The 98th Tour will start on Saturday with revenge
on one or two rider’s minds.
The greatest test of human sporting endeavor, the most spectated sporting event and one of the most controversial shows on earth
will start on Saturday the 2nd of July with the 180km stage in
Passage du Gois.
Despite riding in his final tour last year, Lance Armstrong
is a name that will always be linked to the race, mostly due to his status as
one of, if not the greatest tour cyclist (in this writers humble opinion, the
greatest ever was Eddy ‘The Cannibal’ Merckx, but Armstrong is up there). However Armstrong remains linked due to the
controversial doping stories that have dogged him and the tour almost since it
began and has threatened to bring it down on a number of occasions. Recent
allegations by Landis and Hamilton have again darkened the waters, but it is
interesting how those that are caught are so quick to point the finger only
after the event, they clearly felt what they did at the time was right and
Armstrong maintains a record of never failing a drug test on the tour.
The issue this time revolves around last year’s champion, and this year’s Giro winner, the favorite Alberto Contador. Found guilty of having the banned substance
clenbuterol in his blood stream whilst taking part in the 2010 race, he was
subsequently cleared by the RFEC (Spanish cycling federation) but the UCI
(International Cycling Union) and WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) have appealed
the decision. The CAS (Court of Abritration for Sport) hearing that was supposed to take place in June has now
been postponed to allow him to enter this year’s race. However it leaves a shadow
over the Spaniard as, if found guilty, he could be stripped of last year’s
title and banned. Should he win this year and be found guilty then it is likely
he would lose this year’s title as well.
Cycling has always been controversial and that is
part of the appeal, it provides without doubt one of the greatest physical tests of any
sport, even the measures the riders have to go to with their doping is
extreme. We will not linger on controversy and instead look at this year’s
race and who might show value in the betting odds to take the GC and on whose shoulders the
other jerseys might rest.
This year’s race
Saturday’s first stage is not a time trial, as is so often
the case, and so the main contenders for the yellow jersey will need to be near
the front or risk playing catch-up from the get-go. This arrangement will give
us a clearer picture of how things stand earlier than usual.
As with all tours, it is the mountains that will play host to the decisive battles and after last year’s unusually brutal assault on the Pyrenees the
riders can look forward to getting more closely acquainted with the Alps in 2011 (of course they will, as always, tackle both ranges).
The tour starts on the Atlantic coast before heading up
through Brittany, Normandy and then south through Auvergne and on to the Pyrenees.
The first of three days in the mountains begins in Cugnaux. The next day the
riders will face the HC classified Col d’Aubisque before heading out of the
Pyrenees via the Plateau de Beille.
Stage 17 is where the riders will face their first day in
the high Alps, a 179km ride from Gap to Pinerolo. The very next day the riders
face three HC climbs in a 200.5 km stage that will surely separate the wheat
from the chaff and it could be here we see the GC decided. The stage ends on
the Galibier which is celebrating its centenary, first appearing in the tour in
Stage 19 and we are still in the Alps with a short but by no
means less demanding stage. The riders will again climb the Galibier before
descending the other side and finishing the stage in the ski resort of
Alpe-d-huez. The cut off time may see some eliminations and contenders for the
green jersey, like Mark Cavendish, will most likely face their most painful day.
There follows the races’ only individual time trial through
the street of Grenoble before the final
stage and the chance for the sprinters to shine on the cobbles of the Champs-Elysees.
So who will be wearing that Maillot Jaune on July
24th? Well the most controversial figure and the pre-race favorite,
Alberto Contador, is the man to beat.
It has been a strong year for Contador and his new team, Saxo Bank-Sungard. He was winner of the overall classification in the Vuelta a
Murcia, Volta a Catalunya and the Giro d’Italia.
However, this is the first year that Contador has ridden in both the
Giro and the Tour and it was a hard race in Italy meaning he may be tired coming into the Tour. Saxo-Bank owner and
manager, Bjarne Riis, was bullish in the recent pre-tour press conference and
insists that Contador is in good form entering France.
The books certainly think that he is in prime condition;
Contador sits at 4/6 with William Hill.
Contador's nearest rival is the man who was second last year by a mere 39 seconds, Andy Schleck. Coincidentally, or not depending
on your view, that is the exact same time margin that Contador took from Schleck
when his chain jammed whilst in possession of the yellow jersey on stage 15 in
Having moved from team Saxo-Bank with his brother Frank to
team Leopard Trek he has had a quiet year, placing first in the mountains
classification in the Tour de Suisse and 8th in the tour of
A phenomenal mountain rider and with a strong team around him that
contains Cancellara, O’Grady and of course his brother Frank, Andy’s real
weakness is the time trial. However this year we see less of these in the tour route and with the
motivation of last year’s loss still strong and fresh legs after a
conservative racing schedule this year, Andy is the one who can take down
Contador. You can find him at +200.
Outside these two the field becomes a little more barren.
Not to say there are not great riders, there are, but Andy and Alberto will be
the ones contending the GC.
Look out for Evans, Basso and Tony Martins to provide some
competition for the Yellow and ‘Vino’ to be dangerous in the hills.
Where else to look?
For the point’s classification and the green jersey the Manx
Missile, Mark Cavendish, is the play. Coming off three stage wins in the Giro
he has the experience, the strength, the lead out man in Renshaw and the team
to take the Green in 2011. Cavendish is at 7/5.
Speaking of teams, RadioShack is my pick. Popovych, McEwan,
Horner, Kloden, Leipheimer reads well and whilst they lack a contender for the
GC they will be strong together.
Fabian Cancellera will take the Grenoble stage, no one is stronger than the three time World Time Trial Champion in the individual specialty event.
The Polka dot jersey is likely to go to the winner of the
tour with Contador and Schleck at 5/2 and 5/1, respectively. Vino
at 33/1 is interesting, back in the saddle and looking for glory and I am sure he will go for a guts and glory stage win.
Cycling needs a fresh face, my head tells me Contador takes
the win and the doping arguments continue, but I am betting with my heart this
time and my pick is for Andy Schleck to be wearing Yellow in Paris.