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Cycle Sport expert panel: Tour de France

Our writers predict how the Tour is going to pan out.

Edward Pickering
Deputy Editor, Cycle Sport

DO YOU THINK THE TOUR DESERVES ITS REPUTATION AS THE MOST IMPORTANT BIKE RACE?
Yes I do. While the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix are its equal in terms of atmosphere and intensity, the Tour offers the same, daily, for three weeks, with added je ne sais quoi. It’s the fastest, hardest, most prestigious race in the world, and its safe to say if the Tour hadn’t had the success it has, the sport would not have developed in the same way. It’s not the most innovative of races, but it’s earned its right not to have to rely on gimmicks.

FAVOURITE TOUR DE FRANCE MEMORY.
Sitting atop a very tall and precarious gatepost (to a cemetery) on the Cauberg climb watching the race pass when a stage finished at the top in 2006. I was right on the apex of the first curve, and I had a perfect view of the slow-motion sprint as it came towards me. It started splitting just as they reached me, then I watched the race disintegrate up the S-bend. But it wasn’t just the racing that was exciting. The atmosphere was incredible – a boozy, hollering crowd who were shamelessly out to have a good time. You could smell the beer fumes. Some of them might even have emanated from me.

KEEPING ROUGHLY THE SAME GENERAL ROUTE, HOW WOULD YOU CHANGE THE PARCOURS FOR THE BETTER?
An early individual time trial might have been a good idea. I don’t like to see stage races dominated by time triallists, but there’s very little for them this year. I’d have liked to see the TTT held on a more technical course, to disrupt the rhythm a bit. The Massif Central and Pyrenees are about right, although the Aubisque summit is too far from the stage 13 finish, which means the favourites will ride up and down it together unexcitingly, several minutes behind the escape.
I think overall, it’s a nice route – what actually needs to change is the attitude of the teams, who race very conservatively. Or maybe teams should have fewer riders, to make the racing more open.

WHAT ARE YOU PARTICULARLY EXCITED ABOUT SEEING AT THE TOUR?
The stages in Brittany are going to be fun. Big sprint in Redon, the finish at Mur de Bretagne is going to be a cracker, then wild coastal roads, bumps and wind up to Cap Fréhel. Brittany’s the homeland of French cycling, and while more significant things will happen further down the road, I think the atmosphere and racing quality of the Tour will peak here. It’ll be inversely proportionate to the stress levels of the journos following the race.

WHAT ARE YOU NOT LOOKING FORWARD TO?
Alberto Contador putting his “Who? Me?” face on for three whole weeks.

GOT ANY BETS ON THIS YEAR?
Having Contador and Schleck in the overall made GC bets a bit less attractive, but I do have a tenner riding on Robert Gesink making the podium at 9/2. I regret not backing Brajkovic to be in the top 10 at 4/1 a couple of weeks back – his odds have come in since.

WHO’S GOING TO WIN?
Hopefully, Andy Schleck. If Contador wears the yellow jersey into Paris and then gets stripped of the title, we’ll have the almost annual headache of who to put on the cover of the magazine, as well as the small matter of the sport and race being made a mockery of for the umpteenth time.

WILL ANYBODY BEAT CAVENDISH IN A SPRINT?
Probably not. He really is head and shoulders above the others in terms of pure speed. But HTC are rumoured to be running out of time to find a backer for next year, and the leadout focus may be less than normal. Either way, the other teams aren’t prepared to sit on the back of nine HTC riders for the final 10 kilometres any more, so be prepared for some exciting battles. I predicted three stage wins, possibly four, in the CS Tour preview, and I still think that’s about right.

WHO, BESIDES THE USUAL SUSPECTS, SHOULD WE LOOK OUT FOR TO ENTERTAIN US?
Tom Danielson won’t win – he wastes far too much energy attacking and closing down others. But he’ll be up there for a few of the mountain stages.
I’d love to see David Moncoutie go for the polka dot jersey, and the French teams shine in general. Voeckler’s having an incredible year, and it would be a rare achievement for a rider of his skillset get stage wins three years running. I’m interested to see how Saur’s Jérôme Coppel does. And I’ve bet Andy McGrath (see below) a Leffe that Jean-Christophe Peraud will be the highest-placed Ag2r rider, although I’m slightly regretting that now.
Brajkovic will be top 10. Gesink won’t be far behind Andy Schleck and Contador. And Philippe Gilbert’s going to win at Mur de Bretagne.

