Un peu trop tôt, mon vieux? Bah non.
As the now-deposed Tour champ Cadel Evans (BMC) said yesterday, his 2013 tour preparations begin right now. So Twisted Spoke is first out of the gate, 11 months and one week ahead of the 100th edition of Le Grand Shindig in Corsica.
The Early, Early Show already has a good solid list of contenders queuing up. What we are seeing is a split in the peloton which only the major big budget teams (Think Sky) truly having the budget, resources, training and logistics to win Le Tour. It takes a team and these days, half the contenders don’t have the squad it requires.
Bradley Wiggins & Chris Froome
First, let’s examine the Brit duo, the one-two of Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome. Who will be the boss next year? As the old cliche goes, the road will decide but right now the edge goes to Wiggins as defending champ. Sure, Froome is the better climber but can he deal with the pressure cooker of the tour when he’s the front guy? Jury out on that one.
In a more mountainous tour, the edge goes to the better climber but Froome had a free ride this year with zero pressure while Wiggins proved he has the full package, mentally and physically. Could Wiggins adjust his training with the now famous swimming coach Tim Kerrigan to get himself up for a more hors categorie tour? The Sky Mantra was “we trained for that” and there’s no reason to think a super confident Wiggins couldn’t dial back the chrono work and focus more on climbing. Captain for now: Wiggins — but there’s no question that, as the Brits like to say, Froome is in with a shout.
As this tour proved once again, team strength is critical in winning a brutal three week sufferfest like Le Tour. Sky pounded rivals into submission with a 450 watt pace on the climbs with Rogers, Porte and Froome simply destroying the will of all rivals. They knew than any rider who attacked would have to generate 500 watts for 10 to 20 minutes to gain time. In the absence of Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador and Samuel Sanchez, nobody did.
Which brings us back to Nibali who had a terrific tour given his weak team. Essentially the Shark only had the occasional help of the aging diesel Ivan Basso. Compared to Sky it was a sad attempt at reinforcement. So the answer to two questions will largely determine Nibali’s chances for next year. If he does go to Astana, who do they have to support him? Is Janez Brajkovic, 9th on GC this year, willing to sacrifice himself and play Chris Froome for Nibali? Hard to say but right now, it doesn’t look that good on guesswork paper.
The there’s the issue of prep work. Wiggins took his preparations to a new and higher and more committed level with Kerrigan. Does Nibali really have that kind of support in terms of coaching, sports science and marginal gains of every kind? We get the sense that in typical Italian style, the answer is no. If Nibali takes anything away from this tour it’s that he needs to raise his game and that of his team. Third was great but if he rolls to the start line in Corsica with the same program as last year, he’ll be lucky to get third. Nibali needs to get himself a swimming coach quickly.
Ryder Hesjedal never got a chance to prove every cycling journalist wrong about the improbability of a Giro Tour double. Look for the skinny Canadian to be a serious challenger to Wiggins next year — they’re actually close in build and weight. He’ll skip the Giro and focus on a tour victory bid and we rate his chances very highly.
The situation for Garmin-Sharp will be support. Christian Vande Velde was invaluable in the Giro d’Italia but his ride in Le Tour showed the legs are fading. Tom Danielson is not enough to carry that load anymore than Tejay Van Garderen was enough to counter Sky. Jonathan Vaughters is a superb tactician and talent evaluator so we’ll see who he pulls out of the bag in the off-season. The bonus is that next year’s race will feature a team time trial and given Garmin’s expertise in the discipline, that should give Hesjedal a boost.
Jurgen Van Den Broeck.
The usual bad luck and crashes held up the young Belgian in the first week this year but after that he showed signs of confidence and aggression. Always in the front group, occasionally try to escape the land of Sky. Like Nibali, he looked for his spots but sadly there were few opportunities to cause damage. It’s that 500 watt thing.
Knock back the number of time trial kilometers and perhaps the young gun makes the podium but 10 minutes behind Wiggins isn’t a vote of confidence. It’s going to take some kind of re-education in his training to take him to the next level. Half his problem is Andre Greipel and his three stage wins. Van Den Broeck needs all eight guys willing to die for him. That seems unlikely.
