Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Tour de France- Who will Win?

There are many possibilites, but is there a clear favorite to win the race?

In the past there have been athletes who have dominated the world's toughest bike race. The very mention of this race conjures up images of a Armstrong/ Marco Patani duel up Mont Vonteux, a relentless and feared Eddy Merckxx tearing a 6 minute gap on the peloton, a beast of an Alberto Contador attacking on the mountains. With Lance Armstrong retired and Alberto Contador suspended, it's anyone's game this year at the 2012 Tour de France. 

This year there isn't a dominant rider in the peloton. There are many good riders, skilled in different disciplines of the sport. The victor will be determined on how the terrain matches up to the rider, as well as avoiding the common injuries which often befall the best of them. Taking these factors into consideration, who still stands out?

Let's recap on the successes of a few good riders based on their performance this year. The first day classic of the year, Strade Bianche, was dominated by Fabian Cancellara. Nicknamed "Spartacus", he held a gap for the last 10 kilometers of a ride which went through Italy's wine country in the state of Chianti. 

Michael Albasini made his day view for the newly formed team, Orica-Green Edge, When he took the Volta A Catalunya on the first stage of the race, putting a  gap of 1'30" ahead of the chase group. The gap was so devastating that for the next 6 stages no one could catch up to Albasini. 

The Green Edge team has also seen the rise of another challenger in Simon Gerrans. Gerrans overtook Cancellara in the last few meters of Milan-San Remo in what looked like a no-contest victory for Cancellara. 

This year has also seen the likes of, um, opportunistic showoffs. Good riders, well deserving of their victories, but still showoffs. One such showoff is Peter Sagan for Liquidgas Cannondale. He took the victory on stage one of the Tour De France against Fabian Cancellara by sucking on Cancellara's wheel and passing him a few feet from the finish line. This isn't the first time Sagan uses this tactic. Winning a stage in the same fashion in Terreno Adriatico, he let an Astana rider ahead of his teammate and team leader Vincenzo Nibali. He then rode a bicycle wheelie at the end of the stage. Obviously, he still hasn't learned his lesson.

"Look at my pretty muscles ladies!" Courtesy of the
 In the 2012 showoff hall of fame we can also include Roberto Ferrari, who side swiped Mark Cavendish and Taylor Phinney hard at the Giro D' Italia. Sorry Roberto, but I'll never let you live that one down.

The 2012  tour also brings seasoned veterans to the table. Thomas Voeckler of team Europcar held the yellow jersey for  a few stages last year and impressed us with his bunny hop off a 4 foot ledge when he was run of the road. Cadel Evans is a seasoned pro who took the victory for the first time in the 2011 season. Fabian Cancellara is a time trialist's nightmare if you're not on his team. He is known to take minutes off the clock on other riders. Spartacus is known for hacking the legs off his opponents and using them as toothpicks! So rider beware (and no, I just can't shut up about it either). 

Then there is the British invasion. Mark Cavendish is expected to win a few sprint stage victories, but is not a favorite for the overall. Bradley Wiggins, who will compete in this year's Olympics, is expected to impress the fans and maybe even hold the jersey for a few stages. It has been hard to read Wiggins this year just from a spectator's point of view, so there is much that remains to be seen about his performance. Will he get the overall victory? There is a lot he needs to prove on the field. We'll see.

Who would I like to see shine this year? Yohann Gene, the first Afro-Caribbean rider of the tour. It would be nice for him to get off his domestique role and blast one to the finish line. There needs to be another Major Taylor in the world of cycling, and I think Yohann can make it happen. Johnny Hoogerland is another one I sympathize with. He almost always attacks late the the race and gets hit into barb wire fences. It's just fun to see him ride, I expect nothing more from Johnny.

This has been my assessment of this year's Tour De France. Check out the Tour and feel free to comment your insights. 

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