Time waits for no one. While I still feel a void left by the CAS ruling, I need to look forward to the sport I love. Cycling is preparing to host the greatest event on the calendar. The Tour de France. Cycling is bigger than any one person regardless if that person is Floyd Landis or Christian Prudhomme. So we move forward looking for the best in the sport out of the ashes of the worst.
So how is the race going to shape up? Well, to call it wide open is an understatement. With no previous Tour winner in the race (I know what I am saying), the race is up for grabs. Some may think that will yield an exciting race, I feel the odds point towards the opposite. No rider has enough of an advantage over another rider to take the race. therefore, you will probably see most of the GC guys riding not to lose as opposed to riding to win.
I do not criticize any rider for this strategy. Cycling may be the last true sport where the athletes are not entertainers first and sportsmen second. I can’t say that about the big sports here in the US. These men are paid to win and they should race to their strengths. That means Cadel Evans needs to ride each stage worried about the overall, not the stage victory. This Tour may have a podium with no stage winners.
The top step of the podium is a very interesting question to ponder. Here is my take. I don’t know. My pick? Cadel has the highest probability of winning. He will probably win due to the faults of others as opposed to anything he does. Let me break down the short list of the Yellow Jersey contenders. I’ll put them in my projected order of finish
Cadel Evans. His greatest strength is he is good across the board. Good climber, good time trialist, good all around rider. His weakness is he is good across the board. Not great. He also will have one of the weaker teams among the contenders.
Denis Menchov. If you ask me to pick a winner in the “someone other than Cadel Evans” category, I’ll go with Menchov. His strength is he looks and feels like a real GC rider. His weakness is he always finds a way to have a real bad day. In the Tour, this is 100% fatal (except in 2006). This year, he may have an opportunity to recover since there may be others with bad days.
Carlos Sastre. I love Carlos. He seems to be a real nice guy. The George Hincapie of GC contenders. Strength is he is the best climber of the bunch. His weakness is more than his time trialling. He just can’t seem to deal the killer blow. Is he too nice for his own good? Look at past Tour winners. Nice is usually not the first word used in the description.
Alejandro Valverde. The guy used to have a nick name of Invincible. Now I would add brittle. His strength is he is the most talented rider in the peloton. He also has a very strong team. His weakness is he finished only one tour. Last year he was 6th. I don’t think he has the staying power of a three week stage racer. Neck down champion. Neck up a great classics rider.
The rest of the bunch are also rans. Guys like Damiano Cunego and Kim Kirchen will make noise, maybe win a stage or two but will not challenge for the overall. If I had to pick a winner from left field, I would pick Frank Schleck. The reason beyond heart is that most of the best talent beyond the top four is pledged to those top four. Guys like Yaroslav Popovych are fully pledged to their leader. They will kill themselves for their team and thus remove themselves from contention. Frank is protected and may stay protected long enough to take over as team leader should Sastre falter. The odds are long, very long against Frank. Given the right circumstances….