PREDICT THE TOP 10
1 Contador
2 A. Schleck
3 Gesink
4 F. Schleck
5 Evans
6 S. Sanchez
7 Van den Broeck
8 Brajkovic
9 Basso
10 Wiggins

Lionel Birnie
Writer, Cycle Sport

DO YOU THINK THE TOUR DESERVES ITS REPUTATION AS THE MOST IMPORTANT BIKE RACE?
Of course. I’m surprised there’s any doubt. It’s the biggest annual sporting event in the world and it dwarfs every other race on the cycling calendar. People talk about the Giro d’Italia being more extreme, more dynamic, but the Tour is the only race that attracts all of the best riders in their best form. It gets the most TV viewers, the most newspaper coverage. Even people with only the barest knowledge of the sport know who won the Tour.

FAVOURITE TOUR DE FRANCE MEMORY
As a youngster, it was watching the Channel 4 highlights of the La Plagne stage of the 1987 Tour. Pedro Delgado attacked, Stephen Roche reeled him in and almost caught him in the finishing straight. Phil Liggett’s commentary: “…and who’s that coming round the corner, I think it’s Roche. It is. It’s Stephen Roche.” That sums up memories of sitting in front of the TV every night at 6.30pm, when summer seemed to go on for ever. More recently, there was a lovely moment at the finishing line in Chateauroux in 2008. Roger Legeay of Crédit Agricole and Bob Stapleton of High Road had spent an hour watching the race on TV in the press tent, chatting. Mark Cavendish won the stage and Legeay congratulated Stapleton so warmly it left a lasting impression.

KEEPING ROUGHLY THE SAME GENERAL ROUTE, HOW WOULD YOU CHANGE THE PARCOURS FOR THE BETTER?
I think the balance of the Tour route continues to improve. The obsession with two long time trials, which blighted much of the 1990s and 2000s, has gone. The first week is packed with potential for incident. Mont des Alouettes, Mur de Bretagne and Super Besse will all be engaging finishes. As we’ve seen with the Giro this year, making the route ridiculously mountainous proves nothing except to confirm several times over who’s the best climber. There are some potentially tricky days, the mountain stages are tough without being inhumane and the stage to Alpe d’Huez could be explosive. What I do think needs to happen is for cycling’s race organisers, team and rider representatives and the media to brainstorm some dynamic formats. Christian Prudhomme is not keen on time bonuses, it seems. He wants the winner to be the rider who got round France in the quickest time. But something needs to be done to encourage attacking. It seems one of the worst aspects of the EPO era is that it altered the way the race is raced. Consistent very high speeds to negate the effectiveness of attacks on the climbs make for dull racing. It may take half a generation to correct itself.

WHAT ARE YOU PARTICULARLY EXCITED ABOUT SEEING AT THE TOUR?
I try to refrain from getting carried away, even if that sounds rather earnest and po-faced. My time covering the Tour since 1999 has shown far too often that today’s hero is tomorrow’s villain. Things are getting better, that’s for sure, but as I’ve said before, if 197 riders are clean but the winner fails a dope test, nothing changes in the eyes of the wider public.

WHAT ARE YOU NOT LOOKING FORWARD TO?
Alberto Contador winning. The situation is a mess. I can think of no other sport that has found itself in such a shambolic state. It would help if Contador could bring himself to make a single, unequivocal statement. “I have never taken banned drugs or used banned performance-enhancing techniques.” It baffles me that, considering the spotlight he finds himself under, he does not realise what a service he could do both himself and the sport by making this simple statement.

GOT ANY BETS ON THIS YEAR?
Not this year. The rise in cycling’s popularity and the proliferation of online bookmakers means there’s much less value to be had now they’ve wised up about the subject. Gone are the days when a handy outsider for the podium was priced at 50/1.

WHO’S GOING TO WIN?
Contador.

WILL ANYBODY BEAT CAVENDISH IN A SPRINT?
Cavendish is usually a bit of a slow starter and (apart from one exception) never wins the first bunch sprint in a grand tour. But I have a feeling he’ll be into his stride by the time we reach Redon on Monday. Will anyone beat him? Tyler Farrar will get one.

WHO, BESIDES THE USUAL SUSPECTS, SHOULD WE LOOK OUT FOR TO ENTERTAIN US?
Thomas Voeckler, Philippe Gilbert, David Moncoutie, Sylvain Chavanel and anyone else who’s prepared to risk losing in order to win. That’s what it should be all about. The race for the GC is so conservative these days that the big mountain stages are no longer where the excitement is. Look to the windy stages or the Massif Central. Imagine if the Schlecks and Cancellara tried to put Contador out the back on the hot, sticky, twisty, lumpy Massif Central roads.

