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97th Tour de France - Favourites Preview
 
By Chris Graetz
Date: 7/1/2010
97th Tour de France - Favourites Preview
 

97th Tour de France – Favourites Preview
Who will take home the coveted maillot jaune?


Courtesy Tour de France

The 97th Tour de France gets underway in Rotterdam on Saturday. Can Contador be stopped from claiming his third Tour win? Can Armstrong capture an eighth title or will someone win their first Tour? Who are the riders capable of taking home the Maillot Jaune? Below are the favourites for this year's race.

Alberto Contador
Team: Astana
Country: Spain
Age: 27
Tour History: Winner (2007 & 2009)

We start off with the man favoured by most to take out his third Tour de France. With already a handful of wins under his belt this year with overall wins in Paris Nice, Volta Algarve and Vuelta a Castilla y León, Contador looks hard to beat. His last outing was the Dauphine Libere, which he was using for preparation for the Tour de France and even though he came second in the general classification, he did win up Alp d’Huez.


Contador attacks Janez Brajkovic in stage 6 of the Dauphine
Photo © 2010 Fotoreporter Sirotti

However, there are two big question marks hanging over his head. His team and the cobblestone sections on stage three.

His team seems weaker than last year, but when you look at it, it is still of quality. He has help from his main man, Alexandre Vinokourov. David De La Fuente, Paolo Tiralonga, Jesus Herandez and Daniel Navarro will also come in handy when the race passes through the high mountains.

What about the cobblestones? Whilst Contador has no experience on cobblestones, he and his team have carefully studied stage three. They will be prepared at what is thrown at them on that stage. Whilst you won’t win the Tour that stage, you can definitely lose it. If he goes through stage three in a strong position, it will be hard to see him losing. However, there are some other guys that will be willing to stop him from claiming his third Tour.

Prediction: First

Andy Schleck
Team: Saxo Bank
Country: Luxembourg
Age: 25
Tour History: 12th (2008), 2nd (2009)

Runner-up last year, Andy Schleck heads to the Tour in some fine form after a slow start to the season. He claimed the Luxembourg time trial championships on the weekend and whilst he’s not noted for his time trial ability, that will give him confidence in the discipline when the riders face the race against the clock in the prologue and the 51km test on stage 19.

Andy came second last year and he has the ability to take the next step. He also has a strong team around him with his main man, brother Frank. Chris Sorenson, Nicki Sorenson, Fabian Cancellara, Jens Voigt and Stuart O’Grady will all help him in the mountain stages whether it is setting a huge cadence up mountains or on the flat.

With the team not being able to find a sponsor and some riders futures undecided, is that going to affect them emotionally?

There is no doubt about it, if Andy is fine physically and emotionally, he should be able to challenge Contador. However, I don’t think he’s fast enough against the clock to overpower Contador to take the overall win.

Prediction: Second

Denis Menchov
Team: Rabobank
Country: Russia
Age: 32
Tour History: 11th (2003), 5th (2006), 4th (2008)

Menchov is a three time Grand Tour champion claiming victory in the Vuelta a Espana on two occasions in 2005 and 2007 as well as winning ilast year’s Giro d’Italia. He’s failed to finish on the podium in the Tour de France. Could that change in 2010?

Menchov has had a relatively quiet year focusing all his attention on a Tour de France assault. Whilst he hasn’t posted any decent results this year, other than third in the Tour of Romandie, the Russian has experience in Grand Tours. He showed enough in the Dauphine to suggest his form is coming along ready for the Tour and he will be a major threat.

Prediction: Third

Samuel Sanchez
Team: Euskaltel
Country: Spain
Age: 32
Tour History: 7th (2008)

Samuel Sanchez is in a similar position to Menchov in that he has specifically based his season around the Tour de France. What he does have on Menchov this year, is that he’s posted better results.

In the Dauphine, he finished eighteenth overall, but the result that should be looked at more closely is 8th on Alpe d’Huez. Menchov came 41st on that stage. Sanchez all year has looked in reasonable touch with fifth overall in Paris-Nice and fourth in the Criterium International.

Sanchez will be buoyed by his best result in a Grand Tour, last year, finishing second to Contador in the Vuelta. He has a strong squad around him who will help him in the mountains. Watch out for Sanchez.

Prediction: Fourth

Lance Armstrong
Team: RadioShack
Country: United States
Age: 38
Tour History: 1st 1999-2005

Lance Armstrong should finish high up on the general classification. He finished on the podium last year in his first season back from retirement having been out of the sport for three years. In 2010, he looks in better form and could potentially challenge for the overall win. He has arguably the strongest team in the race with experienced riders such as Levi Leipheimer, Andreas Kloden and Chris Horner by his side. Yaroslav Popovych, Janez Brajkovic, Sergio Paulinho, Gregory Rast and Dmitriy Muravyev will turn out to be good domestiques for the seven time Tour de France champion.

However, there is one thing that could count against him; His age. At 38, he faces a tough battle to climb with the younger guys like Contador and Schleck. However, he is the most experienced rider in the race.

