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Tour de France – Prologue Liege

July 1, 2012

The prologue is a teaser for the race. Very short at only 6.4km so the time gaps are never all that great. You can see some indications of form and often there are one or two riders who lose far more time than they should. The climber are usually very vunerable. Another guide is if any big favourite wins the stage. Cancellara won and looks back on top form. Wiggins came second with a great performance, gained a few important seconds over Evans.

I love watching the tour. I have been a keen follower since Robert Millar came 4th in 1984. For many years I only saw a glimpse of what the tour was about through the half hour highlights programme that was we got to see in Scotland in those days. Then the internet came along and I was able to follow more of the day’s stage, even if it was just through short clips of news. An early form of tweets. Now through the excellent coverage we have here I am able to watch several hours of the stage each day and see so much of what goes on.

Cycling is an amazing sport. So complex. There is always so much going on. The teams, the tactics, the battle of man and machine. The tour is the biggest stage of them all. 21 stages across 3497km. There is no stopping or waiting in this race. If you are hurt, ill or crash then you have to pick yourself up and carry on. The sight of riders with blood and broken bones carrying on is incredible. No pandering to diving footballers here. This is a sport for hard men.

So back to this year’s race. First we need to define what it means to win. Most regard the yellow jersey competition (general classification in cycling jargon) as the most important. To win can also mean to win a stage, the points competition, the climbers competition, young rider, team, and the competitive rider. Even the lantern rouge (last place on gc) is considered a competition in a way. I rank the gc, points and stage wins as the most important.

Who to watch this year? Wiggins and Evans are regarded the top two. They are certainly favourites. Both are very good in the individual time trial and are strong in the mountains. Very strong all rounders. Evans is defending champion. Wiggins has the stronger team and has had better form this year so far. Wiggins is the scientist, Evans the battler. I think Wiggins has the edge this year.

But who else? I have a long list of 20 including the above 2. However, at least half of these will not do well for various reasons. The lack of mountain finishes and longer time trialling distance do not favour Frank Schleck, Cobo, Scarponi, Albasini, Rolland and Gerrans. Basso, Leipheimer and Kloeden are past their best. Voeckler will be watched this year and not allowed to gain 3 minutes like he did last year. Gesink and Valverde to do not have enough staying power over a grand tour. Hesjedal will be too tired after the Grio. Who does that leave? Sanchez, Nibali, Van den Broeck, Menchov, and Brajkovic. I think vdb for the 3rd podium place.

However, we may well lose half of these 20 riders before the finish. We lost a heap of top riders last year in just 2 days. The likes of Wiggins gone in one bad crash. A crash can rob a rider of form even if time is not lost. I’ll keep an eye on all 20.

My riders to watch:

2 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling + 7 seconds
8 Denis Menchov (Rus) Katusha Team 13
13 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 17
14 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 18
15 Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin – Sharp 18
19 Andreas Klöden (Ger) RadioShack-Nissan 19
21 Michael Albasini (Swi) Orica GreenEdge Cycling Team 20
32 Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Astana Pro Team 22
65 Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 26
77 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Lotto Belisol Team 28
80 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Omega Pharma-QuickStep 28
84 Simon Gerrans (Aus) Orica GreenEdge Cycling Team 29
90 Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 29
109 Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Team Europcar 33
116 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team 35
129 Michele Scarponi (Ita) Lampre – ISD 37
136 Frank Schleck (Lux) RadioShack-Nissan 38
145 Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel – Euskadi 40
161 Juan Jose Cobo Acebo (Spa) Movistar Team 44
166 Pierre Rolland (Fra) Team Europcar 45
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