PREDICT THE TOP 10
1 Alberto Contador
2 Andy Schleck
3 Robert Gesink
4 Frank Schleck
5 Samuel Sanchez
6 Bradley Wiggins
7 Cadel Evans
8 Levi Leipheimer
9 Andreas Kloden
10 Ivan Basso

Ellis Bacon
Writer, Cycle Sport

DO YOU THINK THE TOUR DESERVES ITS REPUTATION AS THE MOST IMPORTANT BIKE RACE?
Absolutely. Races like Paris-Roubaix, the Giro d’Italia and the world championships have their fans who would argue that ‘their’ races have more charm or are the connoisseur’s choice. But for sheer excitement, renown and prestige, the Tour is head and shoulders above all other races, and so deserves its place at the top of the tree.

FAVOURITE TOUR DE FRANCE MEMORY
Other than the 1989 Tour? That will never be topped, but the 1992 Tour stage to Sestriere, won by a King of the Mountains jersey-wearing Claudio Chiappucci, was epic. The way the delirious crowds covered the road so that the lead motorbikes were blocked, and then passed by the Italian, who had to then just hope that he was following the road as they parted at the very last moment for him, was real spine-tingling stuff.

KEEPING ROUGHLY THE SAME GENERAL ROUTE, HOW WOULD YOU CHANGE THE PARCOURS FOR THE BETTER?
This year’s race has a fantastic opening week, with day after day of unpredictable stages. So an opening week like that would have to stay, rather than a return to the days when the first week consisted of seven or so back-to-back pan-flat stages. But why keep the same general route? Instead of encircling France, I’d criss-cross back and forth across the country, and try to take the race to unexplored parts of central France. And I’m convinced there must be some way of including the Puy de Dôme again.

WHAT ARE YOU PARTICULARLY EXCITED ABOUT SEEING AT THE TOUR?
The start on the Passage du Gois will be spectacular, as will the stage finishes in the first week, such as the Mont des Alouettes, the Mûr de Bretagne and Cap Fréhel. And then there’s good old Alpe d’Huez in the final week, which never fails to provide an exciting stage.

WHAT ARE YOU NOT LOOKING FORWARD TO?
Chain-hotel breakfasts and stinking-hot press rooms. Race-wise, though? Not much – it should be a great race – but the problems may not start until after the race if Contador does win.

GOT ANY BETS ON THIS YEAR?
Yep – but you’ll only know about them if I win. They mainly concern the number of stages Cavendish will win, as well as relatively unlikely riders making it into the top 10 or onto the podium. And sometimes combinations of the two – that’s where the big bucks are.

WHO’S GOING TO WIN?
Alberto Contador, unless he gets too fed up with the heckling and calls it a day halfway through.

WILL ANYBODY BEAT CAVENDISH IN A SPRINT?
Of course; he can’t win every day. Hushovd and/or Farrar will bag at least one at his expense, and look out, too, for Katusha’s Denis Galimzyanov.

WHO, BESIDES THE USUAL SUSPECTS, SHOULD WE LOOK OUT FOR TO ENTERTAIN US?
Galimzyanov in the sprints. I think both Schleck brothers will be good value, even if they aren’t able to overhaul Contador. And I’ve got a feeling the French might shine brighter, even, than last year, so look out for Sylvain Chavanel, Thomas Voeckler, Jérôme Coppel and, this year, Christophe Kern. David Millar also tends to ride to entertain himself these days, so he’s likely to get in some long breakaways before attempting to hold off the chasing bunch in the closing kilometres.

PREDICT THE TOP 10
This seems to change every time I do it, but my podium, at least, has stayed steadfastly the same. Wiggins has been talking a good game of late, so he’s just crept in…
1 Contador
2 A. Schleck
3 F. Schleck
4 Basso
5 S. Sanchez
6 Gesink
7 Van den Broeck
8 Evans
9 Kreuziger
10 Wiggins

Andy McGrath
Writer, Cycle Sport

DO YOU THINK THE TOUR DESERVES ITS REPUTATION AS THE MOST IMPORTANT BIKE RACE?
It may have overgrown its roots to become a commercial behemoth, but this race has the history, prestige and, most importantly, the best riders all peaking and fighting it out. Simply no other event comes close to eclipsing the Tour.

FAVOURITE TOUR DE FRANCE MEMORY
The stage to La Plagne, Tour 2002. Not for the racing: Boogerd won that day, I think. But the sea of people, the suffering, the infectious excitement. It was a revelation. I was stunned by Armstrong too: it’s fair to say I’m a lot less credulous now. But what had been a more passing interest became an obsession from that day on.

