Two-way fight, or a full-on riot?
Round two of the Ashes cycling fight has started. Chance and changes of fortune, as well as the growing importance of cycling in our two countries, has set up a straight Britain versus Australia fight in 2012 the world track championships, probably the Tour de France and most definitely at the Olympic Games.
Team GB won round one in Melbourne with a tremendous strength in depth performance at the world track championships, but Australia pushed hard and it was close. The track cycling battle will continue in London, with Britain and Australia being major contenders for the Olympic road titles too.
But now we have round two; the Tour de France, and the war of legs, and to a certain extent words has started now in the Dauphine-Libere.
Bradley Wiggins looks mighty.
However, after only two stages, the street-fighting side of Cadel Evans is on show. He’ll take the fight to Wiggins in the Dauphine, and in the Tour.
But what about the others? So far this year the traditional cycling countries have looked sick in stage races.
Wiggins won Paris-Nice and the Tour of Romandy, Evans won the Criterium International, and Ryder Hesjedal won the Giro d’Italia. Oh, and he’s throwing his hat into the Tour ring as well.
But two particular European stage racers look worse than sick; Andy and Frank Schleck look downright comical.
What’s going on there? Good racers don’t become bad racers in the space of 12 months.
Good managers don’t become bad ones either, but if we are to believe what we read then Nissan-RadioShack-Trek boss Johan Bruyneel has lost the plot. He and the Schleck’s look on the verge of a very public bust up.
But do you buy that one? Bradley Wiggins doesn’t. On stage two of the Dauphine-Libere, when Evans won and Wiggins took the yellow jersey, Andy Schleck was dropped and finished three minutes back. All Wiggins would say was; “Andy has his own system, he’ll be up there in the Tour.”
I think he will too. Individually the 2012 Tour probably has too many time trial kilometres for the Schlecks, but together they present a real threat to Evans and Wiggins.
A Schleck attack, any Schleck attack, will be impossible to ignore. So the rest must chase, giving the non-combatant brother an easy ride. If they catch the first Schleck then the second Schleck attacks, and so on. It’s cycling’s classic one-two.
And unless I’m very wrong, both Schlecks will ride the Tour.
There’s a theory gaining ground in Europe that Bruyneel is playing games. He says one thing in the press then corrects it in another piece, so no one is sure what to think, and that affects them.
The Schlecks are bigger than the sum of their legs when they race together, Bruyneel knows that. They will both ride the Tour, and I think Frank’s Giro was a bluff. A source even told me that the brothers had a long-term hotel booking in the French Alps for some training during the last week of the Giro.
Theories? Yes, but it’s all good stuff in the run up to the Tour.
What about the two favourites, though? Wiggins is awesome, arguably the best stage racer in the world at the moment. The only worry for us Brits is how close is he to his best? If he’s at 100 percent now he’ll struggle to maintain it through the Tour.
Evans has built up slowly, slower than last year. In a recent interview he said that this was planned. He wants his form for the Tour the Olympics and for the world road race title, which is on a course that suits him.
The Dauphine Libere will show us things, but prove nothing. Then the contenders will go their separate ways.
Evans may do an altitude training camp.
Wiggins certainly will, returning from his base 2000-metres up a mountain in Tenerife on June 24th to be ready and rested for the Tour.
The Schlecks will head to the hills too, no doubt with Bruyneel blowing more smoke around their preparation and form.
And Ryder Hesjedal will continue resting up and preserve his speed so he can tap into all those hard yards accumulated in Italy.
Could Canada take its first Tour de France win this year? Stephen Roche, the only man other than Eddy Merckx to win the Giro Tour and world championships in the same year, says a Giro-Tour double is very doable this year given the character of both races.
So, what looked like a two way fight in the Tour two months ago could turn into full blown riot with everyone piling in. I hope so, so long as Wiggins wins of course.