THE WHO’S WHO IN 2012
With Alberto Contador absent from the 99th edition of the Tour De France due to his suspension for doping offenses, and his main rival Andy Schleck at home with a cracked pelvis, the 2012 Tour route favors complete riders with strong time trialing skills ike defending champion Cadel Evans of Team BMC and Sky’s Bradley Wiggins. After a brilliant spring campaign where he has won Paris-Nice, Tour de Romandie & Criterium de Dauphine’, backed by an increasingly dominant Sky squad, many observers say Wiggins’s Tour win is almost a forgone conclusion. But Cadel Evans may not entirely agree.
The defending Tour champion has had a slow, steady build-up to his Tour title defense in 2012, with two wins this season (Critrium International g.c. / Critrium du Dauphin stage win). Perhaps the most complete of riders at the Tour, Cadel Evans has the physical strength and mental toughness
to win his second consecutive Tour. The only weakness is his BMC team; although they have plenty of strong rouleurs to support him on the flat & rolling stages, Evans will once again lack support in the mountains as Tejay van Garderen and Steve Cummings can not stay with the top riders in the high mountains. But Evans has great tactical sense and will attack when the time is right for him.
Bradley Wiggins has done a lot of hard work to become the first-ever British rider to win the Tour de France. An Olympic gold medallist on the track in 2008, the former prologue specialist has transformed himself into a Tour contender and with his three big wins this season, many are tipping Wiggo as Tour favorite. But it’s not that simple; although Wiggins and his Sky squad dominated in the Critrium du Dauphin, the Tour will be another story. Wiggins’ strategy to win the 2012 Tour is quite clear: use his strong team well and follow the wheels, stay with the key GC contenders and take the Tour lead in the penultimate 53.5km time trial stage. But Wiggins does not have a great track record at the Tour de France, with his best finish 4th place in 2010 and the 32 year old Brit must be careful to not have one bad day or bad luck where he loses enough time to loose the Tour.
At 40 years old, American Chris Horner finally has a good chance to win the Tour De France. Originally RadioShack-Nissan-Trek boss Johan Bruyneel didn’t chose Horner for the Tour squad, but Andy Schleck’s Crash in the Critrium du Dauphin ITT put him out of the Tour selection.
Bruyneel, caught up in the USADA / Armstrong allegations will not be on hand at the Tour as he felt he would be an ‘unwelcome distraction to my team, and to all those participating in and supporting the Tour.’ This may be a benefit for Horner, as lead RSNT Alain Gallopin has always believed in
Horner’s chances as a Tour contender. Horner is a smart, experienced rider and if he gets the support of his teammate Frnk Schleck in the mountains, Horner could upset the Tour applecart of conventional wisdom. Horner will have to have a decent first TT on Stage 9 and then attack in the mountains to put time into Wiggins.
Denis Menchov (Katusha Team) is a dark-horse candidate for a Tour De France win. With an impressive palmares that includes two Vuelta a Espa¤as and a Giro d’Italia, the 34 year old Russian could be a strong contender for a Tour win, where he was best young rider in 2003 and has a solid track record at Le Tour (5th 2006 / 3rd 2008 / 2nd 2010). Although his 2012 Tour preparation was somewhat compromised by tendinitis in his right knee, Menchov just won his first Russian TT championship. Nicknamed ‘The Silent Assassin ‘, Menchov is a smart, tough rider who can climb well and is an excellent time trialist. He seldom attacks but seeks to limit his losses to the pure climbers. His Katusha Team Tour squad is decent and Menchov can count on Gusev, Trofimov & Caruso for help on the Tour climbs.
What can Giro d’Italia winner Ryder Hesjedal and his Garmin?Sharp-Barracuda team do at the 2012 Tour De France? How about win it? At 32, Hesjedal is fresh off his career breakthrough win at the Giro, which has given the talented, if ungainly Canadian a huge confidence boost. Hesjedal has a great team to support him; Tom Danielson and Christian Vandevelde can stay with the best in the high mountains and Hesjedal showed in the Giro he isn’t afraid to attack at the right moment. If
Hesjedal makes it through the Tour in good health and with good luck, lanky Canadian ex-mountain biker has a solid chance to win the 2012 Tour De France.
CONTENDERS OR PRETENDERS?
That’s where riders like Italians Vicenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) and Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) fall, along with Spaniard Samuel S nchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Dutch rider Robert Gesink (Rabobank). Nibali gets a lot of attention and the 27 year old clearly has talent, with a win in the 2010 Vuelta a Espa¤a to his credit. But Nibali is not a strong time trialist and will have to not only stay with the best climbers at the Tour, but use his superb descending skills to make up time. Nibali may win a stage, but not the 2012 Tour de France.
Although Michele Scarponi has not ridden the Tour de France since 2004 (32nd overall), his 4th place in the 2012 Giro d’Italia may give him some credibility for the Tour. Scarponi is a great climber and poor time trialist, which gives him a great chance for a big mountain stage win, but little chance for a Maillot Jaune in Paris. Olympic champion Samuel S nchez has had a strong 2012; a win at Pais Vasco, second at Volta a Catalunya and is a complete rider, who is a strong climber and time trialist. But S nchez only has an outside chance at the podium. 29 year old Jurgen Van Den Broeck from Lotto could be another contender at this year’s Tour. 4th in the 2010 Tour, the big Belgian is strong on the climbs, but the time trials will probably prove to be his undoing.
