I don’t see where so many people get off criticizing the Tour, because to me, they are never yawners-it’s the Tour de France. I can foresee this being another great Tour de France. It will be a dogfight of epic proportions for a lot of reasons. The most important is that I think the Sky team will prove more vulnerable than many people think they are. The true strengths of Sky have been overestimated and some of their weaknesses overlooked. Froome himself had a gap last year, sure, but it was tenuous. On more than a few occasions he was alone, especially that day in the Pyrenees when he was alone for the last two climbs-and that’s not bueno. The team had too many injuries last year that he ended up having to put an abundance of faith in Richie Porte. And so far this year, Porte has been in the hurt tank. Lightning may have been known to strike twice, but expecting it to strike three times in a row is pushing it, especially when you consider how fragile the Brit squad is now.
As for Bradley Wiggins, you never know. He’s said repeatedly that he will be on the team, and you’d think a guy who won the race just two years ago would be justified in saying that. The funny thing is that as you might’ve noticed, the team hasn’t said that yet! I mean, look at the war of words and the different epiphanies that he initiated last year.
One rider that I’m excited to watch will be Alejandro Valverde. I really think he has a good chance at it, because he’s a good all-around rider; he’s probably still stinging from the bike mishap he had last year, and he’s been riding in the Belgian races this year getting used to cobbles which will be a benefit in that first week. As far as the Movistar team is concerned, I can empathize with them for having last year’s Tour sensation, Nairo Quintana, race in the Giro d’Italia instead. I mean, he’s still a young guy who is so popular he could probably be elected president of Colombia! I think it’s good that they let him develop some more before throwing him back into the Tour melee.
Apart from the individual riders, this is where the route itself comes into play. Unlike last year where there were some good GC stages (and a long individual time trial) and Froome was able to get a big lead early on, that’s not true of the 2014 route. In fact, the first real GC stage is the one that runs on the cobbled sections that won’t be easy for a lot of the riders. And the TT, where Froome can get an advantage, won’t be until the very end of the race.
As far as the sprinters go, I think it will be a battle to the death between Andre Greipel, Mark Cavendish and Marcel Kittel, and I probably have to give the nod to Cavendish because he has the best lead-out train. I kept Peter Sagan off that list because here I’m distinguishing between the flat stages where these three guys are better than anyone else. Sagan won his three stages last year on stages that had climbs leading up to the finishes, and that’s where he sets himself apart.
As for a July surprise? I’d say it will be having a French guy finish in the top five overall. The French will be psyched, but the rest of the world will be in a state of shock because France hasn’t done something like that in years. In the past, there would usually be one or two good French guys, but now they have like 10. I’m talking about guys like Bardet, Pinot and Rolland-those guys have some actual talent.