Friday Group Ride #121

In 2009, Bradley Wiggins finished 4th in the Tour de France. It was a revelatory result and one that suggested the Briton’s decision to switch from the track, where he was a total legend, to the road, was maybe not as ill-advised as it might have seemed.

But success can be a fickle mistress. What appeared to be a breakout performance in 2009 was made less clearly a turning point with Wiggins’ move to Team Sky for 2010. A settling-in period ensued, during which Wiggins reverted to more human results; 2011 looked better again. Wiggins won the Dauphiné and came third at Paris-Nice. At the back end of the summer he stood on the third podium step at the Vuelta a España.

This week, the gangly Englishman will win the Dauphiné again (barring something catastrophic going down), and the velo-press are falling all over themselves to install him as a firm favorite to stand atop the final GC in Paris next month. Certainly his overwhelmingly dominant performance in this week’s ITT suggests they’re not too far off.

But has he peaked too soon? Shown too many cards?

Defending champ Cadel Evans has shown strong form as well, taking a good uphill victory in Stage 1 of the Dauphiné and time-trialling as well as he always does, which was well enough to wear yellow on the Champs Élysée last year, if not quite good enough to scare Wiggins, who has all sorts of medals in the discipline.

With over 100kms of TT in the Grand Boucle this go round, are these the only two real contenders?

For a moment let’s consider Andy Schleck. He’s had a calamitous spring through injury and indolence, and his current form is probably best described as indifferent. Maybe he’s hiding his true form, but with few racing days and no discernible improvement in his TT skills, will it even matter? A running battle with team manager Johan Bruyneel may also be indicative of a star at his nadir, or else a demonstration of the enormous lengths Bruyneel will go to, to camouflage his team’s strength.

This week’s Group Ride is a real pot boiler. Let’s not go all in on maillot jaune predictions just yet. Let’s try to really evaluate the contenders instead. Other names in the hopper are: Nibali, Menchov, Valverde and Sanchez. Who else? And why?


Image: Fotoreporter Sirotti

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  1. Casey

    Wiggins vs. the field

    I take the field. True Wiggo is crushing dreams right now; however, in a three week Grand Tour so many things can go wrong. As much as form counts, so does luck.

    My top contender, Evans. No that’s he’s won it he has the appreciation for what it will take to repeat. His form is strong, but does not seemd ot have peaked yet. His team, in the media at least, have all stated they’ll ride for him.

    My dark horse, Hesjedal. This is as much sentimental as anything. He may be cooked from the Giro, but he’s young and on a very talented team. The big question is whether his win has further stoked his competitive fire or quenched the thrist?

  2. Adam

    Nibali – I don’t think he’ll do as well as most predict. Top 10, but no podium.

    Menchov – Who knows, its not often you discount a three time GT winner, but with him you just never know. His team was surprisngly strong in the Giro.

    Valverde – I used to be a big fan, and thought he’d be back to winning during the Ardennes this spring. That he didn’t shows the difference between winning at the TDU and racing longer and harder races with deeperr fields. I don’t think he’ll factor into the overall this year.

    Sanchez – Top 5.

    Gesink – Also top 5, outside shot at the podium if he can stay upright. I like the way he rides, he just goes for broke at the bottom of the hills and holds that tempo.

  3. smallworld

    Based upon team strength, BMC, SKY, and Garmin all have legitimate cases for high hopes. I personally would not be surprized to see Jani Brajkovic feature when the going gets tough. He’s become a strong rider in his own right, and while staying somewhat out of the limelight this season, his Astana team has had a terrific year. If the team that showed up in Classics season shows up in France, they’ll be able to support a GC bid.

    And on a sentimental note, I can’t wait to see Johnny Hoogerland and Vacansoleil go on the attack this year. I hope we all avoid traffic and barbed wire this summer!

  4. reptar

    Jurgen van den Broeck has as good a shot at the podium as anyone not named Cadel or Bradley. While I can’t see him beating Wiggins in a TT or Evans in the mountains, I have a hard time seeing them shaking him off. He’s got a great domestique in Vanendert and should be plan 1A for Lotto.

    I second Brajkovic, Astana has had a stellar season so far – Kreuzingers implosion in the Giro was entirely his own fault.

    Somehow I can’t trust Gesink to stay upright. Lulu Sanchez has flashed some good TT form this year; he also might have riders sleeping on him after a forgettable 2011. He’s cagey, but can he last over three weeks?

    Other names to consider: Coppel, Martin, De Gendt, Cancellara ???

