Section I – Introduction
Welcome to Deadpool's Guide to the 2010 Tour de France. I'll be taking you through the riders and teams who will be going for glory, and then through the race route itself. I'll then finish off by giving you my predictions for what will happen in the race. As cycling's marquee event, the Tour has pulled together a startlist that is chock full of talent from top to bottom, and in every category. So sit down, and I'll take you through what should be a very exciting race.
Section II – The GC and Sprint Contenders
And so now we begin by looking at the riders who will be looking to score a jersey come Paris. As the Polka dot jersey is really up for who wants it (or a GC contender if no one targets it), and the White Jersey is a sub-category of the GC, we'll focus on the two main ones, the Yellow and Green.
The General Classification -
Alberto Contador – The reigning defending champion and winner of the last four GT's he has
entered doesn't really need an introduction. El Pistolero is one of the most explosive climbers the world of cycling has ever seen, and in the last few years has added staying power and a strong TT to his repertoire. He is the clear favorite, and with a strong team of Spanish and Kazakhstani mountain goats behind him, including Alexander Vinokourov, it will be his race to control and win.
Andy Schleck – 2009 was a coming out party for the lanky Luxembourgian climber, as he broke out of his brother Frank's shadow and came into his own with a victory at Liege-Bastogne-Liege and his runner-up result at the Tour. With an extremely strong Saxo Bank team behind him, led by Frank and guided by Bjarne Riis, Schleck is looking to jump past Contador as the brighter of the two young stars. Schleck's main problem are the time-trials. Although he has become much more capable at them as of late, he still lags behind Contador, and will not have a TTT to gain time on his Spanish rival.
Bradley Wiggins – With his 60's haircut and TT prowess, the British Wiggins steps into the 2010 Tour as one of the big X-factors. A few years ago, he was the star of the British track program's distance crew and was considered a good bet for TT's on the road. But last year he stepped up at the Tour and rode to a remarkable 4th place, beating not only his teammate (and preliminary Garmin leader) Christan Vande Velde, but seasoned Tour riders such as Andreas Kloden, Carlos Sastre, and Cadel Evans. The question now becomes can he repeat that feat, and even push past it onto the podium. He is backed by a strong team in Sky, and much will be expected of him.
Lance Armstrong – Another rider who needs no introduction, Lance's big rival is no longer Jan Ullrich but Father Time. At 38, Lance is the oldest of the aging crew at Radioshack, and the question now is whether his experience and support, both from teammates such as Levi Leipheimer and Andreas Kloden, and from his DS Johan Bruyneel, will be enough to overcome the strength of Contador and Schleck. Also up for debate is his form, as he has seemed to be in and out of fitness this year, but his recent 2nd place at the Tour de Suisse seems to have answered that question, at least for now.
Cadel Evans – After a hugely disappointing Tour last year, finishing 30th after starting as one of the race favorites, Evans has moved to greener pastures at BMC and is looking to finally land on the coveted top step of the podium. The last year since the Tour debacle has been amazingly successful, most notably with a victory at the World Championships, and the Aussie comes to the Tour hoping to ride that wave to victory. His problems are his age, as he enters his mid- thirties with a rapidly closing window of opportunity, and his team, which other than George Hincapie and Alessandro Ballan is composed primarily of Swiss and American riders who are untested at the level of the Tour.
Others – Although those five are the main favorites for the three spots on the podium, there are a number of others who are looking to step it up and fight for a place on it. They can for the most part be divided into two groups, the aging veterans and young up-and-comers. On the older side, Christan Vande Velde, Denis Menchov, and 2008 winner Carlos Sastre are all veterans of the road, and although still strong riders they have been eclipsed in recent years by the talents of Contador and Schleck. On the younger side, Jurgen van den Broeck, Roman Kreuziger, Tony Martin, and Robert Gesink are just a few of the names looking to join the GC conversation. Another rider to watch is Christophe Le Mevel, who is considered the best French hope for the Tour. The last man to watch for the GC is Sammy Sanchez, the Olympic champion whose strong classics results have not been matched at the GT level outside of his home race, La Vuelta a Espana.
