It’s that time of year again. Time to break out your Yellow, Green or Polka-Dot jersey, slice up some cheese on a baguette, enjoy your favorite glass of wine and watch the best thing France has to offer. No, not thin mustaches and expensive water; it’s time for the Tour de France 2012! Said to be the most grueling bike race in the world, the Tour de France has tested the strongest riders since 1903, (with a few years missed due to a couple world wars, this will be the 99th installment of the Tour.) The race has come a long way, from 12 riders being disqualified in 1904 for “illegal use of cars and trains,” to the more recent controversy of doping in the 90′s into 2000′s.
So as we gear up to this years summer classic, let’s take a look at the story-lines and contenders. First we look at who can win.
Cadel Evans stayed steady, strong and patient last year to finally make his move in the final two stages last year and win yellow. He did this without very strong support from his team who were pushed and tested beyond capacity. This year the American based BMC Racing Team amped up it’s roster by adding the likes of Marco Pinotti and Phillipe Gilbert, along American stars George Hincapie and Tejay Van Garderen. With this star-studded supporting cast, Cadel is among the top favorites to win it all again this year.
The guy that keeps coming so close is going to have to wait another year to win his first Tour de France. Andy Schleck has finished second the past two years in a row, narrowly and dramatically being edged out each time. This year he was ready to climb that final step under the Champs Elysee and claim his crown. All that changed in a few seconds when he recently wrecked at the Critérium du Dauphiné. The crash didn’t seem too serious at the time but later tests results showed a fractured pelvis, forcefully removing him from this years Tour. It’s a shame to see such a set-back for an great competitor and talent such as Schleck. But, just like the Cubs, there’s always next year.
The Other Schleck
The all too forgot brother of Andy is Frank Schleck. It should have been no surprise that Frank finished third in last years Tour as he’s been a strong rider for quite some time now. Living in the shadow of his brothers success and riding on the same team, however, does make it easy to forget his talent. With Andy out of the race this year, Team RadioShack-Nissan will be looking to Frank to lead the way and bring home the yellow.
British rider Bradley Wiggins is red hot right now, being the first rider ever to win the Paris-Nice, Tour of Romandie and The Criterium du Dauphine (same race Schleck went down) in the same season. Riding for the always-strong British cycling Team Sky, Wiggins is out to top off his amazing season by becoming the first British cyclist to win the Tour de France. As of now, he is the odds on favorite ahead of Cadel, and he is definitely deserving of that distinction. The question is, will he have the legs on the final summits in the Alps? If so, and if he has a few teammates around to pace him to the top, he could very well be standing atop the cycling world in 3 weeks time.
When you think world-class cycling, the country to the north may not be in your top 10 for talent pools. That all may change with Canada’s new made man. Ryder Hesjedal just recently won the only race that could give the Tour de France a run for it’s money. The Giro d’Italia has a reputation of being harder than the Tour without all the attention. After watching this year’s Giro I can see where they may get that impression, and believe it deserves more attention. A mountain bike rider by trade, Ryder came on strong in this year’s Giro and never let up. He surprised the field by never wavering and winning the prestigious event. Now loaded with a new-found confidence in the for of a Giro trophy, Ryder is focused on bringing the yellow jersey to America’s Team Garmin-Sharp-Barracuda.
Last but not least… I’m sure we would get a letter from Cav’s people if we didn’t give him the respect of a mention here. Mark Cavendish (The Manx Missile) is known the world around as the best and fastest sprinter in the world. He is just two stage wins shy of tying Lance Armstrong for fourth most all time. If you haven’t seen him before, or are new to the Tour, do yourself a favor and watch the end of a flat stage race. The way Team Sky leads Cavendish out is beauty in motion. And when he puts the hammer down, game over. This year, the world champion from The Isle of Man (coolest name of a country ever…) has stated he has his eyes set on winning gold in London. But when it gets down to that green jersey and the finish is in sight, I’d be surprised if he has the ability to lay off and let someone else win.