Tejay Van Garderen
The apprentice is far ahead of schedule. The official BMC line is that Evans will be the boss next tour and then the torch gets passed. That sounds really nice but the reality is the future is now. Evans will be 36 in February and that’s starting to look like George Hincapie territory. With Contador and Andy Schleck back in action and bent on revenge, the odds of Evans winning a second tour are lousy. Better to go younger and faster and ready to challenge with Tejay. The team time trial will also favor the BMC squad with both Tejay and Evans driving the squad. We’re willing to bet house and both children that Van Garderen will win the tour in the next five years. Go, go, go. Kangaroo dead.
We stop for a moment to bring to a petit interlude. Pierre Rolland, not ready, Thibaut Pinot not ready. Talented French guys. Everybody in France is excited to perhaps have a GC threat but not yet, pas encore, pas possible. A top five perhaps for Rolland but c’est tout. Nobody is going to let him jump off the front next year and he didn’t make any friends with his bozo move of attacking when there were tacks on the road.
Who isn’t excited about seeing the steak con clenbuterol champion back in action in the big French Shindig? He’s going to be motivated, angry, bitter and ready to dominate again. Nobody except Alberto has this kind of motivation to prove to the cycling world that he’s still the best. Right now team manager Riis is counting his new-found Tinkoff money and seeing what support climbers he can add for next year. Contador will need a strong squad to deal with the Sky monster. The Spaniard will be literally frothing at the mouth in late June thinking about Le Tour. They stripped him of a title and he wants one back with style. Guns blazing on this guy.
Looking a year ahead is a difficult task for Andy Schleck and everything points to this being a strange and perhaps watershed year. The 2012 season — which might be over now for Schleck — was an unmitigated disaster. One a personal and team level, physically and mentally, the nice lad from Luxembourger suffered more than he ever has. Right now the unknowns as far as his rehab, the future team situation and the stress and demoralization of his brother Frank’s impending suspension loom large.
How Andy handles the coming year will probably define his career. It’s up or down now with no brother to help shoulder the responsibility. The possibility of a new team formation is just more chaos for a guy that’s already been through the Saxo exit debacle and the shotgun merger of Leopard and RadioShack. This doesn’t bode well and these transitions just drain energy. Right now, Andy hates the sport of cycling for what its about to do to his brother. So where will he find the motivation to rededicate himself to reaching the top again? We all know Contador channels his anger into additional wattage on the bike. Can Andy do the same of is he doomed to another second place or worse?
Nobody missed the top gun for the Men of Orange more than Twisted Spoke when the little climber crashed out of the race. But as Ed Pickering at Cycle Sport magazine pointed out, Sammy was in the wrong place and should have known better. Pickering noted that Evans and Wiggins always ride at the front and were never caught up in crashes. They were riding like guys who planned to win the tour while Sanchez was mid pack or worse, getting caught in trouble. The 2011 King of the Mountains champ can climb but once again he’ll be penalized in a painful way in the team time trial. Euskatel no like team time trial. Which is a Basque bummer for his overall chances.
Movistar number one, scofflaw Alejandro “Nothing Wrong” Valverde, finished this tour in 20th place over 42 minutes behind the winner. Where does a man pick up 42 minutes? No even Dr. Michele Ferrari can juice you up that much. The Green Bullet seems to have slowed down since his two year suspension. We don’t see him getting any faster. Rui Costa it’s your turn to step it up.
One of the surprise burning questions of this year’s Tour de France is what happened to Robert Gesink? Many tapped him for a breakout performance but the legs were never there. Not even close. He came flying out of the Tour of California, winning the overall and taking the queen stage on Mount Baldy. He looked strong and ready and skinny. His tour was a physiological mystery and we’re beginning to put him in the “hard luck” category of guys who simply never rise to the occasion in France. We’d like to put him in the mix for next tour, but after his no-show this year, he’s dead to us.
The spunky little Rodriguez finished second to Hesjedal in the Giro d’Italia and battled him all the way, even putting in a decent final time trial in Milan. Time for Katusha to bring him to France and have old man Menchov provide the experience and another set of fast legs for the team time trial. This season J-Rod has shown a new level of fitness and maturity. We say turn him loose in Le Grand Shindig and see what happens. It will be more exciting than watching Menchov plod his way around France.