The Sprint Classification -
Mark Cavendish – The Manx Missile comes into the Tour off the back of some crash controversy at the Tour de Suisse, but for him, controversy is nothing new. Winner of 10 stages in the last two Tours, he is undoubtedly the fastest man in the bunch sprints. Last year though, Hushovd rode more actively for the Green, picking up every point he could, and was able to take the jersey. If Cavendish rides for stage wins again, it'll be difficult for him to win the sprint competition, but if he rides for the Green, he'll be the favorite.
Thor Hushovd – The defending Green jersey winner, the Norwegian sprinter will most likely have to use the same tactics he used last year, such as attacking for intermediate sprint points and riding to get second instead trying to get first and taking third, that he did last year to defeat the inherently faster Cavendish and Farrar. He will be hard pressed for a stage win, but with his experience and focus he might just be able to pull out the Green for a second straight year.
Tyler Farrar – The American sprinter lived in the shadow of Hushovd and Cavendish at last year's Tour, but after a great last 12 months, that is no more. He has shown he is capable of winning sprints against all comers, and will be dangerous for Cavendish at the finish line. However, he has not regularly beaten Cavendish, and with a higher level of sprinters here then seen previous, he'll be the darkhorse in the race for Green.
Others – A few others will be lurking in the background of those three, looking for stage wins and maybe but not likely the Green. Robbie McEwen comes into the Tour uninjured for the first time in a while, and his good form means he may have a shot at a win or two, despite his age. Alessandro Pettachi is also dangerous, but he is getting on in age and hasn't shown himself to be at the level of Cavendish and co. in the last year or two. Gerard Ciolek will try and beat the big boys, something he has struggled to do as he seems just a step slower than the top of the line fast men. Also, Oscar Freire has had a resurgence since his terrible 2009, and with his rediscovered speed will be dangerous. Lastly, Daniele Bennati for Liquigas has top end speed, but injury concerns make him unlikely to content for the Green.
Section III – The Teams
Now we'll look at the teams in general, their strength and focuses for the tour. Each team will be given one (or two) labels. They are, GC, for teams targeting the GC with one or two leaders. Sprint, for those teams targeting the sprints. X-Factor, for teams with the strength maybe not to go at the GC podium, but who have strong riders who can blow the race open and do some damage, and Attack, for teams that will want to attack to go for breakaway wins and show their colors.
Ag2r – Attack – Last year they held yellow for a long time with Nocentini, but they are unlikely to do so again. Gadret and Roche are strong riders, but are unlikely to do much. Look for Ag2r to spend a lot of time on the attack.
Astana – GC – Contador is backed up by a herd of mountain goats, primarily from Spain and Kazakhstani. They will be looking to control the race for their main favorite. The only question for them is whether Vinokourov will be willing to be a domestique.
Bouyges Telecom – Attack – There are three guarantees in life; death, taxes, and attacking from this group of French cyclists.
BMC – GC – Cadel will be the main focus of the squad, and setting him up for victory will be the main goal. Like Sky and Garmin though, if he falters look for attacks and stage wins from his lieutenants, in this case George Hincapie and Alessandro Ballan.
Caisse d'Epargne – X-Factor – Without Valverde, the Caisse team does not have a guy capable of riding to victory, but they still have a strong team with a mix of GT veterans and younger riders. Look for them to try and be aggressive and set one of their men up for a good result.
Cervelo – Sprint, GC – Hushovd and the sprints will be the main focus for the Swiss squad. For the GC they have Sastre, and like BMC, Sky, and Garmin, if he is not up for the task look for them to become a X-Factor squad.
Cofidis – Attack – Another French squad means one thing, more attacks. Also look for them to try and get Taaramae into position to get a good result in the White Jersey competition.
Euskatel – GC, Attack – Trying to set Sammy Sanchez up will be their main goal, but look for the Basque team to also make breakaways a priority. The key will be trying to balance the two to make sure they don't go home with nothing.
Footon – Attack – Probably the weakest of the Pro Tour teams, the Spanish squad will be looking to the breakaways to find them success. And why not? it has worked for them so far this year.
