if Hushovd doesn’t make it.

    Rogers and VDV might be able to reach the podium, as long as they stay on their bikes.

    Which brings me to Wiggins and Team Sky. They won’t win either. But I don’t think it was ever their intention. They will be there to win the prologue with either Wiggins or Gez Thomas and getting Wiggins in the Top-10. Failure to win the prologue will result in them trying to win a stage. Dave Brailsford has a plan and he will follow it, I don’t think he even expected to have Wiggins on the team this year, but after his result last year I imagine the Murdoch’s insisted they buy him at whatever cost.

    Look at Brailsford’s record with the British track squad, building the success on a small core of riders and bringing up young riders through a system to support and enhance the team. It is the same with Sky. Gez Thomas is 22 and leading the points competition in the Dauphine and 20 year-old neo-pro Peter Kennaugh finished just over a minute behind Contador on Stage 4. These riders have been in the system for years already but are the future of British cycling, they are central to Brailsford’s plans. The older riders are their to act as guidance.

  2. Souleur

    When they lined up teams in the preseason, it really looked to be a brilliant field. But that is all by-gones now.

    Yes, its Contador’s to lose. Simple. Minus an incident or bad virus, he is the GC’r. What I mean by that is he is alpha, he is recognizable, he inflicts it at his will and others in the peloton mutually recognize it as well. In my humblest of opinions, which can be quite recognizably a purists opinion, IMO there is a few GCr’s at any given time, and once they hit the Champs-Ellysees there is only one. One and one only. Til next time they sift it out in the next go around. A GC’r IMO is not a ‘good rider’. It is much more. It is a personality, one endowed with the qualities I mention and as it flows, don’s the maillot juane.

    Lance…well, is feeling like he is 37, nearly 38.

    Andy Schleck, now Andy might pull an upset and I will be the first to credit him as a close second to Contador. Person wise, mentally wise, is he a GCr? will wait and see if he stomps that into the peloton or not.

    Evans, should be better, but isn’t. I will credit his Giro downer as being without a full roster as they had to defend home turf in California.

    Sastre, has had good days in yesteryears, good rider, but too old now.

    Menchov is an outsider. He may if he strung a line of 20 days together without a bad day, but he tends to have a bad day in most tours he rides. Maybe not this year?

    Wiggo, like I have said all along is all about nothing. Yeah, he rode well last year, but he was unmarked and unchecked. A notable ride but one the peloton did not check. It happens once, but not twice. He is now a known commodity in the peloton, he has shot his mouth off and now has high expectations. Good luck, but I don’t see him hanging on.

    VDV, needs training wheels. sorry.

    Rogers, the deal here is they are going to be setting up Cav, not Rogers for a win. Therefore in the high mtns, it will be less support, no pure climbers for him nor protection if he did do well. I do think Rogers has it, but as we have seen in sprint teams before, they don’t don both the green and the maillot-juane.

    Basso will be a contendor, and I just continue to pray he is clean.

    outsiders? Kruezinger is one overlooked and could pull something like Wiggo did last year. Kirchen and Kloden are always strong seconds on their respective teams. Gesink, Martin, & Sanchez are class acts. All capable of something special.

  3. Jon

    If Basso recovers well from the Giro I think he’s a real possibility.

    Contador? Definitely need to count him in amongst the favorites it will be interesting to see how he rides L’Alpe d’Huez tomorrow. Astana will need to be stronger than they seemed at the Giro since no matter how strong Alberto is he really can’t win the race without strong support.

    Cadel? Big question mark both in regard to the strength of his team and his seeming inability to close the deal on a GT win.

    Andy Schleck is sure to animate things if he’s healthy. I don’t know if this is his year to win le tour but if not his time is certainly coming soon.

    Lance Armstrong? I have no idea really but would expect him to finish somewhere in the top 5 *assuming* he keeps the rubber side down *and* does not get himself arrested. His form did seem to be better at the TDL; I’m curious to see how he does in Switzerland next week.

    I look forward to the race and especially look forward to whatever surprises it brings.

  4. mark

    The speculation about GC winners is fun, but the question I have is whether a bigger headline will be made by the winner or a high-profile PED positive? I can think of one favorite who rides TTs with an ability nor normally found in climbers of his stature. I can think of another rider who was too old to be on the podium last year, but was anyway. And then there are the Italians. Who has the better technology this year, dopers or testers?

    1. Padraig

      You know, I’m finding myself unable to believe that anyone can do the Giro/Tour double and be clean. I’d take that as almost proof itself.

      What I’d really love to see this year is for Saxo Bank, Radio Shack and BMC all take swings at Contador. I’d like to see each team willing to lose, just to make sure someone wins the Tour other than Contador. It’s not that I dislike Contador, but I think racing for broke is the only way we’ll get interesting racing this year. There’s a very real risk that this year’s Tour will be tactically interesting only for Astana.

      Oh, and I would love to see, though I don’t think it will happen, Hincapie chase any member of Radio Shack. I kinda think Armstrong’s mic still broadcasts to Hincapie.