  5. DavidA

    My picks Jurgen VDB, De Gendt, Wiggins, some of the new young French riders and dont count out Chris Horner.

  6. ben

    Schleck…I tweeted this AM that I thought he should bail and and party in Ibiza. I tend to think he’s whiny and makes his own problems/drama…but there’s probably enough drama around that guy to make a dude want a rock to crawl under and make it happen another year.

    Like most…Evans and Wiggo top my list. I’ll go w/ Nibali on the podium as well. I think Liquigas will support a bit better than some other contenders’ teams. Though Jurgen van den Broek has been doing well all season. He certainly should go well in TDF…Levi remembers how to do super-domestique duties in the mountains right?

    On the drama side of things I’m most looking forward to Johan Bruyneel’s comments in TDF. Of course Schleck could surprise us all, emerge from his problems and have an amazing TDF, but like most, both in form, and in terms of the course this year…I’d think about parties in Ibiza if I were him.

  7. James

    After the Giro I would have to consider Ryder Hesjedahl as someone to keep an eye on, also, Christian Van de Velde was terrific during the Giro. If Tom Danielson is on form Garmin will be formidable!

    Thomas De Gendt is a sleeper too.

  8. Paul I.

    Thomas de Gendt is not racing the Tour (he’s getting married, he’ll be at the Vuelta), so he can be discounted.

    Of the names mentioned, I like Gesink and van den Broeck. Both are good climbers with decent TT ability. However, I don’t see either one beating Evans and Wiggins on this parcours. Among the pure climbers there are several interesting names – Bauke Mollema, Pierre Rolland, Jelle Vanendert – but none is as strong a climber as Andy Schleck at his best, and they will all bleed chunks of time in the ITTs.

    Chris Horner is not up to winning a three week tour, he’s more of a threat in a one week race. Same goes for Leipheimer — although the extra TT will help his cause he is likely to lose time in the high mountains. Of the Americans, Danielson may be the strongest bet. Tejay will be all in for Evans, so he can be counted out.

  9. randomactsofcycling

    I am really excited by this year’s TdF. There seems to be so much emphasis being placed on the Time Trail kilometres that anyone without TT skills is being discounted. Wow, an all-round complete rider might win the Tour. Amazing. That hasn’t happened since….gee, last year or the year before!
    I agree with many that Jurgen van den Broeck is podium material and Menchov is a rider that is continually overlooked when it comes to the TdF. I agree he’s not on the same plain as Contador or Armstrong, but he’s a triple GT winner. How many others in the peloton can currently make that claim?
    Outside of Wiggins, even on his own team you have Rogers and Porte. Both genuine GC riders and very good Time Trialers. What if something should happen to Brad Wiggins? They certainly have back-up there. Are they taking Froome? Wow, there’s another.
    I think it’s Levi’s last chance this year. If he is smart, as Evans was last year, and paces himself up the climbs then with all those TT miles to do, he’s a podium contender.
    And lastly, Dark Horse material…is there anything Peter Sagan cannot do?

  10. Mr Bad Example

    One guy I really, really like as a dark horse is Pierre Roland – I don’t know what sort of TT this guy can ride, but he was basically stronger than Voeckler in the mountains last year, and won the white jersey – Voeckler is also on record that if Roland is the stronger rider with the better chance for yellow, he will gladly bury himself to help him out.

    I also think that maybe Frank Schleck, the Leipheimer of Luxembourg (probably one of the 20 best cyclists in the world, just doesn’t seem to get the great Palmares) might have shot – if his brother falters, Frank has less physical ability but a better tactical mind.

    Regarding Cancellara, I am a huge fan of his, and at one point hoped he could turn himself into a climber in the mode of Big Mig, but it’s pretty apparent that even if he has that ability he won’t be allowed to show it – IMO he’s a true rouleur (possibly a puncheur) who is more than willing to bury himself for his team. I’d really, really like to see how he climbs when he’s the person being supported, as opposed to just burying himself on the front, but that’s just never going to happen.

  11. Ben S.

    Cadel seems strong, and looks like he might be holding a few cards closer to his chest than Wiggo, at least in terms of the TTs. Van Garden will be a big help in the mountains to Cuddles, and will be able to lay down a strong TT himself. I wouldn’t be totally surprised though if Tee Jay took a mountain top finish for himself. Looking back to USAPCC last year, he is pretty brave or cocky (your choice)

    If Radioschleck puts all their eggs in the Andy basket, it might not end well. Schleck has had an underwhelming season so far, and I don’t think he has it in him to make especially daring attacks in the mountains and also lay down solid TTs. I don’t think we should count out Frank though, he is stronger in the TTs and very good in the mountains as well.

