Who will win the 2012 Tour de France?
BMC's Cadel Evans of Australia, negotiates a curve during the fourth stage of the 64th Dauphine cycling race, a 53.6 kilometers individual time trial between Villie-Morgon and Bourg-en-Bresse, central France, Thursday, June 7, 2012. (AP Photo/Claude Paris)
“So, who will win?” The question is asked, but no sport is mentioned. There is no need. It is Tour eve and everyone is gearing up for long nights and bleary eyed mornings.
For weeks we have been discussing it, reading about it, forming opinions about it, even dreaming about it. Most of all we have been waiting for it. Now the waiting is over. It’s time. The Grand depart is just hours away.
So who will win?
The hype suggests that, out of the 198 riders starting the race, only two have any chance of winning. Two contenders, one title – it’s going to be a slug fest.
In the red corner, weighing 68 kg, former world road champion and current Tour de France title holder, Cadel ‘the Colonial Boy’ Evaannssss. And, in the black corner, weighing 72 kg, winner of Dauphine, Romandie and Paris-Nice, the Hope of the Empire, Bradley Wiggiinnnsss.
That Evans and Wiggins are favourites is a no-brainer. For Wiggins, who is in the form of his life, the parcours could not be better.
100 kilometres of individual time trialling will ensure that the talented Brit stays at the pointy end of the general classification, even if he does lose time in the hills. But will it be enough to ensure him top spot on the podium in Paris?
Evans is also favoured by the route, but of greater importance to the Australian is the knowledge that, without Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador, he becomes the strongest climber. No one will be able to ride away from him in the mountains. Can the same be said for Wiggins? If the answer is no, then the way is open for other contenders.
In the green corner, weighing 64 kg, former Vuelta winner and current Tirreno-Adriatico title holder, ‘The Shark of Messina’ Vincenzo Nibaliiiiii.
Nibali can out climb Wiggins and he will need to if he is to have any chance of winning his second grand tour. He is a potential threat to Evans in the mountains where his attacking nature will keep the BMC rider on his toes. The 27 year old is now an experienced grand tour rider and will be hungry to improve on the seventh place he achieved at his last Tour appearance some three years ago. Tactically astute and a decent time trialler, the two favourites will have to mark him closely.
The nightmare scenario for Evans and Wiggins however, would be to go into the final time trial needing to make up minutes on an accomplished time triallist.
In the red and white corner, weighing 65 kg, former Vuelta and Giro champion, Denis ‘Could be a Menace’ Menchov. And, in the orange corner, weighing 67 kg, King of the Mountain and Olympic Road Champion, Sammy ‘the Demonic Descender’ Sanchezzzzz.
Now here’s a threat. Menchov is a proven grand tour performer who climbs well and time trials even better. Let this man get away and 100 kilometres of time trialling or not, he won’t be caught – not by anyone. But he can be incredibly inconsistent and has a habit of just following wheels. He has also been known to fall off his bike for no apparent reason, so could end up being his own worst enemy.
Sanchez, the Euskaltel-Euskadi leader, has a reputation for being the best descender in the peloton which is not a skill to be underestimated. In a race where seconds can count, gaining time while the more cautious pick their way down the steep slopes could make all the difference, especially if you can time trial and climb as well. Which Sammy can. Of more trouble to Wiggins than Evans in the mountains, Sanchez is yet another contender for the overall in what is apparently a two horse race.
Of the others, Frank Schleck could be damaging in the hills, but will suffer the same fate as his brother when racing against the clock. Robert Gesink has the necessary fire power but needs to stay upright long enough to use it, while Ryder Hesjedal will find the going tougher here than at the Giro.
In what promises to be a great Tour, my top five are:
1st – Cadel Evans
2nd – Vincenzo Nibali
3rd – Bradley Wiggins
4th – Denis Menchov
5th – Sammy Sanchez