      It looks like there’s a very real possibility that Garmin-Transitions will be racing for stage wins with Farrar rather than the GC with Vande Velde. I can’t think of another team that changed its game plan and goals so completely in only one year. Can you?

  5. sophrosune

    I would like to respectfully address an innuendo that Mark alludes to about Contador being a climber so can’t possibly be a good time trialist and this evidence of his doping. He may or may not be doping, but Contador has always been an excellent time trialist. His very first victories were in time trials. Being good in time trials is about having the physiology that lends itself to maintaining an extremely aerodynamic position on the bike while still generating big watts. Contador has always had that, it didn’t suddenly appear as did the climbing and time trialing abilities of Armstrong after his cancer.

    To be honest, now that we are just weeks before the start a TdF that looked to be highly competitive back in the early Spring looks a bit disappointing now. The mountains are too many and too steep for Wiggins. Schleck(s) can’t time trial and Andy’s knee doesn’t help. Evans really suffered a lot in the Giro. A game performance but you can’t go to the bank that many times. Basso is a sociopath so he probably is doping but I still don’t expect him to make the podium. Menchov? Maybe podium but he is a bit of a headcase, isn’t he? VdV? You can’t be serious. Armstrong? If there is a god in heaven, no. Podium: Contador, Andy Schleck, Evans.

  6. randomactsofcycling

    Like many others, I have difficulty seeing a healthy Contador being anywhere other than the top step come July 25. It’s boring to say again but he’s a heck of a rider.
    As for the others, we all seem to think quite alike! I do feel that Michael Rogers has some unfinished business, having crashed out as leader on the road a couple of years ago. Does he have ‘it’ in the high mountains, or enough team support? Not quite and no.
    Is it time for Luis Leon Sanchez to finally step out of Valv-Piti’s shadow? I’d like it to happen, just so we can forget about some riders for a time….
    And as boring as it is, I am wondering about Levi! He’s an old diesel that seems to have developed a pretty keen tactical sense. Stays within himself on the climbs, doesn’t lose too much time and does possess a good TT. If he is allowed to race, I think he’s a podium shot….If he’s allowed to race….
    I like the way Cadel is racing this year. Positive riding! If he can learn from 2008 and limit his losses in the mountains, rather than dick around marking the Schlecks, it could come down to the TT. Fingers crossed.
    At the end of the day, Contador, Evans (@about 2mins), A.Schleck (@3)

    Oh and thankyou, Sophrosune, for addressing the innuendos posted above.

  7. Lachlan

    you’d have to bet on Contador, but the great thing about every grand tour is that there is always a reshuffle we dont expect.

    Maybe not always including no.1 (thinking indurain/armstrong years here) but the shape of the race: the random breaks, the surprise riders, the personal battles, the ones who fail to reach their own hype… It is always there to make it compelling. Can’t wait : )

  8. Bob Cesca

    After this year’s amazing Giro, I’m afraid the TdF will be anti-climactic. And unless someone can counter AC’s attacks, we’re in for a lot of group climbs and one big AC attack in which he clinches the jersey then casually follows dual Schleck attempts at attacking thereafter.

    If AC were to be caught out in a split or if he were to bonk early and lose a lot of time we might actually get some real drama and excitement.

  9. Michael

    I don’t know who to mention specifically, but I have the sneaking suspicion that there will be a breakthrough podium ride from one of the younger generation – it could easily be one of the hoards of Liquigas youngsters who are all lighting it up this year, or someone could come out of left field completely and surprise the pundits.

    I also think Evans is toast for a podium spot, he dug too deep at the Giro.

  10. Souleur

    @ Robot, only if LA were to fall out. I agree, he is their best real shot because he’s a freakin stud, but strategery aside and ego’s, has LA ever allowed a backup rise in the Tour when he was on? I would say thats the chances of Kloden going.

  11. grolby

    I’m surprised at the question about whether Andy Schleck has the personality of a Tour contender. Don’t let the goofy, aw-shucks-cute stuff off the bike fool you. The Schlecks on the bike are a terror to behold. Andy has shown that he’s got what it takes. The trick is getting through three weeks faster than Contador.

    So the Tour is still Contador’s to lose, and I think he probably won’t. Andy Schleck is a good bet for the second step, and the minimal time-trialing kilometers in this Tour look good for him. 3rd place is a toss-up for me. I don’t think Basso will have enough left, and I don’t think that Evans will either; he looked to be on a massive peak before he got sick in the Giro. It would be great if he could recover and rebuild in time to reach the podium, but I doubt it.

    Armstrong seems to be having trouble keeping up with a full seasons’ worth of training and competition. I bet he doesn’t podium, but I wouldn’t rule him out of the top 5, probably a lock for top 10.

    VdV has a nasty record of crashing in the Giro, but doesn’t seem particularly prone to falling off in other races; I dispute the predictions of him crashing out of the running. We’ve also seen that he’s able to recover from serious injuries and still get a top 10 in the Tour. I don’t think he’ll disappoint this year. No win, no podium, solid shot at the top 5.