    I like Wiggins a lot, but I think one of the biggest threats to him is Cav. Can Sky go for green and yellow? I’m not sure there is enough man power for that. Similarly, Liquigas could face a problem with Nibali for yellow and Sagan for green. However, Sagan can actually contest in the mountains, which might create some pressure with Nibali. Nibali is off to Astana at the end of the year, so Liquigas would probably like to see a Tour victory with their departing star.

  12. gmknobl

    Wiggins is my favorite with the TTing in the TdF. However, if someone is to beat him, it will take tactics as was seen in the Vuelta, that is, attack on the big climbs and attack often. Evans can do this, I feel, and so can the Schlecks if their form improves (which it will but not enough this year) and possibly, so can someone from Garmin or one of the Spaniards like LL Sanchez possibly, Cobo IF he improves a LOT. Valverde is a dark horse but I don’t feel he can hang with the big boys in the tough, long, finishing climbs but he could get away early on with the shorter climbs on offer. Nibali, maybe too, but as with the others, he must attack. Leipheimer has that ability too but he’s never shown the ability to hang with for the full three weeks of a GT, losing form in the last week on the climbs. Another dark horse is Horner who can climb as well or better than anyone when he’s on fire but I don’t know about his ability to keep going for three weeks.

    Of all of these, Leipheimer is the only one who has a chance of doing something similar to Wiggins in the TTs so, if he’s aggressive early on, could be the biggest and most surprising challenge.

    As the other commentors above, Jurgen VDB, Brajkovic, Froome, Porte and Tejay, and Tony Martin can all do well. My biggest question is Martin as I don’t know if he’ll be able to climb well enough but in the past, he hasn’t been able to. Obviously, Tejay and Froome are supposed to be in support of their team leaders but we know what happened in the Vuelta last year.

    Even though you said not to pick, I pick Wiggo, Evans to run 1-2 with any one of the others above going for third.

    All of this, mind you, is minus accidents, which I hate and can’t predict other than to say someone, even a favorite will be caught in. However, my only prediction is that Evans and Wiggo won’t be caught by a serious accident this year as I think they’ve learned the trick of staying in front and out of danger. Let’s hope the organizers of the TdF do the right thing and keep the roads safe and the finishes long and straight.

  13. Champs

    …so we’re just going to keep ignoring the elephant in the room? It’s yet another Olympic summer, and yet again, the most obvious favorite won’t be present. For me it’s all flashbacks of a perennial podium contender blindly stumbling his way into the yellow jersey. This year favors a time trialist the same way ’08 favored a climber.

    What I know for sure is that there will be a collective yawn, no matter who wins. My top pick is Evans (by default, really), and Porte as the dark horse.

    To eliminate some favorites:

    Menchov will play the “silent assassin” all the way to Paris, never once drawing blood (except his own in some new, improbable crash).

    Wiggins has the killer instinct of Levi Leipheimer, maybe even a fuzzy lamb. Recall how Wiggo and Froome gave away the Vuelta. I’m not sure whether it’s his chances or pomposity that I like even less than the other.

  14. Robot

    @Champs – You make an excellent point. Alberto Contador (ALL discussion of doping aside) is the best GT rider in the world, and he won’t be there this year. It bears mentioning though, that his absence makes this conversation better, because the rest of the field is perhaps more evenly matched, and we’ve been able to sift through it without constantly prefacing our comments with “It’s Contador’s to lose, but….”

    The Olympics, to me, are an annoying side show. I realize people love them, and I know some of the riders feel strongly about riding for a medal there. But my two sports are cycling and football (soccer), and both of them do a better job of giant, international races/tournaments than the Olympics ever provides.

    I agree with you on Menchov’s chances as well. He has 3 GTs, but he’s old now, and he’s never gone so well in France.

    I also wonder about Levi Leipheimer. To me, he’s the GT version of (Big) George Hincapie, always a popular choice with American fans, but probably not a real threat. What do, say, Australians think of Levi Leipheimer? Or Italians? I’m guessing he wouldn’t make anyone’s list in those countries, and we talk about him a lot, and take him seriously, because he’s one of ours. That is not to denigrate the rider, who has had a lot of great success. It is only to say that winning a TdF can’t be in his future. Right?

  15. Paul I.

    Randomactsofcycling asks “is there anything Peter Sagan cannot do?”

    Yeah – he can’t stay with the top climbers in the high mountains, and he is a poor time trialist. GC winner? No way.

  16. Souleur

    Agreed with the many comments already that Wiggo, Cadel, and must I say boy-Andy will be the upperclassman this July.

