Cadel keeps pace as an unknown Aussie emerges
Australia's GreenEdge Cycling Teams' Luke Durbridge, Stuart O'Grady and Robbie McEwen(AAP Image/Benjamin Macmahon)
The 2012 Tour has just begun, but have enough clues been revealed to enable us to predict what else might unfold throughout this first week?
Providing there were no nasty surprises or successful breakaways last night, the answer is yes.
Day one went as planned for most riders. Perennial prologue favourite Fabian Cancellara earned himself yet another stint in the yellow jersey after a comfortable victory in the race against the clock. Barring any accidents last night, he should be able to stay in yellow right up until stage seven where he will finally relinquish his overall lead on the nasty La Planche des Belles Filles climb that will see the first major rejig of the general classification.
Expect to see RadioShack-Nissan chase down any breakaways in a bid to defend Cancellara’s yellow jersey. The Swiss powerhouse is a popular rider and RadioShack will be keen to try and cash in on some positive publicity after a horror year.
But the world’s focus will be on Bradley Wiggins and how he handles these early stages. A solid prologue ride netted him second place overall but more importantly gave him a ten second lead over arch rival Cadel Evans, with the dangerous Vincenzo Nibali a further one second back.
While British fans may be rejoicing over his early time gains, the gaps are negligible (Menchov is only six seconds behind). While his first major test should come in stage seven, his tactics over the next few stages will be fascinating to watch. The Team Sky leader needs to stay safe through out these early, nervous stages although he can’t afford to be conservative.
With wind expected to play its part and a couple of awkward uphill finishes, he will need to mark his rivals closely. Nibali’s attacking nature and Evans’ gritty competitive streak could see both riders eat into Wiggins’ slim lead if the Brit is not mindful. Evans was good on similar stages last year, claiming a victory in one and remaining in the top half dozen in others.
While none of the main contenders will want to claim yellow just yet (Wiggins included), they won’t pass up an opportunity to put extra pressure on an unsuspecting rival, especially one caught sleeping. Get the coffee ready, we are in for some exciting finishes.
We’ll also see how serious Team Sky is at supporting Cavendish. Compromised lead-out train or not, Cavendish needs to win sprints to justify his inclusion. I’m looking forward to seeing how much he may have to fight and scrap for his wins.
On a slightly different note, it is good to see Jonathan Cantwell living the dream. Cantwell might not be the most easily recognised name in Australian cycling, but he certainly must be one of the most determined. The 30 year old, in his first year with Saxo Bank, is ‘stoked’ to be competing in the world’s biggest bike race, after years of competing at domestic and continental level.
An Achilles tendon injury in 2005 curtailed his first foray into the European bike scene, but he got another chance in 2008 to step up, when he was awarded with a contract to ride for Jittery Joe’s in the United States. Soon after joining however economic pressure caused the team to fold and once again his dream seemed to be over.
Enter Fly V, the audacious young Australian team with big plans. Cantwell became an integral member of the team which dominated the racing scene in North America over a two year period. Voted the best sprinter in America in 2010, Cantwell’s dream seemed alive and well.
Fly V spawned Pegasus Racing which then applied for a ProTour licence from the UCI. Such was their confidence of success, they managed to sign several key riders including Robbie McEwen. Jonathan Cantwell’s name was also on their inaugural roster.
It is now history that the team failed in its bid to reach the big time, with Cantwell once again so close, yet so far. He kept his head up however and battled on, claiming the Australian Criterium Championships in Ballarat on a balmy January evening back in 2011.
Seemingly out of the blue, Cantwell now finds himself at Saxo Bank, although even that was threatened with a potential loss of WorldTour status for the team in the wake of the Contador fiasco.
Then a collision with a photographer at Scheldeprijs earlier this year resulted in a collapsed lung, but by now nothing could stop the Aussie from achieving his goals.
Now he finds himself in the Tour. It has been a long, tough road, and his appearance is thoroughly deserved.
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