The Contenders & Pretenders

Obviously Alberto Contador is the odds on favorite, the only significant question is his team. Will Alexander VinoKourov, Benjamin Noval, and David De La Fuente be enough to withstand the combined assault of Radio Shack and the Schleck’s?
My gut tells me it will and that last year’s podium is likely to repeat itself. Alberto dominated the time trials and simply out climbs anyone else in the peloton. Although he did show some weakness in the Dauphine, I believe this is because he was still in his final build stage and was limiting his efforts.
Saxo Bank’s Andy Schleck comes in with serious question marks as well. He looked rather pedestrian in the tour de Suisse and I question whether he has the power to maintain contact on stage 3 when they hit the pave’.
However, his brother Frank may be a candidate to step onto the podium if Andy is not in top form. Frank looked very impressive in the Giro and although both have improved their time trialing, I don’t think they have the top end power to hang in there… Yet.
Clearly Saxo bank is a power house team with Fabian Cancellara, Stuart O’Grady, Jens Voigt, the Sorensen brothers, and Matti Breschel surrounding Frank & Andy, one thing is certain; Saxo Bank’s final Tour is certain to be memorable.
That brings us to Mr. Armstrong. Clearly Lance and Johan  Bruyneel are the best cycling tacticians in the peloton. The question is: Does Lance have enough racing in his legs to hang with Alberto, Andy, and Frank on the climbs & has he improved his power to put himself near the top of the leader board in the time trials. As a Lance fan, I hope so. I also wonder whether Lance has been playing possum on some of the climbs we’ve seen him in this year? Lance and his coach Chris Carmichael lay out a plan and usually stick to it. There were signs in last year’s Tour when Lance flashed that he still had the power to climb it was that Alberto simply did not stick to the team plan and Lance rode in support.
Clearly on paper Radio Shack has assembled murderers row on bikes. Armstrong is surrounded with Janez Brajkovic (who beat Contador in the Dauphine), Chris Horner, Levi Leipheimer, Andreas Kloden, and Yaroslav Popovych. Look for the Shack to lay down the gauntlet in stage 3 when the hit the pave’. This will be a Darwinian special as only the strong will survive and I look for Lance to put time into his rivals.
Then we have the rest of the field. Can Bradley Wiggins hang with the big dogs this year? He has been relatively unheard from this year other than winning a TT at the Giro this year. Clearly Sky doesn’t have the team to support him in the mountains but he can ride the coat tails of his rivals if he plays his cards right. Wiggo definitely will be there in the time trials but I think a top 10 placing is realistic while finishing on the podium is a pipe dream.
Garmin transition’s Christian Vande Velde is full of potential but like Tyler Hamilton, always seems to find a crash with his name on it. Garmin certainly fields a strong team with Dave Z, David Millar, Robbie Hunter, and Ryder Hesjedal. Personally, I think Zabriskie will be the top placed rider from Garmin because history says Christian will crash out.
Roman Kreuziger and Ivan Basso from Liquigas are also in the mix. I think top 20’s are in line for these two but Basso was in peak form for the Giro and I don’t seem him finding that form twice in such a short period of time. Kreuziger is strong but not stronger than those listed above.
That brings us to Cadel Evans who, until winning the world championship jersey was always a bridesmaid and never a bride. Cadel rode brilliantly at the Giro, always on the attack which was fun to see from one of the big boys. Was Cadel using the Giro as prep? Or was that Cadel in top form? More likely that was Cadel prepping and he could be in the mix with Alberto, Lance, and the Schlecks. Cadel can hold his own in the TT’s as well but I still question his tactical savvy although he played it perfectly in the world championship.
Cadel’s team is questionable but Big George Hincapie and Allesandro Ballan should be able to keep him out of trouble and he can follow wheels when the fireworks start in the mountains. He’s my dark horse.
Denis Menchov is strong but I don’t see him having what it takes for anything better than a top 10. Rabobank certainly gives him some help with Gesink, Freire, and Boom but I just don’t see it.
Carlos Sastre, next! Personally he’s looked awful this season and I think Cervelo will be playing there cards on the god of thunder, Thor Hushovd and the defense of his green jersey.
Michael Rogers from Columbia HTC has certainly had a fine season but I think the Tour of California was his peak and he’ll be lucky to finish the race as the team focus us surely to be on the world’s fastest cyclist, Mark Cavandish and his pursuit of the green jersey.
Tomorrow we’ll take a look at the sprinters, I think it’s wide open this year.
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