    But if the TdF is anything like the Giro, the attacks may/will be so human as to reveal the GCr’s vunerabilities allowing the dark horse a possible ride in yellow. IMO, the attacks at the Giro were anemic and in the single digits compared to years past, perhaps the monitoring and execution of doping reg’s are evidencing themselves?

    Nonetheless, my favorites for the other contenders are Jurgen VdB, is not been named by many, but IMHO has pedigree to really do something, ie look at his last 2 years in the TdF

    Menchov, if ever does anything in July, better sieze the day, and well may

    I personally love Peter Sagan, but recognize for the young gun, he will need a few years to mature, but if he does, he may be very special. Anyone who can win stage after stage at the ToC is remarkable. Now, developing some rouleur legs, and climbing skills..and on in July he may go.

    Horner may well be suited this year too, except that he is a generation older than most in the peloton, but, minus crashes, and minus his leader, he may well sit back unmarked and like last year have opportunity

    Levi, is also. Never say never and Levi in the same sentence. He can TT, he can climb and may hang in there, will see.

    And, nobody I don’t think has said anything about the man who nearly upset it last year, who bled out his eyes for his country and his tour…Voeckler. The man rode with guts, and really put france back on the map for french riders. The badger would be proud, and this years route may be suited for him.

  17. scaredskinnydog

    My podium picks… Cancellara, Tony Martin, Wiggins. The crystal ball shows a skinny Cancellara being protected and paced by Jens and then crushing the ITT’s. I also see a young Colombian rider in poka-dots. The crystal ball never lies!

  18. Wsquared

    On paper Wiggo would seem to be the man to beat and Sky is strong, but I’m not at all sure that he has “it.” Those “Blues Breakers” side burns make me think more of Mayall than Clapton. There’s just something a little goofy about him that says victim of circumstance rather than determiner. You have to be lucky to win the TDF. I also share Robot’s thought that he may be peaking to early. He’s looked so strong in early season races, I wonder how much he will have in left in the tank come the third week in the mountains. I may still consider him for my fantasy team, but reservations are there. His TT form awesome, but can he stay on his bike and out of trouble through every stage?

    I think Cadel is getting stronger. The wildcard is the illness that set him back earlier in the season. I don’t think we have seen the best of him yet and he may peak during the tour. I think he is both smarter and luckier than Wiggo. That could put him at the top of the podium, especially if Wiggo falters.

    Andy is looking more like an arrogant Euro waiter at a posh restaurant and less like a Tour winner every day. Frank may be a dark horse, but I don’t see enough TT in his make up. Same for Nibali. I had Sammy Sanchez as podium material, but his recent crash may have nixed that.

    Sagan may give Cav a real run for his money in the sprints, and may be a factor in some other stages, but he’s still not well rounded enough for GC.

    I can’t see Levi comming back from that broken leg and being a factor in the overall, but he may figure in on some stages. Horner is another wild card. If he has the endurance and can stay on his bike, he could be a factor in the race, but three weeks is a long time for a geezer.

    As much as I like Tommy D and Christian Vandevelde, I don’t see either one on the podium. Of the Garmin boys, Ryder is the biggest question mark with the most potential. Truth be told, the Giro field wasn’t particularly strong and history shows its it’s extremely difficult to make a mark in both the Giro & the TDF in the same year, but he says he feels like he is still getting stronger. I would have put Dan Martin more in the mix is he hadn’t had that nasty crash in the Dauphine.

    Voekler and Roland should provide some fun and make the French feel better, but I don’t see either one on the podium with those TTs to ride.

  19. Jesus from Cancun

    Who said Peter Sagan can not time trial? He just won the 1st stage of the Tour de Suisse minutes ago.

    Of course it was more of a prologue than a full-lenght time trial, but he beat Cancellara and a few other favorites against the clock.

    I love it when we say “Naaahhh, this guy can’t do that…” and then he does. Will Sagan be a GC contender one day? Probably not, but he hasn’t stopped surprising, to the point that his never ending improvement should not be a surprise anymore.

  20. Jesus from Cancun

    Wish there was an “edit” button… I forgot to say, I see Sagan as the only rider in the peloton capable of equaling Sean Kelly’s achievements.

    We all know that Kelly started as a sprinter, and evolved into one of the best classics riders ever, green jersey winner, 7 times winner of Paris-Nice, and even won a very mountainous edition of the Vuelta a España. He was 4th in the Tour de France once, too.

    If someone can follow his footsteps, I think it is Sagan.

