The ninety-ninth Tour de France got underway on Sunday, so who are the candidates to take overall victory in the world’s most prestigious bike race? Orange UK’s cycling expert Alex Kay assesses the strengths and weaknesses of the riders battling for the maillot jaune and predicts who will be drinking champagne on the Champs-Élysées…
Best Tour finish: 39th, 2009
STRENGTHS: The current holder of the yellow jersey is one of the most complete cyclists in the world. He is the strongest time-trialler in the peleton and a good bet for Olympic time-trial gold in London.
The powerful physique of ‘Spartacus’ rules him out of competing in the high mountain stages where his slimmer rivals find the climbs less gruelling. Excellent time-triallers such as Lance Armstrong and Bradley Wiggins had to slim down to chase GC glory and so must Cancellara.
The Swiss powerhouse will dominate the first week but may retire before Paris to focus on the Olympic time-trial.
Jurgen Van den Broeck
Best Tour finish: 4th, 2010
A time-trial specialist who can hold his own in the mountains, the Belgian has a great chance to recapture the form of 2010 on this favourable course.
A massive crash on the Col de Pas de Peyrol ended his Tour challenge last year, so Van den Broeck must overcome the mental scars this has left him with and improve his descending.
A relatively poor showing in the prologue time-trial leaves a question mark over the Belgian. A top 15 finish is within his reach but he must do better in the longer time-trials to secure a top ten finish.
Best Tour finish: 6th, 2010
The Condor of Varsseveld has displayed good form in recent months winning May’s Tour of California and finishing fourth at last month’s Tour of Switzerland.
The Dutchman may not get a great deal of support from his team-mates in the mountains and has never shown that he can beat the likes of Bradley Wiggins and Cadel Evans over multiple stages.
An overall finish somewhere between fifth and tenth.
Best Tour finish: 3rd, 2011
A specialist climber who returned to form in last month’s Tour of Switzerland, finishing second overall.
An average time-trialler, Schleck will struggle to keep in contention with more than 100km against the clock in this year’s Tour.
It will be interesting to see how Frank performs without having to help his younger, faster brother Andy but the lengthy time-trials look like they will stop Schleck finishing inside the top five.
Best Tour finish: 4th, 2011
A gutsy climber who has a knack of joining successful breakaways, the Frenchman has matured into a solid performer who raises his game for the Tour de France.
Voeckler’s time-trialing does not compare with the likes of Wiggins and Evans so he will have to gain time in the mountains. There are also questions about Voeckler’s fitness after he withdrew from the Route du Sud just weeks before the Tour with a knee injury.
The French favourite may have to sacrifice his own ambitions and play a supporting role if Pierre Rolland, Voeckler’s young compatriot and team-mate, is outperforming him early on. Even so, both Frenchmen have the capabilities to finish inside the top ten.
Best Tour finish: 2nd, 2010
Menchov has excellent all-round abilities, he rides like a train in the mountains – never showing great acceleration but maintaining a strong, steady pace that means he’s always in contention overall.
Without his team-mate Joaquim Rodríguez (the world’s number one ranked rider) to support him in the mountains Menchov may be vulnerable to organised attacks from stronger squads.
This could be the Silent Assassin’s last shot at glory in the Tour and after a good showing in the prologue time-trial the Russian will challenge for a podium finish and should finish in the top eight at least.
Best Tour finish: 6th, 2010
The tall Canadian has shown great form this year. He won the Giro d’Italia by 16 seconds with consistent climbing and a terrific final time-trial performance around the streets of Milan.
The Giro may have taken its toll Hesjedal and the speed of climbing in the Tour may catch him out, particularly if his aging team-mates fail to support him at the start of the toughest stages.
A top ten finish looks likely, if he can stick with leaders in the Pyrenees a top three finish could be within reach.
Best Tour finish: 7th, 2009
Another solid all-rounder but slightly younger than his rivals, Nibali still has enough experience to cope with the pressure of being among the favourites and is considered one of the world’s best descenders too.
Nibali is not in the same class as Wiggins and Evans when it comes to the time trials.
The Italian’s Tour will be decided in the mountains, if he can successfully break away from the other favourites a podium finish is realistic.
Best Tour finish: 4th, 2009
Wiggins has always been a superb time-trialler and can now back that up with strong climbing skills and the experience of winning several major stage races including the Paris-Nice, the Dauphine and the Tour of Romandie.
In previous years some have questioned the Briton’s tactical brain and his attitude to being a team leader and GC contender, but Wiggins appears to have matured into a dominant force over the last 18 months and has few chinks in his armour.
The course of the ninety-ninth Tour de France suits Wiggins with less major climbs and extended time trial kilometres. If he avoids crashes and mechanical mishaps this appears to be the year a Brit will finally win the Tour.
Team: Team BMC Racing
Best Tour finish: 1st, 2011
A strong time-trialler and gritty climber with the ability to break away from the peleton on hilly finishes the Australian is a superb all-rounder with a strong team surrounding him.
At the age of 35 Evans could be just the other side of his peak physical fitness, but he will still be there or thereabouts come Paris.
If Wiggins slips up last year’s winner is the man most likely to take overall victory.
Who do you think will win this year? Leave your comments and predictions below.
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