Thursday, June 30, 2011

Le Tour de France 2011...

With not but a couple days to spare, and without further ado, here are ten things I am looking forward to at this years' edition of Le Grande Boucle (in no particular order): 

1. Philipe Gilbert. After his amazing run through the spring races, I am expecting a good showing through the opening couple weeks, at least. In April I declared him King of Spring, lets see if he can extend his rule into summer as well.

2. Levi Leipheimer. Rode well enough during the Tour de Suisse to keep himself in contention, and the proved his mettle with a dominating time trial ride to claim the overall victory. I have always considered a Tour de France victory to be just beyond fingertip reach for Levi, but I will not be complaining if he proves me wrong. Either way he should make a good showing.

3. Cadel Evens. Never my favorite racer, I have gradually gained respect for him over the past couple years. His dogged determination and never-say-die attitude have had much to do with that change of opinion. Like Leipheimer, I don't think he can win it all, but he puts on a great show in the attempt.

4. Alberto Contador. Regardless of how he and the media downplay his fitness level leading up to the start, he is still my pick for overall victory. I know, there is this heavy air of suspicion hanging over him and his entry in the Tour because of last year, but the way he dominated in Italy a few weeks ago puts him in the drivers seat. Hmm, now why did I use that term 'drivers seat', when leaders saddle would seem more appropriate.

5. John Gadret, Jean-Christophe Peraud, Sylvain Chavanel, David Moncoutie, take your pick. Every year I confess harboring secret hopes for a French resurgence. Their national tour, after all, and it has been a long, long time in coming. Some strong performances earlier in the year, and the return of Moncoutie renew my hopes for this year. Unfortunately, one of the strongest French riders at the Giro this year, Christophe LeMevel of Garmin/Cervelo, will be absent from the start line and the mountain passes.

6. The Irish Contigent. Or, what could have been. Unfortunately the Irish presence now seems to be limited to a single rider. Of course, that single rider, Nicolas Roche is one of the most promising of the current crop of overall contenders. Roche is still working himself back into form following a crash at the Dauphine, but a top ten this year is not out of reach. As for the rest of the Contigent: Dan Martin, left of the Garmin-Cervelo roster, and Matt Brammeier, left off the HTC roster. Both riders, are still young, and we could see them, particularly Martin, at the TdF in the future, but that does little to relieve the disappointment this year.

Roche in the Irish National Road Race Championship

7. Mountains. Always the scene of my favorite stages. The Hourquette d'Ancizan, Col de Tourmalet, and Luz-Ardiden on stage 12, the Aubisque on stage 13, the Plateau de Beille on stage 14, Sestrieres on stage 17, the Agrel, d'Izoard, and Col du Galibier (100th anniversary of its first appearance in the race) on stage 18, the Galibier (again) and L'Alpe d'Huez on stage 19, will give rise (pun intended) to some of the most exciting racing of the year. An interesting note on the Plateau de Beille - this is its fifth time to torture the riders during the Tour; the winner of the Plateau stage in each of the previous editions went on to win the Tour - Marco Pantani (1998), Lance Armstrong (2002, 2004), and Alberto Contador (2007).

8. Head-to-head, Leopard-Trek vs. Saxo Bank-Sungard. Biggest race of the year for both. You already know I believe Contador to be numero uno, but I also believe Leopard-Trek has the stronger team. So much racing, so many variables, anything can happen.


9. The old guys. As much as the Tour is about the here and now, it would not be what it is without the connection to the past. The vast history, legendary racers, monumental stages and settings, all get trotted out this time of year. I never fail to learn something new about the old days, and always look forward to the opportunity.

check out this short vid. quality is not great, but that is because it is old. and the clips set to Queen's Bicycle Race performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, brilliant.

Coppi and Bartali on the Galibier

10. Finally, just for the hell of it - 100th anniversary of the Galibier - make them race up it like they did one hundred years ago. No one would agree to do it, so we will never see it during the Tour but, just imagine.

11. Bonus. Rabobank. Team leader Robert Gesink is continually pegged as a Grand Tour contender. He can climb, he can time trial, and the Rabobank leadership has built a very strong team around him. The blue and orange, are strong enough in their own right that they don't need to hope someone else slips-up, but if that happens, look for my dark horse selection to go all out for the yellow jersey.

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