Francaise Des Jeux - Attack – More French teams, more attacking. However, Le Mevel is the main French hope, and coming off a tenth last year will again be looking to do well, and he and the team will do all they can to try and set him up.
Garmin – GC, Sprint – Getting Tyler Farrar into position will be a big goal for the Argyle Armada. On the GC side, if Vande Velde doesn't step up to the plate, look for the team to morph into an X-Factor like squad, trying to break the race open to get results.
Lampre – X-Factor, Sprint – The Italian squad brings Pettachi for the sprints, and he will be their main focus for the race. However, Damiano Cunego is likely to start, and although he has shown he lacks what is necessary to win the Tour, he will be very active and could win a stage.
Liquigas – GC – With a strong GC squad, look for the Italian team to try and get Kreuziger into position to get a good result. If that fails, look for them to also morph into a X-Factor team, looking to break the race open for their other riders.
Omega Pharma – GC – Just like Liquigas they have a young GC contender in van den Broeck, and just like like Liquigas if he falters the team will become a squad looking to break the race open for their secondary riders.
Quick Step – Sprint, Attack – The Belgian squad will enter into the race looking to set up Boonen for the sprints and for the Paris-Roubaix stage. Actually, Boonen will not participate, so the team doesn't really have any other options than to try and get into the attacks.
Rabobank – GC, Sprint – With Oscar Freire for the sprints, the team will be more than content to sit back and wait for the finish on the flats. In the GC, Denis Menchov will lead the team, but if he falters Robert Gesink will be right their to pick up the torch.
Radioshack – GC – Nothing other than the GC matters for Johan Bruyneel, and Lance will be his big dog for that. Also, the strong team backing Armstrong up has more than a few riders capable of doing a top ten themselves in the race.
HTC – Sprint, X-Factor – Cavendish will be the main goal for HTC, and controlling the sprint stages will be their top priority. Look for them also to try and make something happen in the mountains, as they have some fringe GC men such as Mick Rogers and Tony Martin.
Katusha – X-Factor – With McEwen lacking the speed from his younger days, the Russian squad, led by Joaquim Rodriguez, will be looking to break the race open for their stable of fringe GC riders.
Milram – Attack, Sprint – Setting Ciolek up will be the team's main goal, but without a strong team for the rest of the race, look for the Germans to try and attack a lot.
Saxo Bank – GC – Andy Schleck comes in backed up by a fantastic team, and Riis will make sure the team will be targeting the GC 100%. Also look for Cancellara on the Paris-Roubaix stage.
Team Sky - GC – Setting Wiggins up for a podium will be the main goal of Sky. In case the Brit cannot live up to expectations, look for Sky to try and break the race open for stage wins from a Flecha or Hagen.
Section IV – The Route
Now we look stage by stage at the route for the Tour, which is light on TT's and the Alps, but has probably the most packed Pyrenees sections the race has ever seen.
Prologue – 8.9 km TT – Predicted Winner: Fabian Cancellara http://www.letour.fr/PHOTOS/TDF/2010/0/PROFIL.gif
A 8.9 km prologue TT starts the race off in Rotterdam, in the Netherlands. With two blips on a mostly flat course, this stage is built for a big rider with a diesel engine, as such Cancellara will be the favorite.
Stage 1 – 223.5 km Flat – Predicted Winner: Mark Cavendish
With the first road stage we get a long ride from Rotterdam through Holland to Brussels in Belgium. The stage is mostly flat, with a small bump in front of the finish. Regardless, the sprint is flat, and with the sprinters wanting to get the race off to a bang Cavendish takes an expected victory.
Stage 2 – 201 km Hill – Predicted Winner: Damiano Cunego
We continue our romp through Benelux with an all Belgium stage that follows a very toned down Ardennes classics route, including the Col du Rosier as the final climb. With the major contenders not likely to make a big movement, look for Cunego try and grab something with a late attack before his form dips in the later weeks of the race.
