Running In Circles
Friday, July 3rd -- Tour de France Predictions
Well, it's Tour de France time again. What July would be complete without my prognostications on cycling's finest event? I'll start with my predictions for the overall General Classification:
1. Alberto Contador
2. Carlos Sastre
3. Cadel Evans
Unless the his team implodes under the pressure of supporting three GC contenders, Alberto Contador should win easily. His time trialling his improved enough that he doesn't need to win big time in the mountains to stay ahead of the time trial specialists like Denis Menchov and Evans.
Sastre is strong on the mountains, and he always rides best in the last week of a three-week tour. With a monster climb on the penultimate day, he can't be counted out. There is really only one rider who can out climb him; unfortunately for him, it's Contador.
I waffled between Evans and Menchov, as they're similar riders. They're both strong time triallers who can follow wheels in the mountains and not get dropped except by the strongest climbers. I think Evans will be a little fresher. Menchov has to be a little tired from his efforts in winning the Giro d'Italia. I figure Menchov will still have enough left in him to finish in the top five, but I don't see him on the podium.
A number of other riders will be fighting it out for spots in the top ten.
Andy Schleck is captaining the Saxo Bank squad. They are a strong team, and he was one of the best riders in the mountains at last years tour. I think he's still a little too weak in the time trial to finish on the podium, although a top five finish is a possibility.
I'm going out on a limb to pick Vladimir Karpets to finish in the top ten, but he's a solid rider, and now that he's transferred to Katusha, he's the GC captain for the first time. Since he won't have to work for anyone, and since Steegmans and McEwen won't be at the tour using riders, I think he can do big things.
Roman Kreuziger is a young rider, but he rode well at last year's tour, and looked good winning this year's Tour of Romandie.
Levi Leipheimer will finish high, just based on his role as Contador's top lieutenant. Things could get interesting, though, if things play out like the 2008 Vuelta. Leipheimer was close enough on GC that he almost took the overall lead when he won the final time trial. Contador might do well to worry about his teammates more than his rivals.
Someone from Columbia should finish in the top ten. It could be Kim Kirchen, if he's recovered from his injuries, or it might be Michael Rogers, who has performed solidly in the past, if not spectacularly. Maybe Tony Martin can do something, too--he looked really good at the Tour de Suisse.
I don't think that Christian Vande Velde will have the same great ride that he did last year, alas. He fractured ribs and vertebrae in a big crash at the Giro. He claims to be recovered, but he didn't look very sharp at the Tour de Suisse.
Lance Armstrong will be near the front, but I wouldn't be surprised if he doesn't make the top ten. He'll be a protected rider, but I figure his role will be to make pace in the early mountains. It would be nice if he could chase stage wins, but if he's too close on the GC, he'll get chased down every time. If he loses massive chunks of time early in the race, look for him to go in a breakaway at some point.
I think the only thing that will keep Cavs from winning the jersey is the time limit cut-off on the mountain stages. His Milan-San Remo victory proved that hills aren't the problem they used to be--but hills aren't mountains.
I'm excited to see Tyler Farrar sprint. He's one of very few riders that has beaten Cavendish straight up in bunch sprint. He went pretty well at the Giro, and I think he has a good shot at picking up a stage win. If Cavendish misses a time cut, I think Farrar could even take home the Green.
Of course, he would still have to contend with the defending Green Jersey champ, Oscar Freire. Freire might be the savviest sprinter in the peloton. If anyone can pick up points without dominating the win column, it's him.
Polka Dot Jersey
I'm throwing the dice with this pick. Moreau has no real shot at the General Classification, and I think he knows it. Instead of trying for a high placing, I think he will try to amass mountain points early in the race and early in the mountain stages. He doesn't need to win any mountain top finishes to take home the King of the Mountains jersey, he just has to be the first over the summits along the way.
This is a strategy Fabian Wegmann has employed in the past, and I wouldn't be surprised if he tried it again. Look for him to be in the running, too.
Barring someone explicitly chasing the polka dots, the prize could go to someone high on GC. In fact, when Alberto Contador wins on Mont Ventoux, it might give him enough points to take home the Polka Dot Jersey to go with his Yellow one.
I think the younger Schleck will place in the top five overall, so it only makes sense that he would win the Best Young Rider Jersey. Plus, he's the defending title holder. I expect Kreuziger will challenge him again this year, and I think Tony Martin won't be far behind.
Stage One: Monaco to Monaco (ITT) — 15.5 Kilometers
I don't think the course is hilly enough or technical enough to keep Fabian Cancellara from winning. That being said, the course is almost a perfect fit for Contador. I don't think Contador will beat Cancellara, but I do think he'll be the fastest of the GC contenders.