    Sastre’s back is a real problem. He really shouldn’t even start the Tour. He’s had a rough couple of seasons, in spite of some good results last year in the Giro. He seems to be showing his age.

    I guess there are some other guys riding this race, too… the other Schleck will get another top 10, Nibali will do a good ride, Cancellara will get talked up after another solid Tour de Suisse by silly pundits who don’t understand that there’s no chance in hell Riis would let him ride for GC. It’s going to be a fun ride for all of us watching at home, for sure.

  12. Champs

    I’m not entirely sure that a 6’1, 140 pound(!!!!) climber is anything to fear, but I get the point. There’s only one real ITT in this race, so if there is a year when a Schleck brother can hold the yellow jersey, it’s this year.

    That said, Contador will be an unholy terror, just like his campaign earlier in the season. He doesn’t have to be perfect to win, just good.

  13. Big Mikey

    I have assumed Contador all year, but that ride in the Dauphine was a bit disconcerting. You tell me he couldn’t drop Brajkovic….seriously? Has JB ever climbed in the front group? Need to start the search for a lost motorcycle with refrigerated panniers.

    I have a feeling watching Armstrong is going to be rather heartbreaking, as his age and rough season show themselves in the TdF, where he won’t have anything to hide behind. Then again, I wouldn’t be surprised if team LA come up with a reason not to start the tour, between his form and the Landis affair.

    This might end up being a lot like 2006, with relatively weak teams and no clear favorite.

  14. sophrosune

    Contador improved from a 3rd place finish in 2009 at the Dauphine to 2nd and two stage wins in 2010. Brajkovic just finished his 50th day of racing by the time Contador finishes the TdF that’s how many day’s he’ll have raced. They were at different levels of preparation for the Dauphine.

    Now that RadioShack has skipped the Giro, just been not invited to the Vuelta, they pretty much have to do the TDF no matter what. But far from disheartening, the prospect of Armstrong having a lousy tour brings hope that we may finally see the end of him in the peloton. But I’ll believe when I see it.

  15. grolby

    Brajkovic peaked for the Dauphine. Contador is undoubtedly aiming to be peaking for the last week of the Tour. That’s five weeks from now. Contador is right on time to be absolutely flying in July. Brajkovic will be strong, but his form will be declining, and he will undoubtedly be tired.

  16. MattyVT

    How about Levi? I’d say he’s good for a top 5 and hasn’t had the setbacks of other Radio Shack riders this spring. I’m also a Kloeden fan, but he seems to be hardwired not to outshine his teammates. He might make it in the top 10 but outside the top 5. I think he’ll probably end up somewhere near Evans and Van de Velde on GC as their teams won’t have the horsepower to keep them at the front.

    It’s Contador’s to lose, as many have said before, but I bet the Schlecks and Nibali make him work for it. Armstrong will be fun to watch, but unless he can find his full-throttle TT power of yesteryear I think he’ll settle on the podium but not the top step.

    Otherwise I think Farrar could fight for some early stages but won’t make it to Paris to fight for the overall, the Cavendish/Hushovd duel will be on again and Sastre will go for an Alpine stage win. And sorry France, you’ll get shut out of the top-10 again.

  17. Alex Torres

    If Basso can´t be a GC contender, I´d guess it´ll show on the second week of the Tour. By then, he should be able to help Nibali, perhaps cause some damage. But I still think he´s a factor and he´s going for GC, even after winning the Giro. That can make wonders to a rider´s confidence, and the prospect of pulling the double should get his some extra fire. Thta makes a difference IMHO. If he can keep his form, he´ll be very dangerous, I can´t see why not. And he showed he can climb.

    LA is a hardman. He can suffer, he has race smart to spare, he has great support, and he has Johan – basically, after making it 7 times in a row he knows what it takes to win a Tour. The problem I see with him is he coming to a point in the race and think “I don´t need this sh#@, to the hell with all this!” (because he really doesn´t) and go make a few million bucks somewhere else.

    Still, I would never bet against someone like him. Ever. He can´t pull a miracle of course, if Contador and Astana are at least 80% strong I don´t think he could beat him. But even against all odds he could still surprise.

    As for the others… I don´t even know what to make of them. Saxo has potential and Riis is a Tour expert in his own, so they´re sure to increase competition. And they´ll be on the kill if Contador miss even one beat. That´s when a Tour can turn upside down!

    Menchov… I dunno, just don´t know. Didn´t see him much this year, but that means he´s focused and working for the Tour and he´s a Giro winner. Can´t rule him out completelly in my charts. But Evans, poor Evans I think he will be just himself once again, at most.

    All in all, I expect a good and exciting Tour. It usually is for me, I love to watch a grand tour no matter what. Even when it´s not THE best Tour! Plus, we´ll sure have a LOT to talk come july hehehe… 😉

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