The race starts this Sunday with a prologue but we’ll need to wait for the high mountains the following weekend to decide the winnner.
Bradley Wiggins is a favourite but he’ll face Tony Martin in the time trials and Cadel Evans and others in the mountains. Here’s a look at the overall contenders for the race plus some thoughts on the likely stage winners along the way.
Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) is the defending champion and a favourite to win. In a recent blog with The Guardian he’s stated he’s aiming to win again but now comes with more confidence. Last year he defended the lead nervously, since then he’s appeared in control in Paris-Nice and the Tour of Romandie. Given the time trialling this course should suit him plus we’ll see how is he climbing, both on the steep climbs like the Col du Grand Colombier and later, the Joux Plane. He also comes with a big team, you look at Chris Froome, Richie Porte and Michael Rogers and on their day they could win the race too.
Cadel Evans must like Grenoble as won the Tour de France in the Alpine city last year. The penultimate stage was a time trial and he finished second on the stage and overhauled Andy Schleck to claim the yellow jersey. He’s been quiet and missing racing so short of access to his training data, there’s not much to go on. He should find the terrain to his liking. If you’re a fan don’t worry if he’s off the pace. A top-10 finish is suitable as he can build for July but watch for weakness, whether on the road or his nervousness in front of the media. We’ll also see how his team works, will Philippe Gilbert be on team duty?
Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM) surprised in Paris-Nice, the only rider able to challenge Wiggins. He’s just finished second in the Tour of Belgium thanks to the time trial stage where only Tony Martin beat him. We’ll see how he can climb, especially in the high mountains.
Andy Schleck is racing again and we’ll see how he interacts with Radioshack-Nissan management. With all the time trialling he should lose time and there aren’t enough mountains to recover time. But all the more reason to see how he copes with this, both in terms of absolute performance and the more subtle things like will he attack on the Grand Colombier and will he aim for stage wins?
Tony Martin (Omega Pharma – Quick Step) should take a lot of time in the time trials, he’ll be the reference against which the others will judge themselves. But he should lose time in the mountains. In years past he’s tried to lose weight for the mountains but the Olympics seem to mean he’s focussed on big power for the flat. He’s in form and crushed everyone in the Tour of Belgium.
An outsider for the Tour de France Jurgen Van Den Broeck won a stage last year. He can climb and time trial but seems to grind his way around France as a perpetual outsider; he’ll be joined by Jelle Vanendert, we’ll see how he’s climbing. Katusha come with Dennis Menchov, still a podium contender if he comes prepared but he’s another lacking racing as he hasn’t raced since he quit the Tour de Romandie. Vincenzo Nibali of Liquigas-Cannondale will test himself ahead of the Tour de France and might fancy a stage in the mountains and it’ll be interesting to see how he compares to the others in the time trials and high mountains.
French hopes might rest with Jérôme Coppel of Saur-Sojasun. The team are proving the best squad in France this year and Coppel just finished second to Rogers in the Tour of Bavaria. He can time trial and climb and the race passes a training ride’s distance from his home. But another rider to watch is Thomas Voeckler who is now in stage racing mode after racing the classics. Fourth in the Tour de France we’ll see how he copes with the high mountains again and whether he has to ride like an overall contender, unable to breakaway. If so he’ll lose time in the time trials. Europcar team mates Pierre Rolland and Christophe Kern are worth watching too. FDJ have Arnold Jeannesson, a revelation last summer but in need of racing after an injury this year.
Amongst the others, Luis-Léon Sanchez of Rabobank might be in the top-10 and could be a candidate for a stage win. Watch team mate Wilco Keldermann too as he’s a young talent delivering solid results. Astana come with former winner Janez Brajkovic who could surprise again. Greenedge have Luke Durbridge for the prologue and Peter Weening and Daniel Teklehaimanot for the mountains. Movistar have Juan José Cobo, the Vuelta winner has been invisible and he could emerge in the mountains. Garmin-Barracuda come with Andrew Talansky and David Zabriskie with the former climbing well but things didn’t work out in the big goal of the Tour of California, but he did run Wiggins close in the Tour de Romandie, plus there’s Michael Kreder who is proving versatile in hilly sprints. Samuel Sanchez is back racing and carrying his Euskaltel-Euskadi team. A top-10 place is expected, especially if he takes time in the mountains. There are not many sprinters in the race, perhaps because there aren’t many sprint finishes, there’s J-J Haedo of Saxo Bank. Edvald Boasson Hagen is an all-rounder to watch and the same for Tony Gallopin of Radioshack and Julien Simon of Saur-Sojasun, plus John Degenkolb won a stage with an uphill finish last year in Lyon.
Views are mixed on the outcome. If you win you gain a big confidence boost and its a sign everything is going well. But push too far into the red or simply hit peak form today and the Tour de France is still weeks away, especially the crucial latter stages where a rider could begin to feel the fatigue. Wiggins and his sports science team said there was no problem with last year’s win which suggests he’s happy to battle for the win.
Likely scenario: Tony Martin wins the prologue and if he surrenders the overall lead to a breakaway because few sprint teams chase, he might be back in the lead after the time trial. Then he will find the high mountains too much and Bradley Wiggins is able to claim the lead with strong riding from him and his team. But the race will offer a lot more and plenty can happen.
This is an excerpt from the full Dauphiné preview page.