KEEPING ROUGHLY THE SAME GENERAL ROUTE, HOW WOULD YOU CHANGE THE PARCOURS FOR THE BETTER?
The first week is nigh perfect. An earlier high mountain stage would be nice though – a 12-day wait is too long.

The Tour seems to perennially include a redundant leg, and it’s stage 13 this year. Use a classic climb, the Aubisque, then then ruin it with a 45 kilometre run-in to Loudres. The jury’s out on that short Alpe d’Huez nineteenth stage too: anti-climax or attack-fest? All that said, I do like this route a lot.

WHAT ARE YOU PARTICULARLY EXCITED ABOUT SEEING AT THE TOUR?
How that versatile opening week shapes general classification will be interesting: the Tour definitely will not start at Luz Ardiden, as Schleck minor has said. It’ll be intriguing seeing how the Schleck v Contador fight unravels, and if anyone else can muscle in on their party. The Luxembourger should take the race to Bertie in the mountains. And I’d like to see whether those stages into Gap and Pinerolo affect the GC.

WHAT ARE YOU NOT LOOKING FORWARD TO?
The inevitable failed doping test. The race-long hubbub surrounding Contador. That pointless Pyrenean stage into Lourdes. The sat-nav sending us the wrong direction down busy one-way streets in French cities. Losing all my money on silly bets (see below).

GOT ANY BETS ON THIS YEAR?
An ex-girlfriend once made me promise I wouldn’t gamble after a wild spree a few years ago. Well, that was years ago, she’s out of the picture and I’m going to paint the town red this summer with reckless wagers. Here’s two of ‘em: Moncoutié 7-1 King of the Mountains Brajkovic 11-4 for a Top 10 finish.

WHO’S GOING TO WIN?
Andy Schleck. That’s both strong belief and a sliver of hope speaking. The gap between him and Alberto Contador has been closing over the last few years; this’ll be the one where the balance has a timely tip in favour of the Leopard Trek leader. Schleck will narrowly have the measure of him in the mountains. That last time-trial will come down to recovery as much as ability, and Contador will be done in by then. Nobody can recover fully from a gruelling Giro in the space of six weeks.

WILL ANYBODY BEAT CAVENDISH IN A SPRINT?
One man – Alessandro Petacchi. Skirting over his shady recent history and doddery appearance, he’s still got the craft and speed to challenge. Although HTC-Highroad appear to have a less sprint-oriented team this time round, I reckon Cav is as fast as ever, and will only miss out on one sprint win.

WHO, BESIDES THE USUAL SUSPECTS, SHOULD WE LOOK OUT FOR TO ENTERTAIN US?
Whether in a sprint or a spat, I reckon the dynamic between Andre Greipel and Cavendish will be interesting. Talking of spats, how on earth RadioShack will effectively resolve their four-pronged attack will be good to see. Jerome Coppel (Saur-Sojasun) is a great French talent who will hopefully showcase his abilty. I’m expecting the likes of Christophe Kern (Europcar) and Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil) to light up the race with hyperactive attacking too.

PREDICT THE TOP 10
1. Andy Schleck
2. Alberto Contador
3. Cadel Evans
4. Robert Gesink
5. Jurgen Vandenbroeck
6. Janez Brajkovic
7. Samuel Sanchez
8. Christian Vande Velde
9. Bradley Wiggins
10. Frank Schleck

Cycle Sport’s Tour Village: All of our Tour coverage.

One Comment

  • Jakob Sandvik says:

    Hi. I just read this article about how your writers predicted how the Tour would pan out. I guess it’s quite old and that it was focusing on the 2011 tour de france.

    I am a bit of a cycling fanatic and i bet allot on it. I stumbled on this article when today when i was doing some searches on google.

    I think it’s a bit strange that no one of your writers believed that Cadel Evans would win.

    He had placed 2 in the tour twice and he had gotten better and better every year. High capacity both in the moutains and on the invividual time trial. 2011 was also the first year that Cadel Evans had a strong team around him.

    And i do not understand why Contador was such a big favourite to win. He had already won the Giro and we all know it’s extremly difficult to win both the Giro and the Tour the same year. He also had the doping scandal all around him.

    The Shleck brothers would do the same mistake again (not deciding on which one that would be captain).

    I know it’s really difficult to say on prehand who will win the Tour but i had Cadel Evans as a big favourite and i am glad not many others believed in him because i got 26 times the money on Evans. I did bet on him and had a good return. I remember thinking it’s so strange that the odds is so high on him and when i saw this article and who your writers bet on i started thinkinh about it again.

    That’s what i am writing this. Almost a year has passed but i still wonder, why did no one believe that Cadel Evans would win the tour de france?

    Best regars Jakob Sandvik

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