Friday Group Ride #75

Last week we made a raft of preposterous predictions for the upcoming Grand Boucle in France. It was fun. But as the actual race approached we ought to probably settle in and start the very, extremely serious work of predicting and arguing over what will really happen.

To begin with, it seems we are on the verge of watching Alberto Contador complete the Giro/Tour double, a feat last performed by Marco Pantani, likely while riding with blood thicker than Jell-O. Contador has been so dominant this year, and over the last three years, that he, like Armstrong before him, will be the pre-ordained GC favorite.

What we need to do is figure out who really has a shot at beating him. You will recall Chaingate last year, the incident in which Andy Schleck’s mechanical opened the door to 39 seconds of breathing room for the mercurial Spaniard. Though a crappy time trialist, Schleck appears to be the only one able to climb with Contador.

Cadel Evans is another possibility. He of the ever-improving public image has raced very well over the last two seasons, and might well have been in yellow in Paris last year if it hadn’t been for a broken elbow suffered at the end of the first week. Evans can climb (if in a muscular style not at all like his bird-like competition), and he can time trial. Is it possible?

VeloNews (if you’ve read their Tour preview edition) seems to believe that the RadioShack cycling team have more than one GC contender from the group comprised of Leipheimer, Klöden, Brajkovic and Horner. I believe they have none, but who am I?

More credible, in my mind, is Ivan Basso. Like Schleck, the Italian can climb with the very best, but his time trialing is poor. What Basso has going for him is a strong TTT that might help him bank some time against Contador and the rest.

Then, of course, there’s a whole cadre of talented hopefuls: Fränk Schleck, the Leopard-Trek counterpunch who we’ve seen win big races and will certainly get his brother’s support if it comes to that; Robert Gesink, the willowy, Dutch climber; Roman Kreuziger, Astana’s new hope; Christian Vande Velde who has the talent and the team, but will his health hold?; Ryder Hesjedal, last year’s Garmin surprise; Brad Wiggins, who I was ready to write off until he won the Dauphiné; and Juergen van den Broek, the Omega Pharma – Lotto man.

Some one of that group is going to have a great race. Will it be great enough?

What do you think? Who can beat Contador? How will they do it? Why is it their time?

Image: John Pierce, Photosport International

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  1. grolby

    Evans is a more credible GC threat than he’s been in years, and when you consider that he’s up against Contador et al. rather than Sastre (no offense to Carlos Sastre, but he’s not a top-tier GC guy, that’s quite something. If Contador is tired from his Giro win and Evans can keep within a couple of minutes of Andy Schleck on the climbs, it’s certainly doable. Likely? I don’t think so, but I would be unsurprised to see him make a third trip to the podium, at least.

    Just a hunch, but CVV and Hesjedal seem to be about on the same page GC-wise, though CVV seems like he’s slightly better on long climbs. Just a hunch, though; it’ll be interesting to see how GC leadership shakes out on Garmin. There’s been some talk of Tom Danielson making a good run now that he’s finally made the Tour team, to fit the pattern of a GC surprise from Garmin every year, but I’m skeptical; I’m guessing that his marching orders will be to work for CVV or Hesjedal. The fact that Garmin has seen a “surprise” GC threat emerge each year is interesting, but “past results are not indicative of future performance.” I really hope CVV is back at his best after a rough couple of years.

    I’m guessing Wiggins is good for a top-10 but not the podium; I wrote off van den Brouck last year, and turned out to be very wrong. He’s a podium threat as well.

    A rookie that you left unmentioned: Tejay van Garderen. He’s young, and riding for HTC (which is seldom good for anyone’s GC hopes), but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that he’ll be in the top 20 in Paris.

  2. Beth

    Contador is trying to defuse expectations, by stating how tired he still is from the Giro. And well he ought to be. Now he has just come in third in the Spanish TT championship, and was well out of it. He is not playing possum; he really is pretty much spent. And he is running out of time to recover.
    I suppose we will be able to tell for sure about him by the time the tour gets to the Massif Central. I am really hoping for a wide open race this year.