The great thing about cycling and the Grande Tour’s like the Tour de France is you must be great in multiple categories of cycling to win. To win the Tour de France, it takes a rider who can stay up with the peleton for the grueling 140 mile long flat stages, push it to the limit on the lightning fast 25 mile time trials, and endure the test of climbing the likes of the Pyrenees and the Alps. Here’s how we break this years race down.
This years French classic will start in Belgium. Many times the race will swoop in and out of the host country, many times at the start. This year the city of Liege, Belgium will host the prologue of the race. This is a short 6km race to determine who will be wearing the yellow jersey on the stage of the Tour. Look for sprinters like Mark Cavendish, Tyler Ferrar to fair well at the end or a great time-trial riders such as vegetarian cyclist David Zabriskie could pull away in such a short race.
The flat stages are usually bunched up in the beginning of a race and mixed in towards the end. This is where the green jersey is won and a lot of the excitement takes place at the Tour de France. It’s all about pacing and keeping an eye on other sprinters for over 120 miles until the final 25km. Then you really start to see the sprinters and their teams jockey for position. There are few things more exciting in sports than the build up of the final 500 meters of a flat bike race. Watching a perfect lead-out turn into a stage victory for a rider after pushing it for more than 6 hours is an incredible event.
This years race has 9 flat stages, starting in Liege on Sunday, July 1, has a mind and body bending 140 mile stage in Blagnac on Friday, July 20, and then wrapping up the Tour under the Champs Elysee on Sunday, July 22. The final stage in Paris is where you will see the champion toasting champagne while riding. Although the yellow jersey is won prior to this day, in essence, the green jersey (as well as winning the final stage in Paris) is up for grabs and very exciting.
The individual time trials are usually between 20 and 30 miles long. They’r'e flat, and they are incredibly fast. On these short courses with aerodynamic bikes and helmets, these riders will reach an average top speed of close to 40mph! Each cyclist begins on their own in evenly spaced increments and rides against the clock for the best time. There are two individual time trials in this year’s Tour de France.
The first will be at the midway point on stage 9 in Arc-et-Senans (fittingly translated to “City of Time”.) It will be a 25 mile flat stage through the city that will provide opportunity for the fastest riders to gain time on the leaders or pull away from the pack.
The second time trial will take place on the second to last stage of the race on Saturday, July 21 in Bonneval near Paris. After coming out of the mountains, the riders will use this as a last ditch effort to earn the top spot on the podium the following day. Every second counts in this stage and the heat will be on the top riders to win it all.
This is where the champions are made. There are very few riders in the world that have the strength and stamina to climb the peaks of the Alps and the Pyrenees. Many riders have attempted to break away and tackle these peaks only to be swept up by the elite just up the road. These mountain stages are the reason so many riders only focus on stage wins, time trials, or helping teammates to a certain point. When you see the snowy peaks of climbs like Col du Grand Colombier or Port de Bales you can rest assured you won’t see many riders at the front of the race. For those you do see riding through the swarms of fans cheering them, you’re very likely to see standing atop the podium in Paris.
To give you an idea of the magnitude of these climbs, the Col du Grand Colombier spans more than 8 miles and has an average grade of 7.1% with multiple sections over 12%. That means these men are riding their bikes practically straight up for miles on end. And when they’re done, they have an even longer, and steeper climb ahead of them. And that’s only stage 10 out of 20! It’s really mind blowing to wrap your head around the strength and endurance it takes to win this race. These climbs are nothing we can relate to.
So when it comes down to it, all that’s left is our prediction. There’s no doubt we’ll be rooting on our American brothers like Tejay Van Garderen or George Hincapie to make a splash, or Tyler Ferrar to win a stage or two. Our friends to the north will no doubt be rooting on Ryder Hesjedal to wear yellow. It’s always fun to see the Manx Missile win a stage and get pumped up and I believe he will tie Lance Armstrong this year. But this year when the yellow goes on for the final time, we believe it’s going to be a 2-peat for the Aussie Cadel Evans. He has an amazing supporting cast and a drive to win. Combine that with his supreme talent and the fact that the clock is ticking for him to win another Tour equals yellow for Cadel.
Whomever you are rooting for, we hope you enjoy this spectacular event and check back with us for interesting stories and updates. Happy riding!
Tags: Tour de France