Ok, folks - it is officially here - Tour season! The 97th Tour de France is beginning!
Cycling News: 2010 top Tour contenders
And what a race we have ready for you this year. It has been a hot, hot year for races, with Lance and Contador on their own individual teams, Basso and Vinokourov back after drug suspensions, and much more. Cancellara outrode Boonen early this year, in a Classics complete upset, the Giro was a tightly fought thrill-a-minute revelation from start to finish, the Tour of California had the strongest field ever, and a tightly fought finish (but not so many unexpected wins as the Giro). It has been an EXCITING year for racing.
And now, Contador and Lance are ready to do battle. And what a battle it will be! In the first 3 days, we have cobbles. In the early season, during the Spring "Classics", we often see accidents and upsets caused by the cobbles. They aren't usually included in the Tour. The cobble sections could see upsetting results that will change the whole face of this 97th Tour. I have no doubt that some teams are looking to put the hurt on, and maybe even score some underdog times that will put somebody in yellow for a long stretch - a la Voeckler in 2004. Back then Voeckler spent ten days in yellow, gained in an early breakaway that made it to the end with a 20 minute lead over the peloton. He had so much time it was considered possible that he might actually be able to hold a lead and win. This year we had a similar underdog adventure in the Giro - David Arroyo, a lieutenant, albeit a strong one, but still normally just a lieutenant, took the lead with an early stage breakaway, with a big time gap over the favorites. He managed to hold on to enough of that lead for a 2nd place finish, with Basso alone overcoming in the final days. The cobbles could be telling. We probably won't see the winner "made" there, but we might well see top ranked riders lose the race there. Lance will certainly be looking to take an advantage here over Contador.
The Alps come early this year, and probably won't be decisive. The Alps come too early, and the real action will be in the Pyrenees, late in the race. Several of the top contenders have said exactly this. If Contador makes it to the Alps without losing a big chunk of time, he will be the big favorite to win this year.
There will still be opportunity and excitement. Just like last year, when Lance gained so much time on one stage, weather can step in and change the face of the race. Lance has shown he is good at anticipating this stuff, and that his team has the best tactical wisdom around in Bruyneel and the team riders.
In the Pyrenees we will expect the race to be made. Here is where Alberto rules. This is where he is looking to win the race.
Then, in the penultimate stage, we have a big time trial. This will be a last opportunity, should the placings still be close. Contador has proven himself strong in the TT, and Lance is not the master here that he used to be. But, this is July, and the Tour de France. There are several other riders who will be in the mix, and perhaps some unexpected ones coming up. See my link, above, for some of the favorites.