Froome, van Garderen, and where it went wrong for Cadel
After such anticipation of a showdown between Bradley Wiggins and Cadel Evans, and despite the promise shown in the first 10 days, the 2012 Tour de France has been one-sided to the point of monotony.
For the better part of two weeks, we’ve known the result: Wiggins will become the first Briton to win the Tour when he rides down the Champs-Elysees tonight.
Personally, nothing will top Cadel’s win last year, but I also loved watching Alberto Contador clinically tear apart the field on a climb, Lance Armstrong’s panache in the mountains, even Andy Schleck’s myth-worthy win atop the Galibier last year.
They won with guts and determination. Wiggins won by sitting behind a stream train of a team and then pouring all his solo efforts into the time trials.
As for our hero of 2011, his dreams of a repeat were laid to rest on stage 11 when he was dropped unceremoniously on the final climb to La Toussuire.
Trying to pinpoint exactly what went wrong for Cadel is a bit difficult as I thought he came into the race with reasonable form, a strong team, a favourable course and without having to deal with Contador or Schleck.
Certainly, his BMC team hasn’t performed to last year’s lofty standards. Apart from Tejay van Garderen, none of George Hincapie, Marcus Burghardt or Manuel Quinziato have had great races. Brent Bookwalter was missing, and high-priced ring-in Philippe Gilbert is a shadow of the man who won a stage and consistently raced well throughout the 2011 Tour de France.
It doesn’t stack up against Sky, who have been unstoppable.
I’ve also formulated a theory that unless you are a superfreak like Contador or Armstrong, it has to be your year to win the Tour. You need to have immaculate preparation, get lucky with crashes, injury and illness, and get a course that suits you. For Cadel, last year’s course was perfect. It was tough and gruelling but the hills were perfectly suited to him, as was the final time trial in Grenoble.
Apart from finishing second at the Dauphine, his preparation was near perfect as well, with wins at the Tirreno-Adriatico and the Tour de Romandie. He also managed to avoid illness and injury last year, as well as being lucky not to crash during the Tour, unlike Contador.
2012 has been a different story. Dogged by sinus problems early on, Cadel has had to pause and restart his season two or three times. His preparation has stuttered. He hasn’t had the same form against the clock, and didn’t get enough racing days earlier in the season to build a foundation for the Tour.
Most importantly though, he came up against Bradley Wiggins in the form of his life, with one of the most potent teams ever assembled. Trying to distance the Brit up hills against a team with the firepower of Froome, Porte, Rogers, Knees and Boasson Hagen was nigh on impossible.
As such, Cuddles has been relegated down the order. It was a valiant effort and Evans rode with verve and panache in a defence that was reminiscent of his sensational defence of his World Championship in 2010. But, like 2010, he’s pulled up short.
BMC doesn’t leave the Tour empty handed. Van Garderen has easily sewn up the Young Rider classification. Apart from youngster Thibaut Pinot, TVG is more than an hour in front of everyone else, including highly rated Estonian, Rein Taaramae.
He will finish fifth, a remarkable performance at the age of just 23. A young guy who can time trial well, has been improving every race with his climbing, and with a strong support cast from his team management, Tejay has the makings of a Grand Tour tyrant. I will go on record as saying that he will win a Tour de France before 2020.
For another young guy, Chris Froome, this race could have been very different. The 27-year-old Kenyan-born Brit has been severely restricted by team management, despite obviously looking more comfortable in the hills than Wiggins and staying in touch with his teammate against the clock. How this race could have been so much more interesting if Froome were free to chase victory himself.
As such, the 2012 Tour has left me cold. I doubt Great Britain will be in agreement but it’s been a dull spectacle. Sure, there have been some highlights: the dominance of Peter Sagan, the spectacular stage victories of Pinot, Pierre Rolland, Thomas Voeckler and Alejandro Valverde.
But the most important battle, the one for yellow, has been more of a subtext, a secondary plot. Let us hope that the return of Contador and Schleck livens up the 2013 Tour, and the 100th edition (which is rumoured to be an epic) will give the riders a sterner challenge.
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