  21. Vince

    Wiggins: It’s hard not to name him the favorite at this point. I think the most uncertain thing for him and Sky is the Cavendish situation. How can they take care of Wiggo the first two weeks and be a solid lead-out for Cav?

    Granted; I would not be surprised if Cav dropped out to prep for the Olympics or, for that matter, not show up at all.

  22. randomactsofcycling

    I never thought I would say this but..praise be to Jesus….for backing my comments on Sagan!

  23. A Stray Velo

    Hesjedal. He’s resting while the rest are on form maybe bit too soon. Plus no one else (in the peleton) sees him as a contender. That leaves a rider with new found confidence, a good rest, and no pressure to go for a win when everyone else isn’t looking.

    Thomas Voeckler and Samuel Sanchez. The frenchman is consistent. So is Sanchez.

  24. Old Sprinter

    I don’t think Wiggo has peaked as yet… if I’m right, that could be scary for some of the other contenders.
    Hesjedal – my dark horse. Nothing to lose and a new found confidence can also be scary.

  25. GZA

    If Schleck find his form, ie ‘pulls it out of the bag’ in 3 weeks then there is only one conclusion. Any mention of Contador is absurd – he is a convicted doper. Evans and Wiggins appear to be whiter than white and I hope one or other gets the win. Anyone who thinks Wiggins has peaked to early will eat humble pie – however I agree what is unknown is if he has the eye of the Tiger – don’t forget he did attack once in 2009 – not his natural style but you have to make use of what your given physiologically. No doubt people would prefer the spectacular doper style but not me.

  26. Gal

    Wiggins all the way, he have the best combination of team, skills and form right now, in case something goes wrong with that then Froom will be right there to take it.

    1. Padraig

      Everyone: Thanks for your comments. It’s worth mentioning that in the last 30 years only two riders have won the Tour de Romandie and the Tour de France in the same season: Stephen Roche and … Cadel Evans. It’s also worth mentioning that neither of them won Paris-Nice the year they won Romandie and the Tour. Something to chew on.

  27. GZA

    Unless I’m mistaken I don’t think any Olympic Pursuit Champion has won any of those races before, or been coached by a performance scientist with a background in swimming before either! His rationale for Wiggins is to be at 90-95% all year round – something Wiggo has never been able to manage before. It will be fascinating to see if he can pull it off and blow decades of commonly accepted practice right out of the water!

  28. Big Mikey

    I gotta think Wiggins has pulled too sharp too soon. It’s been a long time since someone has dominated the Dauphine like that and followed with a TdF win. Plus, his implosion at the Vuelta last year comes to mind; the competition at the TdF is much more intense than the Vuelta.

    Hate to say it, but Menchov hasn’t been the same rider since they really started cracking down on doping/CERA. Coincidence?

    Also, I think Schleck will come good. He’s been consistently in the mix at the TdF in recent years, so I expect he’ll figure it out.

    I think Hesjedal will be cooked, but I’m behind him. Class act, that guy.

  29. Jack

    i think the most important rider in the tour is hincappe and it could be that the difference between wiggins and evans is hincappie? who is going to guide wiggins; how much better did evans become with hincappie’s support.

    i like wiggins to surprise everyone by continuing to win. he’s been fairly dominate against all commers this year.

    to me clearly the schleck boys will be after thoughts. they don’t want to ride for johan? how is it possible… oh yea they don’t ever seem to want to learn how to ride a tour. if andy had sat on alberto’s wheel instead of “cooperating” doubtful to me alberto would have won any (his first was due to rassmussen being yanked and the 2nd was taken away, he wasn’t even close last year) andy can’t build the minutes he needs to get away with being such a poor timetrialist

  30. rashadabd

    When you look at team performance, it’s tough to select anyone but Wiggins and Sky (though BMC is looking really strong as well). They just look so organized and focused (though I am curious to see how throwing Cav into the mix might change things). Cadel and BMC bring similar strengths to the table and he surely has the form right now, so they are sitting in second for me. Team Garmin Barracuda is my heart’s choice and my wildcard. However, in what might be a surprise to some people, I’m not going with Ryder (though he has been announced as their leader), I’m going to throw Danielson and VdV out there as guys to watch. I agree with others that I wouldn’t be shocked to see Astana put someone like Jani near the top as well.

  31. Chromatic Dramatic

    I think Wiggins is the deserved favourite, with Evans going to give him a serious good knock. It’ll be close, and hard fought battle.

    But my real question is how many Sky Riders will be in the top five? Two, possibly three. Wiggins obviously, plus either Porte / Rogers / Froome. Should be cracking.

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