Prediction: Fifth

Joaquim Rodriguez
Team: Katusha
Country: Spain
Age: 31
Tour History: Debut

It’s hard to believe Rodriguez is making his Tour debut. The last few years, he’s shown he’s more than capable of riding a decent three week race. In 2008, he finished sixth in the Vuelta and last year, finished seventh in the same race. He is talented and has based his season around the Tour de France.

Vladimir Karpets is his helper in the mountains and the Russian finished 13th in the Tour last year, so he will come in handy for Rodriguez. Katusha have declared that Rodriguez is their leader and rightly so. Karpets rode the Giro and will more than likely find it hard to recapture that form to finish high in the Tour.

Rodriguez has climbed well all year and there is no reason why he can’t perform over the next three weeks. It wouldn’t surprise me if he finishes top five or even on the podium.

Prediction: Sixth

Ivan Basso
Team: Liquigas
Country: Italy
Age: 32
Tour History: 7th (2003), 3rd (2004), 2nd (2005)

Ivan Basso has declared that he thinks he can win the Tour de France. Basso won the Giro d’Italia this year and the question mark is whether or not he will be able to find those legs to match it with the best a second time around? It’s hard to do the double. In fact, only seven riders have managed the double in the history of the sport. Fausto Coppi (1949 & 1952), Jacques Anquetil (1964), Eddy Merckx (1970, 1972, 1974), Bernard Hinault (1982, 1985), Steven Roche (1987), Miquel Indurain (1992, 1993) and Marco Pantani (1998).


Ivan Basso in Pink with his trophy
Photo © 2010 Fotoreporter Sirotti 

It will have to be a phenomenal performance if he is to put his name alongside those riders. The question remains however, who is the leader for Liquigas? They have sent a strong team with two main chances.

Roman Kreuziger finished ninth last year and has based his season around the Tour de France. The 24 year old has the ability to finish high up in the general classification. However, age and team leadership is the issue. Both riders should finish in the top ten although Basso may feel the pinch having won the Giro. Can one finish on the podium or even win? It will be tough, but anything is possible.

Prediction: Basso Seventh, Kreuziger Eighth

Bradley Wiggins
Team: Sky
Country: Great Britain
Age: 30
Tour History: 4th (2009)

Bradley Wiggins was the revelation of last year’s Tour de France. He showed the world that he was able to climb with the best. Will he able to repeat last year’s efforts? He possibly can but could face it tougher this year. He completed the Giro d’Italia where he finished in fortieth position. He looked at times that he could match it with the best. He has also prepared his season around the Tour. He has a team that can help him in the mountains and I see him finishing in the top ten somewhere.

Prediction: Ninth

Michael Rogers
Team: Columbia-HTC
Country: Australia
Age: 30
Tour History: 9th (2006)

Michael Rogers is a talented cyclist. He’s faced a tough time over the last few years with injuries and illness. In 2010, Michael has been in the best form of his career. He won the Tour of Andalucia and Tour of California. He’s time trialed like he did when he was a three time World Champion in the discipline in 2003, 2004 and 2005.

It is unknown what could have happened in the 2007 Tour de France when he broke his collarbone. He could have very well been in the race lead by the end of the stage. His form is better than 2006 and 2007. However, he may find it hard without team support. In 2006, when he finished in the top ten, he had more support than he does this year. With Columbia focusing on Mark Cavendish in the flat stages, Michael could find himself isolated in the mountains. Tony Martin is there to assist him, as is Kanstanstin Siutsou but if they are helping Cavendish on the flat stages, how much energy will they have to help Michael in the mountains?

Regardless, if Michael is still in the form he displayed in California, a top ten position for him is very possible. If he comes top ten, imagine what he could have done with eight men riding for him.

Prediction: Tenth

Cadel Evans
Team: BMC
Country: Australia
Age: 33
Tour History: 8th (2005), 4th (2006), 2nd (2007 & 2008)

Cadel Evans has finished runner-up in the Tour de France twice. However, this year, he could very well struggle. Cadel has done a lot of racing this year, more than the riders above him. Not only that, but he has ridden a tough Giro where he targeted the overall win. Unfortunately it didn’t pay off for him and he could very well feel the pinch in the third week. A talented rider, he can’t be written off, but it’s hard to see him challenging for overall honours.

There are a host of other chances who may not challenge for the overall win, but can finish high up on the general classification. Frank Schleck (Saxo Bank), Andreas Kloden (RadioShack), Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Transitions), Linus Gerdemann (Milram), Robert Gesink (Rabobank), Pierre Rolland (Bbox Bouygues Telecom), Tony Martin (HTC-Columbia), Rein Taaramae (Cofidis), Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Omega _Pharma Lotto), 2008 winner, Carlos Sastre (Cervelo Test Team), John Gadret (Ag2r), Luis Leon Sanchez & Christophe Moreau (Caisse d’Epargne), Thomas Lovkvist (Sky), Christophe Le Mevel (Francaise des Jeux) and Damiano Cunego & Simon Spilak (Lampre).

In regards to the local riders, Pierre Rolland is strong enough to be the best placed Frenchman.


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