So the greatest show on earth is once again beginning to hit the headlines of the world’s cycling press. This year sees the French Grand Tour reach its 99th edition, not quite 100 but it should prove to be an exciting one none the less. This year the race organisers have chosen a route that is more suited to riders with stamina and speed rather than the climbers who have benefited from route selections littered with mountain stages in the past.
3 weeks, 21 stages and 3479km sees the riders start in the Belgium town of Liege, heading south to the Alps, then heading west to the Pyrenees and finally back up to Paris – doesn’t sound bad eh?!
Despite a route that got the hardy mountain goats grumbling there is still plenty of climbing to get your big ring stuck into. 11 in the Pyrenees, six in the Alps, four in the Swiss Jura, three in the Jura, and one in the Vosges sets the scene for plenty of pain to be dished out.
The Tour in Numbers
Ever since Mark Cavendish joined Team Sky last year cycling fans everywhere have been scratching their heads wondering what the British team’s main goals for this year’s TdF would be. Would they concentrate on Bradley and the yellow, Mark and the green or go for both at the same time?! Team Sky have now revealed that Cav will be focussing on the Olympic road race this year with the TdF used mainly as conditioning for the race in London. The Manx Missile will be on domestique duties (while trying to nab the odd win) for his team mate Bradley Wiggins who looks to be the first British rider to take top honours at the Tour.
With the Olympics taking place this year there was always going to be riders dropping out to concentrate on their own Olympic dream. Thor Hushovd made the early stages of the Tour very interesting last year with some great solo breaks proving that big riders can climb. Unfortunately the “Thor de France” will not be happening this year with the Norwegian rider spending the first half of the 2012 recovering from a virus forsaking the TdF and the Norwegian national champs to concentrate on the Olympics. Another rider who has sacked off the Tour this year is Tom Boonen who also has his sights set on gold.
One of the main stories in the run up to the Tour was Andy Schleck, a favourite in past years, dropping out of Tour contention due to a fractured pelvis which he sustained during a crash at the Criterium du Dauphine. Some say that the 100km of time trialling would have been too much for the RadioShack Nissan Trek rider who has received large amounts of criticism about his time trialling technique.
There has been several teams changing title sponsors and team names over the last few months during the run up to the Tour. Australia’s first team in the pro peloton, GreenEDGE, have now changed their name to Orica GreenEDGE after the Australian mining company came on board in early May. More recently Garmin Barracuda have had a bit of a shake up of sponsors and are now Garmin Sharp Barracuda. Officially, under UCI policy, you’re only allowed two brands in a team name so Garmin Sharp is what you will see on all ‘official’ UCI and Tour material but in most of the press it will be Garmin Sharp Barracuda. Finally Bjarne Riis and Saxo Bank welcome on board Tinkoff Bank to make Saxo Bank-Tinkoff…Bank. Not the most eloquent name in the pro peloton but does ramp up the money available to the team for the next couple of years.
Riders to watch
There seems to be quite a few riders who aren’t going to make it to this year’s Tour, so let’s have a look at who will be there and the names to watch out for.
Peter Sagan – This is my one to watch, not for just this Tour, but also the next few years. At only 22 this young Slovak rider has an impressive cycling career under his bib shorts already. Having won four stages at this year’s Tour of California and an impressive fourth at the Milan-San Remo, the Liquigas rider has shown he can compete with the big boys. After claiming 3 stages in last year’s Vuelta he has also shown that claiming honours on cycling’s biggest stage is within touching distance.
Cadel Evans – The BMC rider is the defending 2011 champion after holding off both the Schlecks until Paris in a gutsy performance in the mountains. Despite spear heading the Australian road cycling team at this year’s Olympics in London, there is no doubt that Cadel will put all his effort into regaining the yellow jersey again. There are some doubters out there who claim that Evans hasn’t had the run of form leading up to last year’s Tour but others say he has his timing just right to reach peak performance in time for the French Grand Tour. Only time will tell.
Bradley Wiggins – Odds on favourite at the bookies, the Sky rider had an impressive win at this year’s multi stage race, the Criterium du Dauphine. There’s no doubt that his time trialling skills are top notch but he has also been working hard on his climbing claiming he has put in “100,000 metres of high-quality climbing” this year alone, mainly on Mount Teide in Tenerife. If he can keep out of harms way Wiggins is definitely on to contest for the yellow jersey…but let’s not count our eggs just yet.
Ryder Hesjedal – The Canadian has possibly the most appropriate name for a professional cyclist. Any doubts about the Garmin riders GC ability were put to rest in May after he took top honours at the Giro d’Italia. Having had a taste of Grand Tour victory the Argyll clad Canadian will be heading up the Garmin Sharp Barracuda team, although after seeing Contador struggle after last year’s win at the Giro, Ryder will have his work cut out to turn pink into yellow this July.
Robert Gesink – Tour of California winner Robert Gesink will be the main hope of the men in orange and blue. The 26-year-old has proved he has the time trialling skills finishing fifth in the Stage 8 time trial in Switzerland and fourth in the Stage 4 race against the clock in California. But it’s not been plain sailing for Gesink having broken his leg in a training crash 8 months ago. Can the Dutch man continue his good form in the run up the big event and top off a fairy tale climax to his season?
As usual ProBikeKit will be following the action closely via our social media channels. We will be Tweeting live alternative commentary (#WTdF) during the stages as well as posting results and revelations on Facebook. For the latest news check out our #WTdF blog series which will keep you up to date with the latest Tour news.