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
The professional racing season is underway in Europe. The pro peloton are all racing to the sun in France or from sea to sea in Italy, and there are finally more articles about actual racing than about the Contador case. At last, Paul Sherwen and Bob Roll are doing their best to enliven the first few hours of television coverage, when the peloton’s main business is riding through gray-ish tan villages, hucking empty water bottles at small pockets of people just out of the café for a few minutes.
And while certain bits of the story are running to script the racing has already offered up some surprises.
For me, the biggest has perhaps been the riding of Thomas de Gendt at Paris-Nice. The Vacansoleil rider came out of nowhere to win Stage 1, engineering his win from a three-man breakaway with Jeremy Roy and Jens Voigt. The Belgian then kept the jersey through the Stage 2 sprint, but lost it on Stage 3 by just two seconds. Not content with his performance up to that point, de Gendt found his way into another successful breakaway and pulled the golden fleece on again. Not a threat for the overall, de Gendt has still been able to light up the race with the sort of smart and swashbuckling riding every fan likes to see.
Of course, another big surprise was Andreas Klöden’s win on Stage 5, out sprinting Sammy Sanchez of all people. In doing so, he put enough time into de Gendt to take the leader’s jersey as well. Klöden won this race 11 years ago, but did ANYONE mention his name in any of their previews as a possible overall winner? Answer: no.
This is not to focus all our attention on the Paris-Nice. At Tirreno-Adriatico, the sprinters are all tuning up for Milan-San Remo. After the opening Team Time Trial (TTT), won, shockingly by Team Rabobank, Tyler Farrar took a win in Stage 2, and then JJ Haedo took Stage 3, just denying Farrar the double. Of course, the name missing here is Mark Cavendish, who has finished well down the order on both sprint stages.
This week’s Group Ride asks the question: What has been the biggest surprise of the week for you, and why?
1. Mark Cavendish’s failure to win yet at Tirreno-Adriatico.
2. Andreas Klöden’s win at Paris-Nice.
3. Thomas de Gendt (who?) in the yellow jersey at Paris-Nice.
4. Team Rabobank’s TTT win at Tirreno-Adriatico.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International