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Chris Froome and Alberto Contador are most often mentioned as possible winners of the Tour but, based on his victory in the Critérium du Dauphiné, Andrew Talansky has also earned the right to be considered one of the top riders in this year’s race.
The American rider leads the Garmin Sharp team in the event and with his team having a long tradition of helping riders make breakthrough performances in the Tour, it will hope to be able to do so again this month.
However while directeur sportif Charly Wegelius believes in his rider’s ability, he is hesitant to make any predictions.
“I don’t look at anything,” he told CyclingTips, responding to a question about what target Talansky and the team have. “I really don’t. I don’t think it is constructive for me or for the riders either, because when you put a number on somebody’s placing, that brings in a load of factors that you don’t have control of.
“We want him to do the best, healthiest, most successful three weeks. And if that is fifth or third or first or eleventh, we will draw those conclusions at the end of the race.”
Talansky’s victory at the Dauphiné was based on a superb final stage, with a long range attack and a determined performance on the final climb seeing him depose overnight race leader Alberto Contador (Tinkoff Saxo).
Since then, Wegelius said that Talansky rested in Girona to recover from the event, then knuckled down to training with his team. “He has been refining his condition. I think he has come into the race just fine.”
The race got underway Saturday with a 190.5 kilometre race from Leeds to Harrogate. Sunday’s leg is tougher, with some likening the course profile to Liège-Bastogne-Liège, then the fifth stage includes some of the cobblestone sections of Paris-Roubaix.
It will be crucial for riders to stay out of trouble, avoiding the crashes which often litter the start of the Tour, and also to ensure that they don’t lose time.
“I think the first part of this Tour is going to be a game of chess,” said Wegelius. “Sometimes you’ll take a bit and sometimes you’ll lose a bit here and there. Until the ninth stage, that is how it is going to be between the first riders in the race.
‘There are traps around every corner in these kinds of stages. That can be an opportunity or it can be a loss. And you don’t really know what it is going to be until the opportunity presents itself.”
He said that riders’ will be aware that they could be caught out, but that it was better to be optimistic about how things could go right for them. “Hard stages and tricky stages can mean gaining time too. So you don’t have to go into it with a negative attitude.”
One of the stages which will be most complex is the aforementioned stage five. Wegelius knows that luck will play a big part in how things turn out, but is confident that the team has done as much as was possible to minimise risks.
“I think we have got a lot of expertise on the team with Sebastian [Langeveld] and Johan [Van Summeren]. Andrew has ridden on the cobbles with Johan Van Summeren and with Andreas Klier. We have got fantastic material, so for an event as random as that, we have done what we can to be ready.”
After that, the race will head towards the mountains. Talansky will have support there too but will lack the backing of a rider who won a climbing stage last year, Dan Martin. He crashed on the opening stage of the Giro d’Italia and due to a six week recovery period after the collarbone operation he had, he and the team decided that he would not ride the Tour.
“I think the time was too tight for Dan to get here in good condition,” Wegelius explained. “There are so many other races on the calendar that suit him. I don’t think it would have been really worth the risk of rushing it, coming here, then having to start again.
“I think it is good that he took his time to get his things together and I am sure he will do a great end of season.”
Martin is aiming for the Vuelta a España and world championships, believing he has a chance of winning the latter. A strong ride in either event would be welcomed by his team but, before that, Garmin-Sharp will keep its entire focus on the Tour de France and trying to achieve the best results possible.