HEADED INTO PARIS
In the race for the Maillot Vert for the Points classification, 2011 winner Mark Cavendish will be tough to beat, although he may get a run for his money from Peter Sagan this year. Sagan, making his Tour debut is on fire this season and could be a strong contender, as well as last year’s runner up JJ Rojas and former Maillot Vert winner Oscarito Friere. Look for other sprinters like Andr Greipel, Marcel Kittel, Tyler Farrar and Romain Feillu to light it up in the bunch gallops.
For the distinctive polka-dot jersey of the Tour’s Best Climber competition, 2011 winner Samuel Sanchez has higher ambitions, so look for Sylvain Chavanel, Johnny Hoogerland or Jrmy Roy to go for the Mountains title.
Le Maillot Blanc is awarded to the Best Young rider at the Tour de France. Last year’s winner Pierre Rolland is no longer eligible, so close 2011 runner-up Rein Taaramae, Tejay Van Garderen and Wouter Poels may be candidates for the prestigious tunic.
AS FOR THE RACE ITSELF
The three weeks of the Tour De France are a play with three acts. The opening act of Le Tour kick-offs in Lige, Belgium starting on June 30th, and the ‘Grand Depart’ has three stages in Belgium, then zig-zags across northern France before ending up in the Vosges Mountains of Eastern France for the first mountaintop finish at La Planche des Belles Filles ski station on Friday 7 July. The Tour’s first selection is inevitable on the steep slopes to the stage finish, with the final moments of the first act of the 2012 Tour being played out on Monday July 9’s hilly Stage 9’s 38 km Individual Time Trial from Arc-et-Senans to Besanon.
After the Tour’s first rest day in Mcon on Tuesday 10 July, the second act of Le Tour 2012 opens with three tough climbing days, first in the southern Jura Mountains with the difficult ascent of the Col du Grand Colombier, then one Alpine stage on Stage 11, a short hard stage with three cols including the new mountaintop finish to La Toussuire Les Sybelles, where the major drama for Tour supremacy should play out on the final ascent. The next day on Stage 12 there are two tough Alpine climbs at the beginning of the stage and a tough final of 30km which could bring a horror show ending to the stage on Friday the 13th.
Once the Alps are over, the Tour heads south and west towards the Pyrnes, where after two transitional stages, the curtain rises on the third and final act of the 2012 Tour de France on Sunday, 15 July on the 192 km Stage 14 from Limoux to Foix. This will be a tough scene for the Tour favorites as the steep, irregular ascents especially in the eastern Pyrenees often upset the Tour’s status-quo. After a sprinters day on Stage 15 and a rest day in Pau, the next two stages in the western Pyrnes should be decisive in the 2012 Tour, especially the final uphill finish to the Peyragudes ski station, which comes after the second climb of the Peyresourde in two days.
Once the Pyrnes are over, another transitional stage heads due north from Blagnac to Brive-la-Gaillarde on Friday, 20 July, then the Tour transfers north to the flat farmland south of Paris where the final scene of the 2012 Tour de France will play out on the penultimate Stage 19, a dead flat, super fast 52 km Individual Time trial from Bonneval to Chartres on Saturday 21 July. The 2011 Tour was decided on the final ITT and the scenario for the same outcome this year looks very promising. Sunday’s 130km Stage 20 from Rambouillet to Paris Champs-lyses is a mere formality as the rider who dons the Maillot Jaune Saturday evening in Chartres will win the 2012 Tour de France.
WHAT ABOUT THE JERSEYS?
Le Maillot Jaune / Yellow Jersey: This jersey is awarded to the Tour De France rider with the lowest total elapsed time in the race. Le Maillot Jaune was first awarded in 1919 by Tour organizer L’Auto (a French sports newspaper) which was printed on yellow newsprint to stand out on the newsstand. French bank Le Credit Lyonnaise is the Maillot Jaune sponsor.
Le Maillot Vert / Green Jersey: This jersey is awarded to the Tour De France rider with the highest points total. Points are awarded to riders at the stage finish and one intermediate sprint and is sponsored by PMU, a pari-mutuel betting company. Points are awarded on different levels for flat, medium mountain, high mountain, individual time trial stages and intermediate sprints.
Le Maillot Pois / Polka-Dot Jersey: This jersey is awarded to the Tour De France rider with the highest points total awarded at the top of categorized climbs and mountain passes, and is also known as the King of the Mountains. Points are awarded on ‘Hors Catgorie’ or Above Category, Category 1, 2, 3 & 4 climbs. Le Maillot Pois is sponsored by French supermarket chain Carrefour.
Le Maillot Blanc / White Jersey: This jersey is awarded to the Tour De France rider born after 1 January 1987 / age 25 or under) with the lowest total time in the race. Le Maillot Blanc is sponsored by car brand Skoda.
Other Classifications: Le Plus Combatif / Most Combative: Selected by a panel of race officials and journalists, Le Plus Combatif is a rider who attacks the most. The rider who earns Most Combative wears a red number and the classification is sponsored by French appliance maker Brandt.