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This year’s leadup to the Tour de France has been light on contenders. With Contador serving his suspension and Andy Schleck injured amongst less-than-ideal circumstances, the GC riders who will be going head to head are the obvious – Cadel Evans and Bradley Wiggins. Vincenzo Nibali, Fränk Schleck, Robert Gesink and Chris Froome are the other guys we’ll see at the business end of the race, but barring some disaster this year’s Tour comes down to Australia versus the UK. Could you think of a better rivalry?
I’ve become a massive Cadel fan in recent years. Ever since he won the World Championships he’s been a completely different rider. He’s riding like he has nothing to lose. He didn’t dominate the climbs in the Dauphine, but he certainly kept us on the edge of our seats watching his attacks on the descents. Cadel says that BMC is coming into the Tour even stronger than last year, but we haven’t seen a display like Team SKY demonstrated on the Col de Joux Plane in the Dauphine who rode like USPS did back in the day (and no, I’m not insinuating anything).
How the Tour will be won
Both Wiggins and Cadel will simply need to get through the first week without crashing. There’s always carnage in the week and stage 3 features many infamous sections of Paris-Roubaix which can be treacherous. Stage 4 is flat and known for crosswinds which can split the peloton into pieces. If you break the Tour down there aren’t many places where it can be won. To restate the old cliche; The Tour won’t be won in the first week, but there are so many chances to lose it.
There are only three mountain top finishes this year. Stage 7, 11 and 17. These are the only places where Wiggins and Cadel can put modest time against each other. In the era of powermeters and sports scientists, these guys will come in knowing exactly what power to weight they need to produce to stay with one another. Cadel isn’t known for his explosive attacks and SKY will have a powerful team in the mountains to neutralise any moves by him. If Wiggins has a bad day, then watch for Chris Froome to step it up.
Both SKY and BMC will be wise to get Wiggins and Evans through the first week as fresh as possible and ready for the first hilltop finish on Stage 7 (6 kilometers with an average gradient of 8.5% and some sections that have a gradient of 13%). The first time trial is only one day away from this which is where we’ll see the GC riders light it up.
So what will the Tour come down to? It’s been said before and I’ll say it again; The time trials – stage 9 and stage 19. These are the only places that Wiggins and Evans will be able to make significant time on each other. If we use the Dauphine as a gauge, we saw that Wiggins beat Evans by 1min 43sec over 53kms. This is a terrifying thought for Cadel fans. Stage 19 is nearly the same distance and profile as the stage 4 ITT at the Dauphine a couple weeks ago and was precisely where Wiggins took the time he needed on Cadel to win. Ideally, Wiggins or Evans will want to take yellow jersey on the stage 19 (exactly like Cadel did last year). It will allow BMC and SKY to stay fresh and will keep Thomas Voeckler riding his guts out for French glory.
However, it’s not always that simple. Wiggins has the weight of a nation on his shoulders and millions of dollars of expectations. The amount of risks we’ll see him take could be minimal. Cadel has been taking a lot of risks over the past couple years which have paid of. He’s riding like he has nothing to lose, and quite frankly, he doesn’t. He’s won the World Championships, he’s won the Tour de France, and in my opinion deals with the stresses of racing (the media circus, team expectations, etc) fairly well these days. Unless you can ride guys off your wheel like Indurain did, taking risks is the difference between winning and losing races these days.
When breaking it down on paper, the race for GC might not be the most exciting classification to watch day to day in the Tour. If it were up to me I’d bring back the time bonuses to give the GC riders some incentive to go for wins (yes, there’s some Cadel bias in that statement). However, I think the general classification will be a slow build to a nail-biting finish just as it did last year. Whatever the outcome, I can’t wait to watch it all unfold!