With the exit of Quick Step’s Tom Boonen the race now becomes one of attrition. Personally I think five riders: Mark Cavendish, the god of thunder and last years winner Thor Hushovd, Tyler Farrar, Edvald Boasson Hagen, and Gerald Ciolek have a realistic chance of surviving over the course of 3,642 kilometers (2,263 miles for us non Euros).
Mark Cavendish is the odds maker’s pick but the man from the Isle of Manx has been off his game this year. It will be interesting to see if his horrific crash with Heinrich Haussler has affected his training leading up to the tour. One thing I have noticed in his brief career is that when Cavendish has an axe to grind he is hard to beat. He should have won last year’s points competition had he not been relegated to last place on a stage for blocking and Thor’s heroic breakaway through the Alps. Cav and HTC destroyed the field, winning by 30 meters in the finale on the Champs de Elysees. The only person you could remotely see in the background was his lead-out man Mark Renshaw. That being said, I think Cavendish has something to prove and will do just that by taking his first green jersey.
I am sure Thor Hushovd will have a thing or two to say about that before it’s all said and done. Thor has struggled with health problems this year, however, he appears to be in good form now and I expect him to be a factor this year just as I believe Armstrong will be in the GC competition. There is something to be said for experience and Thor has plenty of that. Given his limited schedule this year he still managed to finish second to Fabian Cancellara in an amazing Paris Roubaix and is fresh off his beating of fellow sprinter, Edvald Boasson Hagen in the Norwegian Road Championships.
Team Sky will be all in for Edvald Boasson Hagen. He’s had an impressive year piling up 8 wins if you count time trials and a best young rider jersey at the Tour of Oman. As my friend Tim at the armchair sports fan points out Boasson Hagen was one of Cavendish’s lead out men before jumping to Sky so he know his tendencies. But there’s a reason he was a lead-out man and not The Man; because when Cav is on, there is no one faster.
That brings us to the most consistent sprinter of the last year, Tyler Farrar. Garmin will certainly be riding for Tyler until they hit the mountains and that’s when it becomes interesting. Will they burn themselves out working for Vande Velde if he’s in the mix? I have a feeling we’ll know early on if that’s the case. If Christian can limit his losses in the prologue and not get dropped on the pave’ in stage 3 then Garmin will have some tough decisions to make. I look for Tyler to get a stage this year but I don’t think he’ll finish better than third in the point’s competition.
Oscar Freire is a great all around rider and at 34 is certainly savvy enough to steal a victory but I think his best chances will be to get a stage win as part of a break away.
Gerald Ciolek may be my favorite sprinter to watch and he’s always easy to pick out of the bunch the way his head ticks up and down like a jackhammer when he’s sprinting. Given that Milram doesn’t have a real GC contender they will be working hard to secure a stage win for Ciolek.
Daniele Bennati has a couple of stage wins to his credit this year and may steal a stage but shouldn’t be a factor in the point’s competition.
Jose Rojas won the points competition at the four days of Dunkirk this year but the Caisse d’Epargne rider has long odds given the level of competition he’ll be facing in the Tour.
The always dangerous Alessandro Petacchi was the fortunate winner of stage 4 of the Tour de Suisse after the horrific crash took out most of the sprinter. Ale Jet is always in the mix but I don’t see him getting a stage win much less the green jersey with all the young guys peaking for this race.
Baden Cooke is another of the elder statesmen of the peloton and was a fine sprinter in his day. He certainly won’t be a factor in the point’s competition and my feeling is that unless he finds himself in a breakaway he won’t factor in a stage win either. Saxo Bank is all about the GC win with one of the Schleck’s and he’s just another arrow in their quiver as they try to systematically destroy the field.
Even pushing 40, Team Katusha’s Robbie McEwen seems to always be in the mix. While he won’t be a factor in the point’s competition, the Aussie will certainly be in the mix for a stage win.
See you all tomorrow for the prologue.