The race is 21 days long and, as we’ve seen countless times before, anything can happen. Early favorites fade. Unknown riders shine. There are crashes, meltdowns and heroic efforts that can turn the race upside down. In other words, anything can happen with the Tour de France, and guessing who will make the podium in Paris is never easy.
We decided to ask a variety of cycling industry luminaries to hazard a guess as to who they thought would be standing tall in the City of Lights on July 23. Almost everyone made mention of Team Astana not competing in the race and the impact that had on their decision making process. Bob Roll—Tour de France veteran/TV commentator1. Cadel Evans—
He was second last year and the first and third place finishers aren’t showing, so who else is prime for the top spot? Not only is he riding well now, but for the last year he’s had to hear every drunken Aussie ask him why he didn’t attack Contador going into Paris last year. I mean you and I know that you don’t attack the yellow jersey on the last day—that’s the gentleman’s agreement—but the Aussies don’t know about that. They just can’t believe that after almost a month of racing Cadel didn’t try to get back those 26 seconds. 2. Carlos Sastre—
Team CSC needs a huge result to attract a new sponsor. Carlos is calm and focused and the course suits him. On top of that he has both of the Schleck brothers on the team and few things can motivate an older rider than knowing there are some capable young riders on your squad who are vying for your job. That predicament is always a good means of motivation.3. Alejandro Valverde—
He’s riding great and I think this is a make or break year for him to prove himself in a big stage race. He’ll have the complete support of his team, and with Contador not there the whole country of Spain will rally behind him. Valverde is a low-key guy with a sense of regalness to him, and that’s what you need to be a contender for a Grand Tour. All it takes is a tiny razor blade cut to rise above the rest, and he has it.Ric Hjertberg, FSA
1. Robert Gesink
2. Thomas Lovkvist
3. Andy Schleck
|Andy & Frank Schleck
Why? They’re young (22, 24, and 23), have recently showed scary potential, are 6'1", and weigh 150-plus pounds. I can’t think of four better reasons. Can you? One or all of them will be Grand Tour contenders this year. Only Andy is using FSA, showing how incredibly high-minded we are up here.Frankie Andreu—Tour De France veteran/TV commentator1. Cadel Evans—
He was second last year and showed good form early on this year. Cadel will be very motivated after coming so close and has a good team to help him. 2. Carlos Sastre—
With fewer time trials this year in the Tour, that could prove valuable for Carlos to stay close to the top. Of course, CSC is also a very strong team.
3. Alejandro Valverde—
An outside shot who probably will be replaced by someone else, but for right now he has shown he is focused on the Tour, while others riding well now will be focusing on the Giro.Wayne Stetina—Shimano 1.
It would have been so easy to go with Astana; now I really need to think about it. Still, Cadel Evans should win because both Alberto Contador and Levi Leipheimer are the only two who can beat everyone and go 1-2. [Astana has the team depth to dominate and control the entire race just as Postal/Discovery did in the Lance era.]
I’d say Alejandro Valverde and Denis Menchov will round out the podium. Valverde has shown all around talent over the last five years; his TT effort is rapidly improving. Valverde has the lighter build to outclimb Menchov on back-to-back days. 3. Denis Menchov—
Menchov was impressive during the Vuelta last year, but that’s a different time and place than TdF.Jonathan Vaughters—Slipstream/Chipoltle Team Director
So, my picks for the Tour are as follows;1. Damiano Cunego
2. Cadel Evans
3. Carlos Sastre
I’m not quite sure why I think this is what will shake out. It’s just a guess, I guess.Scott Daubert—Trek Bicycles
1. Cadel Evans—
He learns from his mistakes, his experience is to the point that he can deal with most unexpected situations, and his body has matured to deal with the workload. His weakness of already being on the limit when the sharp accelerations go could be solved by being strong enough to ride away from the group on the climbs that matter.
