Sunday, July 01, 2012

Le Tour 2012: how to lose at the start - or hey, it's only the prologue!

Perhaps this Tour was lost weeks ago, maybe even years ago. As I have your attention now (both of us, me and you) let me explain. Kinda.

This is the hypothesis: what goes around comes around. Simple. When things look extraterrestrial, maybe they are. It's not news to say that there are clouds hanging over some past performances at Le Tour (amongst other races) and - perhaps - it's all coming to a head. Or a beheading. There are riders and managers past and present hoping it all comes to nought. They may have nothing to fear but they still fear it in their bones. Or blood. It still has an effect. It rattles a few things, and focus is lost. And riders make mistakes, or lose form. And then there are aftershocks, pay disputes and general unhappiness. You know what I mean. Morale is damaged.

And there's more to the hypothesis, too: you are where you came from. Wiggins for example is a pursuit guy, a trackie used to smooth, fast velodromes. Yes, as are many other great road cyclists. But some of that basic training hangs around and whilst he's made a huge improvement on the road he still has to match the great descenders and tactical guys. Can he gain enough in the mountains and TTs to give up some time elsewhere?   

So what do I (club-level crit racer that I am) reckon the GC will look like in Paris? Well Wiggo, Evans and Menchov look good but you can't write Nibali out, either. Hesjedal? He'll give it a shot but his best tactic will be to look exhausted (from his Giro win), hang tough, stay close and pull out a surprise or 2 late in the race. But they all know to expect that. Wiggo, as I said, will take time in the mountains and TTs but may lose a bit to opportunists and descenders. Evans will just do what Evans does, hang in there, cling to Wiggo et al and just stay close enough to strike if he can. An opportunistic attack on a wet downhill may be his best tactic. However unless Wiggo cracks his strong TT will not be enough. He's not facing the Schlecks this time, is he? (Well not judging by Frank's performance so far - unless he has a miracle mountain ride up his sleeve.)

Of course it's a long race, of course anything can happen. To survive week one is hard enough, but then to attack or to match the attackers, that is the question. It may come down to who keeps the most energy and best form all the way through 4 weeks. It may depend on crashes, viruses, or one or 2 smart attacks on just the right days. Or it may play out exactly as expected. But I doubt it.  

So on with the show, this is it (summarised and commented, of course):

Tour De France 2012: Prologue Results |
1 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) RadioShack-Nissan 0:07:13  Expected but a pleasant surprise to see confirmation - he's back. Fabian will hang onto the yellow until it makes no more sense for him or the team. He's done good, but where are the 'Shack's GC guys?
2 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:00:07
Expected. On form, done good. Used to be a TT specialist, despite obvious improvements elsewhere it remains to be seen how he copes with mountain descents in the wet, or the pressure of favoritism. Still, deserves to be the GC fave.
3 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Omega Pharma-QuickStep Great ride, Chavanel will steal a stage or 2, surely?
4 Tejay van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team 0:00:10 Again, rode out of his skin. A boost to BMC and a hopeful sign of strong support for GC man Evans.
5 Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky Procycling 0:00:11 Expected. Wiggins has support, too.
6 Brett Lancaster (Aus) Orica GreenEdge Cycling Team
7 Patrick Gretsch (Ger) Argos - Shimano 0:00:12 Perhaps unexpected? Obviously a good result.
8 Denis Menchov (Rus) Katusha Team 0:00:13 Expected. A welcome return to form, deserves a break this year. Must be counted for the GC podium in Paris.
9 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) BMC Racing Team Coming on strong at exactly the right time. Watch this space. Again a comfort to Evans to have another powerhouse on his side.
10 Andriy Grivko (Ukr) Astana Pro Team 0:00:15
11 Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:00:16 Expected. Another Wiggo support man.
12 Peter Velits (Svk) Omega Pharma-QuickStep 0:00:17 Expected.
13 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team Expected. He's not a TT specialist, although he does great TTs, especially long ones. He's managed his loss to just a few seconds, so he's in the game.
14 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:00:18 Like Evans he's done his job. Expected. Wiggo-Evans-Menchov for the podium, Nibali a close 4th? Maybe. It's a cliche but it's true - anything can happen from here. Expect an exciting week 3 if these 4 are still on the same page.
15 Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin - Sharp Expected. OK, make that 5. It's a tough call to expect Hesjedal to back up after his epic Giro, so I'll say "not this time".
16 David Millar (GBr) Garmin - Sharp Expected.
17 Stephen Cummings (GBr) BMC Racing Team Great ride. More support for Cadel.
18 Jens Voigt (Ger) RadioShack-Nissan 0:00:19
Expected. Always there, isn't he? But he's not the 'Shack leader, is he? Maybe it's the next guy?
19 Andreas Klöden (Ger) RadioShack-Nissan Expected. Definitely in the game and if he's called upon to race like a leader and gets the support he's got the class to surprise... but then again, it's a big ask at the wrong end of a famous career, so maybe not.
20 Nick Nuyens (Bel) Team Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank 0:00:20 Expected.
21 Michael Albasini (Swi) Orica GreenEdge Cycling Team Expected.
22 George Hincapie (USA) BMC Racing Team Expected and good to see Cadel's support around him after this short test. But it's the long game that matters.
skip a few
30 Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin - Sharp
Expected, but perhaps he should have been a few places higher. We shall see how he sprints.
skip some more
36 Richie Porte (Aus) Sky Procycling
Expected, but again he's not as far up as we might have hoped. Will have saved something for Wiggo's support in the mountains, I suspect.
skip again
41 Mark Cavendish (GBr) Sky Procycling
Expected. But a good ride nonetheless. Makes it look a good contest between Cav and Farrar in the sprints, methinks.
43 André Greipel (Ger) Lotto Belisol Team Expected. Make that a 3-way race for Green. 
45 Tony Martin (Ger) Omega Pharma-QuickStep A good ride but he should have won - a bike change drama slowed him down. Revenge will be sweet, later.
53 Peter Sagan (Svk) Liquigas-Cannondale Oh dear, a bit less than expected. Missed a corner, pulled his foot? Whatever, he'll be back. Make it a 4-way race for Green.
61 Michael Rogers (Aus) Sky Procycling
Expected. He's not a short TT guy and like Porte he'll be supporting Wiggo later.
69 David Zabriskie (USA) Garmin - Sharp Not that far off but slower than expected.
80 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Omega Pharma-QuickStep First GC guy to miss a trick, perhaps, but he's really here to support VDB... but where's VDB? Still, it's a lot of time to lose in the prologue. 
87 Matthew Harley Goss (Aus) Orica GreenEdge Cycling Team No GC ambitions but can Gossy match it with the 4 sprinters above him? We shall see.
90 Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale Ouch. It's OK, he's a support guy for Nibali this year. Calm down. 
Skipping a few more
113 Christopher Horner (USA) RadioShack-Nissan Obviously saving himself.
And the rest. They all have their jobs to do.

Oh, what about Frank? Theory A. is that he's fried after a strong run a month or so back. Theory B is that he's going to pull a surprise. Theory C is that he'll support Andreas instead. They are professionals, they'll get over the dramas. Or not. 

Frank Schleck (Lux) RadioShack-Nissan. No chance from this far back, really, unless he is hiding stellar climbing form and cracks the lot of 'em in the mountains. It'll be fun to see him try, anyway. Or will he simply support Andreas?  

On to Stage 1, I guess.