Tour de France 2009: Who will win?

We’re getting the excuses in early. Picking a winner for this year’s Tour de France is no easy task. But we’re going to have a go.

This year’s race is wide open. Some of the overall contenders have been active all year, racking up the wins, and others have barely been seen riding in anger.

There’s no shortage of prior form in the peloton. Four previous Tour de France winners are in the 2009 race – Lance Armstrong (1999-2006), Alberto Contador (2007), Carlos Sastre (2008) and Oscar Pereiro (2006).

There’s also plenty of new talent, ready and eager to make their mark on the big race. Have we said it’s wide open?

The 2009 Tour de France starts in Monaco on Saturday, July 4, and finishes in Paris on Sunday, July 26.

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Have we got it hopelessly wrong? Who do you think will win? Tell us in the comment box below.

That’s enough flannel, here’s our pick…

1. Alberto Contador (Spain) Astana
In a close year, Contador still edges ahead as our favourite for the win. All the boxes are ticked. His climbing ability is without question, his time trialling has improved immeasurably this year, and he has an incredibly strong team. Whether that incredibly strong team is 100 per cent behind the Spaniard, and vice-versa, is his only potential weakness. We’re also really, really going to make ourselves look silly by predicting Contador will win the opening time trial in Monaco to assert his leadership.

2. Cadel Evans (Australia) Silence-Lotto
Consistency is what Evans is all about. The square-jawed Aussie may not set the race alight, but he’s able to match his rivals’ moves in the mountains and put in a strong performance in the time trials. His one weakness at the Tour is not really his own – it’s his team. Silence-Lotto brought in British climbing domestique Charly Wegelius to help Evans in the mountains, only to leave him out of the Tour line-up… and then reinstate him at the last minute when Thomas Dekker failed a test for EPO. Dekker’s indiscretion has unwittingly helped Evans’ Tour chances.

3. Carlos Sastre (Spain) Cervelo Test Team
It’s showdown time for Sastre. Cruel critics say the quiet Spaniard only won last year’s Tour because Contador wasn’t there – now is his chance to prove them wrong. But he probably won’t. He put in some very strong turns in the mountains in the Giro, but also had a couple of weak days and his time trialling is still a bit off the pace. There’s no doubt, though, that his team is behind him, and that is one big tick in his favour.

4. Andy Schleck (Luxembourg) Saxo Bank
Along with older brother Frank, baby-faced Andy Schleck forms a double-headed assault on the overall classification for the Danish team. Saxo Bank is really itching for a big win this year, and although Andy has given the team Liege-Bastogne-Liege, it doesn’t compare to the Tour. He won the best young rider classification last year, and will be looking to step up from a white to yellow jersey with the help of a monster team.

5. Lance Armstrong (USA) Astana
Watching seven-times Tour winner Armstrong tug team-mate Levi Leipheimer up the Giro climbs in May was almost embarrassing. After three years sitting on the sofa and drinking beer since his last Tour win, Armstrong is older and not the man he once was. But this is his race. Any sign of weakness from Contador, and Lance’s loyal troops will line up to help the master. Whatever happens, we can see Armstrong finishing in the top ten with ease.

6. Denis Menchov (Russia) Rabobank
By his own admission, craggy veteran Menchov found his win at this year’s Giro very stressful. The Russian is always a safe bet for the Tour top ten, but it’s also a safe bet that he’ll have a shocking day and then spend the rest of the race trying to claw back lost time. A stage win or two will see him have his share of the limelight, but he’ll probably have to be content with one grand tour win this year.

7. Luis Leon Sanchez (Spain) Caisse d’Epargne
With Caisse d’Epargne leader Alejandro Valverde out of the Tour thanks to links with a rancid blood bag in Madrid (allegedly), the squad is fumbling for a clear man for the overall. 2009 Paris-Nice winner Sanchez may be that man. Or it could be David Arroyo. Or maybe Oscar Pereiro. Whatever. Sanchez isn’t quite Tour podium material but he’ll be able to hold his own, and the well-drilled Caisse squad won’t lose much time in the team time trial, which will help.

8. Levi Leipheimer (USA) Astana
The third Astana rider to appear in our prediction for the top ten. Put simply, Leipheimer doesn’t have what it takes to win the Tour de France. He visibly struggled on some of the bigger climbs in the Giro, and relied on his hyper-domestique Lance Armstrong to get him out of trouble a little too often. He’s had a long season too, starting with a win in the Tour of California in February. Time to pay back Lance perhaps, but he’ll do enough along the way for a good overall position for himself.

9. Christian Vande Velde (USA) Garmin-Slipstream
Fifth at the Tour last year, Vande Velde has had a rocky road to Monaco this year. A bad crash in the Giro in May sidelined him for several weeks, although he was looking good on his return to racing in the Tour of Switzerland. We’d really like to see Vande Velde come up with the goods and give Garmin-Slipstream a great result, but in this company it’s a big ask. Not podium material, then, but good for a top ten.

10. Roman Kreuziger (Czech Republic) Liquigas
Tour of Romandie winner Kreuziger is being tipped as a big hope for the future. After putting a lot of effort into the squad’s ‘home’ race, the Giro, Liquigas arrive in Monaco in weary form. That said, we think that Kreuziger may break through in a big way in this year’s Tour through his own merits.

Have we got it hopelessly wrong? Who do you think will win? Tell us in the comment box below.


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