Five months have passed since Rohan Dennis abandoned the Tour de France in mysterious circumstances, climbing off the bike seemingly without cause during stage 12, the day before the race’s major time trial.
The Tour de France is cycling’s blue ribbon event and this weekend the 99th edition of the famous race began in earnest.
While it has been historically dominated by western European riders (and an American in Armstrong), this year it is shaping up as battle between several Aussies and Brits in somewhat of an ‘Ashes on Wheels’.
For Australia, never has a tour begun with so much expectation and points of interest.
It is our biggest field to start the tour with 12 riders, the first time we have had an Australian professional team in the race and of course the defending champion is our own Cadel Evans.
For a jingoistic sporting country like Australia it will seem strange that a number of the twelve Aussies in the field will be riding against GreenEDGE and hoping to scupper Evans’ dreams of going back-to-back.
Two such riders are Ritchie Porte and Michael Rodgers of Sky Racing, who are riding for British favourite Bradley Wiggins. Asked how they felt about this in the lead up to the race they answered simply that they are professionals and are paid to do a job to the best of their abilities.
Luckily, this year we will not have to wait long to see all our boys pulling for a common cause in the London Olympics.
Stuart O’Grady has done his time riding for international teams and riders – this time last year he was riding for the Schlek brothers in team Leopard Trek. He starts this year’s tour the proud captain of GreenEDGE.
While the team has out-performed pre-season expectations this year, the best it can hope for is a stage win and keeping Matt Goss competitive in the sprinter’s Green Jersey classification.
The favourite for the green jersey is British world champion Mark Cavendish, although GreenEDGE team director Matt White commented to SBS that he believes Cavendish might not even finish the tour this year as one eye will be firmly on his performance at his home Olympics in London. The Green jersey will be a very competitive field this year with another Aussie Mark Renshaw (Rabobank) also likely to be in the mix.
The main game, as always, is the general classification battle for the Yellow Jersey which is also shaping up as an ‘Ashes’ battle between an Aussie and a Brit.
The form rider of the peloton is Bradley Wiggins who crashed out of last year’s race but has his best chance ever of taking out the Tour. His form has been good all year and he won the lead up event, the Critérium Du Dauphiné.
Wiggins finished Saturday’s prologue in second place, beaten only by legendary time trial master Fabien Cancellara. Evans finished in 13th place which he was disappointed with but he was good enough to show that his body is ready if the mind is willing.
Despite his flawless performance in last year’s tour, Evans started this year’s race second favourite with the bookies, behind Wiggins. Evans will be used to starting as an underdog and one gets the sense that it suits his psyche better than favouritism. Evans has proven time and time again that he has the secret ingredient for grand tour success: consistency.
Apart from years when injuries and incidents have hampered his campaign, Evans has been a regular GC contender and this year will be no different. In pre-race interviews with SBS it looked like he has started this race calmer than in the past. He has the self-assuredness that only past success can bring.
This tour is shaping up as an Aussie supporter’s dream. Not only do we have countrymen who are going to be competitive in several of the key classifications, we will also get to barrack against the old enemy!