2. Carlos Sastre—
He’s on a strong and experienced team. I think his time is due and he’s focused on the big race this year. And the Spanish need someone to cheer for with Contador out of the race. Sastre will be up there with the help of the cheering Spanish fans.
3. Andy Schleck—
He’s young, hungry, and lucky and tries hard. He’s on a good team, so as long as he listens to the direction from the team car, he’ll do well.Chris Distefano—Chris King
1. Alejandro Valverde
2. Denis Menchov
3. Cadel Evans
Why these choices? It’s wide open right now, especially with no Astana. I figure it’ll take a little bit of time for the bunch to figure out who is up to what. That gives Valverde some time to get into a good position without a lot of fanfare and attention. Suzette Ayotte—Fizik
1. Cadel Evans—
What Evans has over the rest is a lingering 2007 aftertaste and an insatiable hunger. He’s willing to sacrifice all humility—pain exposed for the world to see—and is a man that is not capable of conceding by giving up. The only question—does he have the team to support him?2. Damiano Cunego—
While Cunego has yet to deliver the results he did in 2004 when he was crowned King of the Giro d’Italia and the World Cup series, he’s due for a big result and is foregoing his home country’s grand tour to make his mark at the Tour de France. 3. Andy Schleck—
Schleck will have the strongest domestique and managerial support team in the Peloton and Team CSC will be looking for a final TdF hurrah as CSC’s sponsorship winds down. The omission of a Team Trial, however, removes an advantage for Team CSC. Based on his 2007 Giro d’Italia performance, Schleck lacks the confidence to attack, but is not afraid to hold a wheel without shame. Tim Maloney—RBA European Editor
1. Cadel Evans—
The kid finally comes good. At 32, Evans has progressed from an excellent young mountain biker at age 16 to a Tour de France winner. A truly clean and complete rider, Evans finally has the mental game to go with his talented legs. With 2007 winner Contador out of Le Tour, it’s time for Cadel to finally do it.
2. Denis Menchov—
The Rockin’ Russian won the 2007 Vuelta a’Espana and will ride the Giro d’Italia to prep for Le Tour. A real hard man, Menchov and his strong Rabobank team can give Evans a run for his euros if his form peaks at Le Tour. 3. Alejandro Valverde—
Brilliant and inconsistent, Valverde has complete focus on the 2008 Tour de France. After finishing sixth in 2007, the classy Spaniard will make the leap to the podium in 2008 if he stays consistent all the way to Paris. One bad day and Valverde slips off the Le Tour podium Kozo Shimano—Shimano
I think the podium spots will go to Valverede, Evans and Kirchen. All three are doing well now—meaning that they have the potential to do well later in the season. Of the three, the strongest climber will have the advantage. The first time trial (this year) is half the usual distance, thus favoring a ‘weak’ time trialist (but strong climber). To make the podium, one has to have strong teammates. Valverde has Pereiro, Evans has Popovych, and Kirchen will probably have Svitsov. If I had to pick a winner, I might side with Kirchen. Valverde’s team is still under suspicion from Operation Puerto (and with it the mounting media pressure), and Evans might be outperformed by Popovych (causing ‘infighting’ within the team). Kirchen is in a good situation. Both Linus Gerdeman and Michael Rogers are not able to compete, so Kim will be the clear leader of the team. Otherwise, this team could have been the ‘team with three heads’—the historical setup for
T-Mobile/High Road. Plus, Kirchen is the only Shimano-equipped rider of the three. Outside shot at the podium: Menchov, Danielson and Cunego. All three are strong climbers, but their time trailing is suspect. This would be the year to win for them—with the one time trial that’s short. Both Lampre and Slipstream might not be strong enough of a team to ‘win the yellow jersey’—and it’s definitely the ‘team’ that wins the yellow jersey. The Giro and Vuelta can be won by a ‘very strong rider’, but the Tour requires an entire team. Rabobank is traditionally a strong team, but with new management in place, they are unpredictable so far.
