A few weeks ago I posted Tour de France picks. This is my last chance to update them before the big show rolls in Liege. Here's a good start list if you need to know who the contenders are.
First and second I see no reason to change: Wiggins and Evans are the class of the crowd. Last year, Evans was at 34 one of the oldest winners in history. If he were to win this year, he'd be exceeded only by irmin Lambot, who won when he was 36 in 1922 (Wikipedia). I think Evans loses a bit this year, while Wiggins finally figured out his preparation, spending solid blocks on Tenerif with focused climbing and time trial work. Wiggins also has superb teammates backing his up in Froome and Rodgers.
I had De Gendt third but he's not racing, so Hesjedal gets the promotion. He's not raced since winning the Giro, so he has a good chance of having sufficiently recovered to put in a good effort in France.
I had Andy Schleck next, but of course Andy won't be there, so he's out. And Frank showed strength in Switzerland, but his relationship with Team Radioshack is terrible right now. Radioshack is not in a good place; Frank will not rank this high.
Instead: Robert Gesink. Gesink was all-around impressive at the Tour of California, and he's young enough to be on an upward slope. He can climb and time trial, and time trailing is key this year.
I'll slot Wiggins' teammate Froome next. He was second at the Vuelta last year behind that enigma, Juan José Cobo. He'll be supporting Wiggins here but still history has shown support guys can still rank highly, especially with so much emphasis on time trials where it's each rider for himself.
Then I'll go with a guy who's probably a dark horse to most English-speaking fans: Jurgen Van den Broeck. He's another rider on the way up and it's a mistake to pick only grizzled veterans.
Here's where it gets really crowded, where there's more than ten guys who I want to pick for the top 10. But I'll start with Vincenzo Nibali, of Liquigas. He won the Vuelta two years ago so he should be ready to step up to the big stage. But I've got this thing about Italians: they never seem to be able to win in France.
Next up: Pierre Rolland of Europcar. He rode so strongly last year behind team leader Voeckler. Last year Voeckler was super-strong all year before the Tour, while this year he's been battling knee problems. The slower start may mean Voeckler is fresher, but I'm going to stick with his younger teammate.
There has to be a spot here for Frank Schleck, if he manages to finish the race. I can't ignore how well he rode in Switzerland. The time trials don't work to his favor, but he was climbing well, and has always done fairly well in France. I really doubt the unity of his team, however.
Then I'll go with another Sky rider: Rodgers. He was 2nd at Dauphine behind his team leader Wiggins and with his experience he's going to work he can't be too far down in France.
I've been focusing a lot on Sky, but Garmin's also a strong team, and Daniel Martin has been showing a lot of potential for several years now. I'll put him next.
I'll toss in Chris Horner and Tom Danielson next, just because I think they'll be in there somewhere.
I said Thomas Voeckler was a bit off this year, but I don't want to completely ignore him, so he goes next.
Levi's past his prime, but he showed some impressive form at Tour of California considering he'd broken his leg, then came back to ride well at Switzerland. I'll put him next.
Then I'll add Denis Menchov, just because he always seems to hang in there somewhere. Then Samuel Sanchez, who showed signs of strength in Italy, even if he's also getting close to the end of his career.
Tejay Van Garderen will behelping Cadel Evans. I'll put him next.
Late addition: I realize I have to mention Nicolas Roche in here somewhere. So I'll stick him next, after Tejay. And to make it an even 20, Andreas Klöden.
So what I have. You may chuckle, but when the GC comes out exactly as I'm writing it here, I'll get the last laugh:
- Bradley "Sideburns" Wiggins
- Cadel Evans
- Ryder Hesjedal
- Robert Gesink
- Chris Froome
- Jurgen Van den Broeck
- Vincenzo Nibali
- Pierre Roland
- Frank Schleck
- Michael Rodgers
- Daniel Martin
- Chris Horner
- Tom Danielson
- Thomas Voeckler
- Levi Leipheimer
- Denis Menchov
- Samuel Sánchez
- Tejay Van Garderen
- Nicolas Roche
- Andreas Klöden