Stage 3 – 213 km Flat Cobble – Predicted Winner: Fabian Cancellara
Cancellara could very well still be holding onto Yellow as the pack hits the dangerous Paris- Roubaix stage, which includes a few cobbled sections featured in the Hell of the North (although despite the finish location, the Arenberg Trench is not included). Cancellara will be the stage favorite, and look for him to do the Yellow Jersey justice. Also, don't expect any of the main favorites to lose any time here, they'll be too much on their guard.
Stage 4 – 153.5 km Flat – Predicted Winner: Tyler Farrar
The first of three flat stage before the Alps, expect HTC to keep any break close to try and set Cavendish up for his second win. However, I think he'll be out-dueled by Farrar here, with Hushovd lurking just behind, setting up a three way race for Green.
Stage 5 – 187.5 km Flat – Predicted Winner: Mark Cavendish
Look for Cavendish to rebound here and smash the competition in the sprint, after another well controlled day by his HTC teammates. By now Cav should be in Green, but with Farrar and Hushovd regularly taking top 5 spots, look for them to be lurking right behind.
Stage 6 – 227.5 km Flat – Predicted Winner: Manuel Cardoso
Our last flat stage before the mountains is the first for the breakaway, as the length of the stage, combined with HTC's fatigue and the looming Alps makes the pack hold off the chase. Expect a mainly French break, but with Footon getting in as well with Cardoso, who takes the stage. Also, with Saxo Bank not looking to hold onto Yellow into the mountains, expect a breakaway rider to take the jersey.
Stage 7 – 165.5 km Mountain – Predicted Winner: Juan Jose Cobo
Our first mountain stage (although a diminutive one), and first summit finish, appears here in the northern Alps. Look for a similar result to the Arcalis, with the main GC favorites feeling each other out. As such, look for an attack with about 40 km to go from a group of solid riders, with Cobo riding to the stage victory.
Stage 8 – 189 km Mountain – Predicted Winner: Christophe Le Mevel
The French get themselves their first victory with Le Mevel taking the stage win and the yellow on the first true mountain stage, with a Cat. 1 and a Cat. 3 mountain leading up to the Cat. 1 summit finish. Look for Le Mevel to go from distance, on the first Cat. 1 climb, with the main GC favorites following on the final climb. Also look for very little separation between those who are up the challenge. This stage will more be about separating those who actually can win from those who were just talked about.
Stage 9 – 204.5 km Mountain – Predicted Winner: Cadel Evans
After the first rest day the Alps continue with a five climb day ending with an ascent and descent over the HC Col de la Madeleine. A long descent to the finish means small time gaps, but expect Cadel to give it a go. If he can hold any hope of the Yellow he'll have to be aggressive, and as a strong descender expect him to launch an attack here. He'd likely take the jersey with the length and difficulty of the descent.
Stage 10 – 179 km Hill – Predicted Winner: Samuel Sanchez
Although a difficult stage, the lack of any high mountains makes it unlikely that the major GC threats will make a move. Look for Sammy Sanchez to pull away off the infamous Col du Noyer descent (see: Joseba Beloki, 2003).
Stage 11 – 184.5 km Flat – Predicted Winner: Nicholas Vogondy
Out of the Alps we go, but with a very difficult stage the following day, look for the peloton to take it easy, with out much of a chase. Therefore, look for a big breakaway with big French representation, and a rider like Vogondy from Bouygues, who was caught 100 meters from the finish line just two years ago on a similar stage, to take the win.
Stage 12 – 210.5 km Hill – Predicted Winner: LL Sanchez
A difficult hill stage greets the riders, ending in a short but steep Cat. 2 climb. Expect a lot of attacks from the puncheurs at the end, although unless one of the Schleck's give it a go it is unlikely most of the GC favorites will respond. As such, a rider like Sanchez is perfectly suited to taking the win with a small gap to the peloton.
Stage 13 – 196 km Flat – Predicted Winner: Robbie McEwen
A last hurrah for Robbie the Rocket, the Aussie takes his final Tour stage win here on what will be a closely controlled stage for the sprinters. Look for one of Cavendish, Hushovd, or Farrar to drop out of contention for the Green here, by showing some fatigue from the mountains in a weak final sprint.
