Every four years, I watch the Olympics, and every four years, I watch sports such as diving, swimming, and gymnastics, and question my life decisions.
Having assessed Cadel’s chances in part one and looked at some dark horses in part two, part three of our special on the 2013 Tour’s team leaders has a closer look at a missile from the Isle of Mann, Sky’s Kenyan-born Brit and a certain Spaniard who was absent last year.
Leader: Alejandro Valverde.
Roar prediction: Valverde is past his best, but the team has plenty of talent.
Alejandro Valverde may not be quite the rider he was in his pre-Operacion Puerto days, but he’s still consistently one of the top performers in Grand Tours, and is likely to be thereabouts again.
The exciting thing for Movistar is they have Tour de Suisse winner Rui Costa, Colombian climber Nairo Quintana, Spanish time trial champ Jonathan Castroviejo, and Costa Rican Andrey Amador, who was eighth at Tirreno-Adriatico and 10th at Gent-Wevelgem.
It’s an exciting team, and coming off an excellent Giro that brought four stage wins, they’ll be full of confidence.
If Valverde isn’t on top of his game, he may well be usurped as leader.
Leader: Mark Cavendish.
Goal: green jersey, every sprint stage.
Roar prediction: Cav will win more stages than you can shake a baguette at.
If you were watching cycling for the first time at the Giro, you could be forgiven for thinking there was only one sprinter in the race. Cavendish was so utterly dominant it was almost unbelievable, winning every flattish stage. He can win with or without a lead-out.
The competition at the Tour will be stiffer. Andre Greipel. Peter Sagan. Matt Goss. The Degenkolb/Kittel double. Nacer Bouhanni.
Cavendish won’t be worried in the slightest. He’ll be in yellow after winning stage one and I think he’ll be in green in Paris.
Leader: Andy Schleck, Haimar Zubeldia.
Goal: Top ten.
Roar prediction: Andy will finish outside the top 10, if he finishes.
Andy Schleck gets the leadership gig for Radioshack Leopard. Two years ago, this would have been an automatic selection: at his best Andy has been one of the best Tour performers of the last decade.
But after the year poor old Andy has had, it’s a minor shock to see him make the Tour squad, let alone as leader.
‘Abandy’ Schleck of 2013 is the hapless figure who went nearly a year without finishing a race. As a result, the team is realistic in its objectives, according to team general manager Luca Guercilena:
“Of course we don’t put pressure on our champion. After the last 12 months it would be unrealistic to expect a podium place. On the other hand, the lack of stress and pressure can be a positive stimulus to a brilliant performance.”
In other words, no pressure, but we really want a podium.
The team will have Haimar Zubeldia as backup, and after finishing sixth in 2012, it’s not a bad second fiddle to have.
Leader: Alberto Contador.
Goal: Overall victory.
Roar prediction: The man most likely to upset Chris Froome.
Contador is, clearly, a brilliant Tour de France rider. He’s won five Grand Tours, and that’s after being stripped of a couple for doping.
Is he now a clean rider? I think so, his attacks are more measured, and less sustained, than perhaps they once were.
He also has a very, very strong team, supported by Australia’s Mick Rogers in his ninth Tour, Roman Kreuziger, Nicolas Roche, and Sergio Paulinho. The first three of those riders have finished in the top 10 overall in Grand Tours, and Paulinho has won multiple stages.
If anyone can topple Team Sky, it’s Contador and Saxo-Tinkoff. So far this season, Froome has had his measure, but the Tour is a very different beast to Tirreno-Adriatico or the Dauphine.
Leader: Chris Froome.
Goal: Overall victory.
Roar prediction: Froome and Porte both take podium places.
Sky has such an embarrassment of riches that it’s able to leave reigning Tour champion Sir Bradley Wiggins at home, sulking. It’s also able to leave Giro second place-getter Rigoberto Uran at home, resting.
So we’re finally at the point that may well fracture the British super team down the middle: Chris Froome will lead the team to its Tour defence.
He’ll probably win it, too.
His second-in-command is Tasmania’s Richie Porte, who has been in the kind of form that would have earned him team leadership at most teams.
We’re going to see plenty of shots of Porte drilling it on the front near the tops of climbs, his jersey unzipped like a 1970s fast bowler, with Froome nodding away on his wheel.
The main obstacle seems to be arrogance: there’s already talk Froome can win multiple Tours. Well son, you’ll need to win this one, first.
Leader: Jonathan Hivert.
Goal: TV coverage.
Roar prediction: Sojasun will meet low expectations.
Sojasun is the other French team to select a squad of French Frenchmen. Jonathan Hivert is the team’s leader due to achieving most of the team’s few victories this season, but it would be a surprise to see him winning a stage at this level.
Indeed, you could watch cycling for months and never see a Sojasun rider. It’s almost as if Europcar has stolen all of their panache.
Leader: Thomas de Gendt.
Goal: Stage wins.
Roar prediction: A high GC finish is probably beyond de Gendt, but there’ll be plenty of action from Flecha, Hoogerland, and Poels.
Vacansoleil is running a similar strategy to Orica-GreenEDGE: pick riders who give you options in every stage:
“With three fast men, three born attackers and three riders who are at ease in the mountains, [we] hope to be at the front of the race for the full three weeks.”
Thomas de Gendt has finished as high as third in the 2012 Giro, but has not yet had the opportunity to replicate this in the Tour. Given his lack of apparent form (DNF at the Dauphine, 52nd at Tour of California) it’s difficult to see him getting into the top 10 in July.
Therefore, stage wins are the more realistic goal.
He will be joined in these attacking endeavours by Johnny Hoogerland and Juan Antonio Flecha, famous for being knocked into a fence by a French television car during the 2011 Tour, now riding as teammates.
I actually like Vacansoleil’s chances of taking home a stuffed lion.