What can we expect for the 2013 Tour de France?
Bradley Wiggins winning the 2012 Tour de France(Image: ASO)
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It seems a bit frivolous to be speculating about the 2013 Tour de France just days after Bradley Wiggins’s win in Paris, but let’s do just that.
Wiggins, of course, will be back to defend his crown. There has been a lot of talk about Chris Froome, who finished runner-up but was largely kept on a leash during the high mountain stages, being elevated to the leader of Team Sky, but that is really just hot air.
Having two ostensible GC contenders in Wiggins and Froome is certainly a welcome ‘problem’ for Sky’s manager Dave Brailsford in his bid to create “the best professional team this sport has ever seen”. With that in mind, Brailsford is hardly going to allow Astana to buy out Froome’s contract, as has been suggested by some sources.
What’s more, Cadel Evans’s performance in this year’s race is a perfect example of what can happen to defending champions a year on after realising their dreams. As such, having Froome as a viable back-up to Wiggins (or perhaps vice versa) is essential.
For 2013 will be a very different race than the one we have just witnessed. Crucially, it is the 100th edition of the Tour, so we can expect a befittingly tough parcours designed to heighten the spectacle. Iconic climbs such as Alpe d’Huez, the Ventoux and Galibier will no doubt return – and we can pretty much bank on there being more than a miserly three summit finishes.
This bodes well for the likes of returning riders Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck, who both missed out on the 2012 race owing to respective bans and injuries. If ever there was a Tour for Schleck to sit out it was this past race – and missing out on what would have been a psychological as well as physical beating during those 100km of time trials will perhaps be a blessing in disguise for the Luxembourger.
With RadioShack in a state of flux, it remains to be seen where Schleck will be riding next year – just as it remains to be seen if he’ll turn up at the race alongside his brother Frank, who is currently caught up in an alleged doping storm. But injury permitting, Schleck Junior will be there – and the course can only be more favourable to the 2010 de facto winner.
Contador, too, will be on a mission to reinstate himself as the world’s best stage-race bike rider. Regardless of how he performs in next months Vuelta (which starts in a matter of weeks) the Spaniard can probably expect to enter the next Tour as one of the favourites, if not the favourite – even before the route is revealed.
Of course, should Christian Prudhomme and ASO decide to bring back more mountains, then Froome would be a major beneficiary. The 27-year-old may yet again start the race as Wiggins’s key lieutenant – but could well see himself take centre stage should Sky decide to alter its game plan.
Then again, there is also talk of the final stage into Paris next year being an individual time trial – as it was back in 1989 when Laurent Fignon lost the Tour to Greg Lemond by an agonising eight seconds – and that would play perfectly into the hands of Sir Bradley (as we’ll no doubt have to call Wiggins once the Queen makes her next honours list).
Either way, Sky’s new-found two-pronged assault on the Tour GC should probably be enough to see the departure of world champion Mark Cavendish. The sprinter may have taken his tally of wins to three after a final-day victory on the Champs Elysees – but such returns are still way below Cavendish’s expectations.
Brailsford has been quite frank in stating he would not stand in the way of Cavendish should the 27-year-old want to fulfil his personal ambitions elsewhere. And given that his move to Sky was in part motivated by the Olympics (Brailsford is also British Cycling’s performance director) then once Cav has picked up a medal in London, he may feel it’s time to move on – especially if that medal is the gold everyone expects.
Saxo Bank-Tinkoff have been mentioned as potential suitors – but that would seem unlikely given Contador’s position on Bjarne Riis’s team. A far more likely home would be Omega Pharma-Quick Step, who not only tried to sign Cavendish last summer but also don’t harbour any huge ambitions in GC.
And what of Cadel Evans? The Australian defending champion slumped to seventh place in the final standings and even suffered the ignominy of being caught by BMC team-mate Tejay Van Garderen (a rider 12 years his junior) on the final ITT to Chartres.
Evans finished more than 15 minutes down on Wiggins by the time the peloton rode into Paris – but this is deceiving. Until the final stages in the Pyrenees, Evans was merely a couple of minutes off the summit.
The 35-year-old entered the Tour in poor form on the back of an early season marred by illness. Where Wiggins’s preparations were flawless, Evans’s were torrid – and in hindsight, his demise was completely logical.
But that does not spell the end for Evans. Graceful in defeat, the Victorian admitted his was was a major disappointment but vowed to return.
“Absolutely, I come back again 100 percent – better than this year, for sure – and we work on everything for a bigger and better Tour,” he told Eurosport on the Champs Elysees. “I think I still have the capability to win. And in the end it’s up to me and that’s what matters most.”
Should Evans win at the grand old age of 36 (and personally, I don’t think he will), he would be match the record set by Belgian Firmin Lambot, who became the Tour’s oldest winner in 1923 aged 36.
Many think this is unlikely – primarily because of the rise of teammate Van Garderen. But Evans won the race last year following two considerably worse performances than his recent ride – plus given Evans’s staying power and experience, it’s way too early to be talking about Van Garderen as BMC’s team leader.
For sure, it will happen some time – but the American is still only 23 (that’s four years younger than Froome, a rider everyone qualifies as having time on his side).
Van Garderen can still learn a lot from Evans – and the pair could yet form a formidable partnership for BMC in the Tour, provided owner Andy Rhis gets out his cheque book and bolsters his squad with some formidable climbers and domestiques.
For this was one of the major factors in Sky’s win – they were just so strong as a unit, making BMC look like a Pro Continental side in comparison (more Saur-Sojasun than Europcar, mind).
Talk of Evans joining Orica-GreenEdge looks wide of the mark. He is settled at BMC and will surely ride the 2013 Tour with the American team before making a decision on whether or not he retires – or, perhaps then, rides one more season with the Australian team.
GreenEdge will have to go back to the drawing board after a fruitless Tour. For all their hard work, they failed to pick up a stage – and they will need to enter the 2013 Tour with more options than merely leading Matt Goss out for a top-five finish in the bunch sprints.
Of course, all the above is mere speculation – but it’s held together by facts. Wiggins was a worthy winner on a course that was practically tailor-made to end Britain’s long wait for a Grand Tour winner.
Next year will be very different – not just in the parcours, but also in the return of Messrs Contador and Schleck. Plus there’ll be a stronger Vincenzo Nibali (perhaps at a new-look Astana after his third-place) and Jurgen van den Broeck, although the Belgian will always suffer from being in a Lotto Belisol team so heavily geared towards Andre Greipel.
Whatever the fresh challenges, Wiggins has proved himself to be a rider who can adapt and improve immeasurably. He’ll be there – and not merely as a passenger – and so will Froome. As Brailsford says: “If you’re going to become the best cycling team the world’s ever seen, you’ve got to win the biggest race in the world time and time again.”
Sky have raised the bar – and theirs will be the benchmark to beat whether or not the route includes more mountains and less time trials.
Felix Lowe is an English photographer, writer and Arsenal fan with a penchant for pro-cycling. Eurosport writer and blogger, Felix has covered the major cycling races in the pro calendar for the past decade and is now taking up the sport himself, at the ripe age of 31.
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