On Saturday, July 3, the cream of professional cycling will congregate in Rotterdam, Netherlands, for the start of the 2010 Tour de France.
Among those lining up will be several riders hoping to win the most coveted prize in cycling when the race finishes in Paris on Sunday, July 25 – the yellow Tour de France leader’s jersey.
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This year’s race has, perhaps, more true overall contenders than it has for many years. Last year’s winner, Alberto Contador, is the strongest of those. But he’ll have a fight on his hands. There’s not going to be a moment during those three weeks in July where he’ll be able to take his eye off the ball.
Here we rate the chances of the main overall contenders.
Best Tour performance: Won it in 2007 and 2009
Strengths: Time trials, climbing
Weaknesses: Cobbles, team
How will he do? It’s hard to see anyone touching Contador in this year’s Tour – only a catastrophe will keep him off the top step of the podium in Paris. He’s one of the world’s best climbers and one of the world’s best against the clock. And he proved last year that he can win with the minimum of team support, taking that factor out of the equation. Only the opening stages in northern Europe, featuring cobbled roads and crosswinds, may scupper his Tour start. Any time lost will soon be recovered, though.
TwitTour: Will have indifferent first week, gain time in Pyrenees and blast rivals in final TT #winner
Team: Saxo Bank
Best Tour performance: Second in 2009
Strengths: Climbing, team
Weaknesses: Not quite as strong in time trials as Contador
How will he do? Andy Schleck’s Grand Tour ambitions have so far been thwarted by the presence of Alberto Contador and his below-par time trial ability. With only one long TT in the whole Tour, Schleck is in with a real chance of giving Contador a scare – he proved last year that he could match him in the high mountains. We’re expecting fireworks from the Schleck brothers in the Pyrenees during the final week.
TwitTour: Only rider truly capable of keeping up with Contador in mountains, another second place #willwinitoneday
Best Tour performance: Won it in 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005; third in 2009
Strengths: Knows how to win the Tour, climbing, team
Weaknesses: Not quite the rider he once was
How will he do? It’s do or die for Armstrong. He’s announced that this will be his last Tour de France. No, it really will be. Last year’s comeback Tour where he finished third proved that he can still make the podium, and he got better as the race progressed. Second at the Tour de Suisse a few weeks ago showed he’s coming into form. With a whole, strong team behind him he could be on the podium again, but it’ll take something special to unseat Contador.
TwitTour: Another podium place in final Tour, but won’t be able to beat Contador #retiring #again
Tour performance: Second in 2005
Strengths: Climbing, time trials
Weaknesses: May be tired after winning Giro
How will he do? 2010 Giro winner Ivan Basso returns to the Tour de France after serving a suspension for his involvement in Operacion Puerto. He climbed well at the Giro and rode solidly in the time trials, but the Tour is a very different race and he will not have Vincenzo Nibali with him at the Tour. That makes him undoubted team leader, but also weakens his support in the mountains.
TwitTour: Basso is
back at the Tour! He won the Giro! He might be worn out! #nonibalitohelpout
Team: BMC Racing Team
Best Tour performance: Second in 2008
Strengths: Time trials, climbing, can ride on cobbles
Weaknesses: Team, doesn’t like pressure
How will he do? Something happened to Evans at the world championships last year. The meek rider suddenly turned into an attacking monster, taking an exciting win that not even his critics could deny was one deserved of a world champion. He out-climbed Contador with a perfectly-timed attack to win Fleche Wallonne and got his Grand Tour legs in order at the Giro. At last he has a team to back him up at the Tour, including Armstrong’s former lieutenant George Hincapie.
TwitTour: Has a stronger team than in previous years, 2010 could be Evans’ chance to make an impression in rainbow stripes #worldchampontourpodium
Country: Great Britain
Team: Team Sky
Best Tour performance: Fourth in 2009
Strengths: Time trials
Weaknesses: High mountain climbing
How will he do? Wiggins rode the race of his life in last year’s Tour de France, confirming the multi-Olympic gold medallist has made a successful transition from track to Grand Tour contender. His fourth place equalled Robert Millar’s 1984 record for a Briton. This year, with a team built around him, he’ll be hoping for greater things. A win may be out of his reach – for now – but another top five finish would be an excellent achievement for Wiggins and Sky in its first Tour de France.
TwitTour: Best British Tour hope for years, perhaps ever. May come undone in final week, top five. #GoWiggo
Team: Saxo Bank
Best Tour performance: Fifth in 2008 and 2009
Strengths: Climbing, team
Weaknesses: Will support brother Andy
How will he do? Tour de Suisse winner Frank has shown that he has the legs to win a major stage race – but his Tour will be all about supporting bro Andy in his bid to overthrow Contador. Last year, the brothers worked well together and were the only riders capable of un-nerving the Spaniard in the high mountains. Another top five finish, we think.
TwitTour: Blood is thicker than water, is there to support Andy. Will take a stage win or two as consolation #newteamnextyear
Team: Cervelo Test Team
Best Tour performance: Won it in 2008
Weaknesses: Time trials, team, cobbles
How will he do? What happened to Carlos Sastre? The climbing specialist looked ill at ease at the 2010 Giro in May and suffered bad luck in that race’s opening salvo in northern Europe. With a strong classics team to help him, hopefully there will be no repeat at the Tour – although he may be isolated again in the mountains with scant climbing help at Cervelo. It would be nice to see him win a stage, but a repeat of his 2008 Tour win is highly unlikely.
TwitTour: Have we seen the last of vintage Sastre? Needs to pull something special to prove ’08 was no fluke #arrggghcobbles
Best Tour performance: fourth in 2008
Weaknesses: Often has a shocking day or two
How will he do? The 2009 Giro d’Italia winner elected not to defend his title in Italy in May, saving himself for the Tour de France. Will it pay off? The veteran Russian will hope so. Rabobank will be riding well on home turf in the first week, and the accident-prone Menchov needs to stay out of trouble on those rough roads in Belgium. He’ll also be out-gunned in the high mountains, but we think a placing in the lower reaches of the top ten is likely.
TwitTour: Top ten place a certainty, as long as keeps upright. #atleaststhereisonlyonelongtimetrial
And not forgetting…
We list some more riders here so that when they finish in the top five we don’t look completely stupid. At least we’re honest.
Roman Kreuziger (Liquigas-Doimo) – Young contender could come good
Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Transitions) – No Wiggins at Garmin, leadership back to VDV
Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack) – Lance’s right-hand man could place highly
Andreas Kloden (RadioShack) – no stranger to the Tour podium
Michael Rogers (HTC-Columbia) – Having a good year at last, top ten a possibility
Robert Gesink (Rabobank) – Climbs well, perhaps King of the Mountains material
Luis Leon Sanchez (Caisse d’Epargne) – Strong start to year and a strong team
Christophe Le Mevel (Francaise des Jeux) – France’s top finisher in 2009
Tour de France 2009: Last year’s top ten
1. Alberto Contador (Spa) Astana in 85-48-35
2. Andy Schleck (Lux) Saxo Bank at 4-11
3. Lance Armstrong (USA) Astana at 5-24
4. Bradley Wiggins (GB) Garmin-Slipstream at 6-01
5. Frank Schleck (Lux) Saxo Bank at 6-04
6. Andreas Kloden (Ger) Astana at 6-42
7. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas at 7-35
8. Christian Vande Velde (USA) Garmin-Slipstream at 12-04
9. Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Liquigas at 14-16
10. Christophe Le Mevel (Fra) Francaise des Jeux at 14-25