Left off my list: Andy Schleck (CSC). He will also be very strong, and will have great support from his brother Frank. But the team captain is Carlos Sastre. Ming Tan—Look Bicycles1. Cadel Evans—
Came so close last year. With Astana out, maybe he’s got a shot if he can stay upright and healthy. 2. Alejandro Valverde—
Had high hopes for him last year as a strong all-rounder, but he couldn’t pull through. It would be nice to see him get up there this year. He looked strong at Liege. 3. Damiano Cunego—
It seems like he’s making a big push this season for the Grand Tours. If he can improve upon his Giro winning form from some years back, maybe he’s top three. A long shot. Michael Zellman—SRAM
1. Cadel Evans—
He may have one bad day in the mountains, but he’ll make up for it in the TTs. The Tour champion needs to be on the offensive and defensive; I’m pretty certain Cadel has come to fully understand this. Of course, if he rode SRAM Red he would definitely win.2. Frank Schleck (CSC)—
He’s an up and comer in the Tour, and with a victory at Alpe d’Huez a few years back he has shown the legs, plus his team is motivated to find a new sponsor. Riis will have him firing on all cylinders. Only weakness: no SRAM Red.3.
Juan Jose Cobo He’s Saunier-Duvals’s GC man and he rides SRAM Red! Young, fast all-rounder, look for him to excel on the hardest days. Did I mention he rides SRAM Red?Fausto Pinarello—Pinarello Bicycles
1. Andy Schleck—
Either of the brothers are very good. I say Andy now, but it depends on who rides better in the Giro.
2. Thomas Dekker—
He is so strong and he is going up right now. 3. Damiano Cunego—
Some riders do better in July if they ride the Giro, and with others it is not so. He’s not doing the Giro, and I think he could be the guy.Steve Hed—Hed Wheels
1. Kim Kirchen—
Strong Tour Team, can hang tough on the flat days, and climb with the best. TT is improving. 2. Alejandro Valverde—
He has the talent, and teammate Oscar Periero is a big bonus. Has focused more on it this year.
3. Carlos Sastre—
He’s on a strong team with great tour Experience. Sastre can climb—but the big climbs come a little late.Kevin Franks—Giro
1. Alejandro Valverde—
Based on his form at Liege, I think Alejandro really is on track for July. And the rest of the team has been riding with class and delivering this season.2. Cadel Evans—
He’s so hungry for it, this has got to be his year. I remember reading something back when Cadel was racing mountain bikes years ago. He said, “my dream is to one day win the Tour de France.” I don’t know him, but he comes across like a man of his word.3. Carlos Sastre—
Because you can always count on Sastre to ride a smart race and finish well.
—If Astana gets a last minute invite, it’s all about Contador and Leipheimer.Chuck Texiera—Easton
1. Carlos Sastre.
CSC has the best team with the Schleck brothers, Voight, Cancellara...Hope I got the right CSC guy because Frank Schleck could do it too.2. Tomas Decker.
Rabobank has the team to make this possible; too bad they were working for the Chicken last year. 3. Cadel Evans.
He is figuring this tour thing out, if not this year never, hope the Lotto team can do their part. Scott Montgomery—Scott USA
1. Cadel Evans:
I’ve known Cadel ever since he was on the Volvo/Cannondale mountain bike team and he’s always been a stud. When Cadel made the switch to the road he had a lot to learn. But he has paid his dues, and I think he will win a Tour before he retires; this should be his year.2. Riccardo Ricco:
Okay, maybe a total longshot but you have to support your own team! I am not sure due to some early race season injuries if he will be in top form for the Giro, so maybe he hammers at the Tour de France.3.
The Tour is really wide open this year. With Astana out, it really is a toss-up. And I think the sport has never been cleaner so I think we are going to have a great event this year. It is totally wide open…for the third spot I’d add Jens Voight.Steve Blick—Oakley
1. Cadel Evans
2. Alejandro Valverde
3. Carlos Sastre
Cadel has the fabric to take the top step this year. He has hung in there with the best and his experiences are only making him stronger and tougher.