If you know me well you know how much I love the Tour de France. Well this year’s edition, which begins on Saturday, is the 100th edition of le Tour and they have gone all out to make it a cracker.
For the first time in a decade le Tour doesn’t leave French soil, with the first three stages being held on the island of Corsica for the first time. We also will see two individual time trials and a team time trial as well as a stretch through the Alps described (at least on Wikipedia) as brutal, including a double climb of the famed Alpe d’Huez, which happens to be my favourite mountain the Tour regularly climbs.
One thing they are doing without this year is the Prologue time trial stage at the beginning of the race, so instead of seeing Fabian Cancellara (who isn’t even racing) in Yellow for a few days, we will likely see one of the top sprinters like Mark Cavendish in yellow come stage 2. However with it going straight into the mountains the next day, that won’t last long.
If you happen to be one of those fans who for some reason prefers the sprinters fighting it out for the Green Jersey then this probably isn’t the year for you. There are only seven flat stages and they are spread out over the three weeks, plus I think quite a lot of the sprinters will struggle to make the time limit to finish the stage in that last week through the Alps, especially on Stage 18.
So that’s a bit about the structure of this year’s Tour, but what can we expect during the race itself?
Well first and foremost you can expect Chris Froome to win. Froome, if you don’t know, finished second last year to his teammate Bradley Wiggins, but many thought he was the strongest rider last year and if the team had let him he very possible could have won the race for himself. This year Wiggins has pulled out of the race and appears to never be returning, so Froome, who has been in even better form this year, is the unbackable favourite to wear the Maillot Jaune on the steps in Paris.
That said, anything can happen during the three weeks and crashes or illness or injury can change everything. So if things go awry for Chris Froome, who else is in with a shot?
Well this year Aussie Richie Porte will be doing the role for Froome that Froome himself did for Wiggins last year. Porte is in great form himself and the main thing stopping him contending is the fact that his job is to help Froome win as opposed to himself. But if Froome struggles, Porte will be given the green light to try to win it for himself and he is a very big chance to do so if given the chance.
Old favourites and former champions Alberto Contador and our own Cadel Evans are still there and always in with a shot, but I have a feeling neither will be able to quite keep up and we will see the next generation of riders surpass them once and for all. Contador certainly has the ability, but he has never been the same since he got off the juice. But that kind of goes without saying now doesn’t it.
That dastardly Andy Schleck will be competing without big brother Frank this year and is being counted out. I agree with counting him out as he hasn’t quite been up to it lately and two time trials will ruin his chance. The time trials will likely also ruin the chances of some of the great climbers, such as Pierre Rolland and some of the Spanish climbing specialists.
I think we will see great performances from young guns like American Tejay van Garderen, who last year was supposed to help Cadel Evans, but when Cadel couldn’t keep up, Tejay went out and finished fifth overall himself. Similarly Evan’s former teammate Jurgen Van Den Broeck finished fourth last year and continues to improve. I expect to see the Belgian on the podium in Paris with Wiggins and 2012 third place getter Vicenzo Nibali not in the field.
I also think we might finally see Canadian Ryder Hesjedal live up to a lot of the hype he had going into le Tour last year. I don’t think he will podium, but he is a chance to do so and there will probably be at least one stage where he looks like a real threat.
In terms of the Green Jersey, the obvious duo of Peter Sagan and Mark Cavendish are the only two considered a chance to take it out. Sagan is favourite as he is much more adept than Cav at getting through mountain stages, as well as joining breakaways to pick up extra points along the way. I also worry about Cavendish finishing the race at all, a concern I don’t have for Sagan. In terms of value betting, Cavendish’s former teammate Edvald Boasson Hagen is paying huge odds to win the Green Jersey and he, like Sagan, is a sprinter who can also handle the mountains and enjoys picking up extra points out on the course. Plus he no longer has to worry about helping Cavendish and whilst his team will be focused on the Yellow Jersey, he is a chance to give the Green Jersey a shake.
However, much like with the expected winner of the Yellow Jersey, I think the favourite will end up winning the Green Jersey as well, with Sagan top of the pops in Paris.
The Polka Dot Jersey for best climber is much less clear. The betting favourite is everybody’s favourite Frenchman Thomas Voeckler. It quite simply isn’t a Tour de France if Tommy V doesn’t break away and wear the Yellow Jersey for a few days. Second favourite for the jersey is Voeckler’s teammate and climbing specialist Pierre Rolland. Two years ago Rolland did an incredible job helping Voeckler hang onto the Maillot Jaune for a lot longer than people expected and they are a formidable and entertaining duo. Rolland however drew the ire of many riders last year when he attacked during the “Tacks on the Road” fiasco that left many riders, including Cadel Evans, with flat tyres.
Beyond the Team Europcar duo there is a plethora of climbers and aggressive riders who will be looking to win the jersey, especially in a race filled with climbs. It will be a year of attacks and counterattacks and the Polka Dot jersey will be one to watch in 2013.
As mentioned earlier, the Tour this year features a Team Time Trial stage. The thing about TTT is that it heavily favours those riders with stronger overall teams, even more than having a strong team helps on regular mountain stages or building a lead out train for a sprinter. It doesn’t matter how good an individual time trialist you are if you are on a weak team and have to slow down to stay with your weaker teammates. This is yet another reason why Froome is so heavily favoured to win this year, as Team Sky is so strong from top to bottom and will not lose much time on the TTT stage.
I hope to see the Australian team Orica-GreenEDGE perform well in the TTT stage as a lot of the boys on the team are very solid individual time trialists and it would be good to see the Aussies shine for a stage or two.
If you are someone who likes to support riders based on their names I offer you two solid options. First there is Dutch rider Lars Boom. Boom isn’t a chance to win the Yellow Jersey or anything, but he is a great time trialist and might be involved in a few breakaways. Also his name is Lars Boom.
If that doesn’t tickle your fancy and you are more into TV, New Zealander Jack Bauer is your man. To be honest he likely won’t be a factor too much during the race and I guess it is unlucky for him that the race never reaches a Stage 24. No word yet on whether Bauer and his team will spend the entire race communicating via very loud whisper.
Overall, despite the fact that the winners of the Yellow and Green Jerseys seem to be predictable, the 100th edition of the Tour de France could still be one of the most entertaining ever. The course is one that big fans of the race are super excited about and hopefully there are no doping scandals or major crashes and injuries to change the focus. It would also be great if people on the side of the road kept their dogs on a leash as there always seems to be at least one Labrador that gets in the way at some point.
I will be getting very little sleep throughout July and I invite you to stay up late with me and get involved in all the banter. I’ll be tweeting a lot (@DanCuzns) and my mates over at SBS and Stackla have put together a great Social Hub to get involved.
Download the SBS Tour Tracker now as well to keep up to date during the race or the following day.
See you on the road.