Stage 14 – 184.5 km Mountain – Predicted Winner: Alberto Contador
Contador signals his intentions to win the race with a powerful ascent into the Yellow jersey. The first day in the Pyrenees ends with the HC Port de Pailhéres and then a summit finish up the Cat. 1 Ax 3 Domaines climb. Look for this to also be the day when everyone other than Andy Schleck takes a big hit, with those two separating themselves and making all the rest fight a battle for third.
Stage 15 – 187.5 km Mountain – Predicted Winner: Joaquim Rodriguez
With a mostly flat beginning to the day abruptly ending with an ascent and descent of the HC Port de Balés, look for a strong breakaway to hold to the end. A rider like Rodriguez, having lost sufficient time, could very well sneak into it, and would be the favorite to win the day. Look for a GC contender who has dropped back a bit to launch a salvo or two on the Balés, but don't expect much to come from it in way of separation, the rest of the stage is two easy for that.
Stage 16 – 199.5 km Mountain – Predicted Winner: Jens Voigt
The Queen stage of this Tour is this day, with ascents over the Cat. 1 Col de Peyresourde, the Cat. 1 Col d'Aspin, the HC Col du Tourmalet, and the HC Col d'Aubisque. The only thing is, a long descent to the finish will make it difficult for huge time gaps to occur. Today is a day for a rider to lose the race, not to win it. Contador and Schleck will mark each other closely, but look for Jens Voigt to pull of a classic Jens! attack to win the stage in his final tour. More notably, this is just the sort of day that the veterans hate, when their experience and guile waste away in the pure difficulty of the stage. As such, look for men such as Denis Menchov, Carlos Sastre, and most importantly Lance Armstrong to have a tough day here.
Stage 17 – 174 km Mountain – Predicted Winner: Alberto Contador
And then the riders turn right back around (after a rest day) and attack the Tourmalet again, after a cocktail of one Cat. 4 and two Cat. 1 climbs. This time the stage ends in a summit finish, and it'll be the day that Contador puts his seal on the race, pulling away from all challengers to win the stage and put too big a gap into the rest of the pack for anyone else to have a chance to pull it back. Also look for Andy Schleck to take second on the stage and secure the same for his final GC result.
Stage 18 – 198 km Flat – Predicted Winner: Mark Cavendish
A pan-flat day is up here, and with Hushovd likely to have been more proactive when it came to taking intermediate sprints in the mountains, and therefore more likely to have Green, look for HTC to control the race and deliver Cavendish beautifully for the win.
Stage 19 – 52 km TT – Predicted Winner: Bradley Wiggins
Wiggo rides himself into third place, the highest ever result for a Brit, here with the only TT of the 2010 Tour. Contador has himself an easy day, and secures himself the Yellow with a good margin heading into the Champs-Élysées.
Stage 20 – 102.5 km Flat – Predicted Winner: Mark Cavendish
Cavendish takes his second straight victory on the Champs-Élysées, as a multitude of attacks, likely composed mainly of the French, fail against the onslaught of the HTC train. The question then becomes has he done enough to win the Green jersey? Look at the Predictions section below to find out.
Section V - Predictions
I've taken you through how I think the race will play out stage-by-stage, but here our my final predictions for each jersey. First, the secondary jerseys.
1st – Mark Cavendish
2nd – Thor Hushovd
3rd – Tyler Farrar
1st – Christophe Le Mevel
2nd – Juan Jose Cobo
3rd – Alberto Contador
And now, the big one, the overall GC, the Yellow Jersey.
1st - Alberto Contador
2nd - Andy Schleck + 5:23
3rd - Bradley Wiggins + 7:23
4th - Cadel Evans + 7:45
5th - Roman Kreuziger + 8:15
6th - Christophe Le Mevel + 9:52
7th – Robert Gesink +10:11
8th – Lance Armstrong + 11:17
9th – Jurgen van den Broeck + 14:12
10th – Frank Schleck + 14:47
So as you can see I have Alberto Contador winning the Tour de France, with Mark Cavendish taking home the Green, Christophe Le Mevel bringing the French the KOM jersey, and Roman Kreuziger winning the White jersey.
So, hasta la vista, and here's hoping for a exciting (and scandal free) Tour de France.