  3. Souleur

    its a race for second IMHO

    Horner, is one that I am interested in. I see one last ride in him, perhaps his biggest, then again, its just one bad day away from the broomwagon too, so its a big deal.

    And not least of all is Kloden, never allowed to go, may have a run at it if his compatriots don’t. The Shack seems to have a lot of cards to play, none of them aces, more like jokers that can play in anything.

    And Wiggo…is talking again

    Evans…will podium, left of center

    and there are others too, will be reading along

  4. cormw

    Until Contador is beaten, he is the favorite. I think with Riis in his corner this year he going to be tough to beat. Andy still cannot ride an effective time trial, Basso looks a little too out of shape and I think Cuddles is just not able to close the deal. As much as I’d like to see CVV podium, I think there is too much going on inside the team for them to be successful. As for Gesnick, he and the Rabo team could be a force to reckon with, but I’m not sure they have the ability to bring home the yellow jersey. The remaining teams have the power for stage wins, but no one else stands out on a GC level. As much as I’ll be cheering for anyone to beat Berto (just for a change of pace), he’ll ultimately be wearing yellow at the end…

  5. randomactsofcycling

    I was surprised that Contador didn’t take out the Spanish TT title but his claims of being tired smack a little of gamesmanship.
    Barring any ‘bad days’, it seems Contador has the form, talent and team to bring home Yellow. I would bet on Evans for the next step on the podium ahead of Andy Schleck. I can’t see Schleck or TREK/Leopard putting enough time into Evans on the climbs that he won’t get it back in the TT. And Evans won’t be caught by the same trick as Riis they played with Sastre. The Schleck boys really worked him over that day.
    I too think we should look out for Kloden. I think he’s got one more big result in him.

  6. Paul

    Contador is clearly a level above everyone else. Andy Schleck has not looked great so far, but he may be keeping a low profile and building form. Cadel may have peaked too early in the season, but he is a threat. Wiggins’s time trial skills may be enough to get him to the podium if he can stay close to the other GC guys in the high mountains. JvdB looked very good at the Dauphine. Gesink slso seems to be coming into form. Of the RadioSkank boys, Horner looks strongest, and could make top 5.

  7. Mike

    Soleur said: “And Wiggo…is talking again”

    I love it! I was thinking exactly the same thing. He had that startling climb with the boys a couple of years ago, but on balance his comments sound so much like the Tour dreams of another great British TT guy some years ago…Chris Boardman. Only in his day, Boardman sat more where Cancellara sits today, as THE guy to beat in the time trial.

  8. Erik

    I don’t think anyone but WADA can beat Contador at this point. He may be tired, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he did a GT triple. And I’m with David Millar, let him have his presumption of innocence. Be frustrated with the process. (that is, if anyone is going to hate on my for saying it).

    If anyone can beat Contador, it is Cadel. He’ll beat him by actually winning the time trials and hanging on for dear life on the climbs.

  9. Dave

    I envision le Tour unfolding about as the Giro did… Fairly early, Contador will establish himself as the comfortable leader and the only remaining drama will be to decide the other places on the podium. This is certainly not what I want to see, but what I am pretty confident in predicting. If I may indulge in fantasy, I would love to see Horner make a run, but I have a hard time imagining him finishing higher than about eighth or tenth. The real race this year might be for the Green jersey…

  10. grolby

    Dave, I agree the Contador is likely to establish an early lead, but I think that’s because he’s likely to be really spent by the time the third week rolls around. So he’ll grab as many minutes as he can early on while he’s still fresh, then try and defend that time later. I don’t know, just a guess. What would you do if you were a genetic freak who just won the Giro and is riding the Tour?

    Anyway, specific prediction: I’m favoring the 1-2 being A. Schleck and Evans, not totally sure of the order, but giving the slight advantage to Schleck because of the lack of TT kilometers (pretty sure Evans would be the oldest 1st time winner if he pulls it off, by the way). 3rd for Contador when he runs out of gas in the last week. And because 4th place is important this year, let’s say Jurgen van den Brouck, because why not?

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