We continue our analysis of the contenders for victory in the five classifications for the Tour de France by considering five of the best riders under 26 who might contest the right to wear the white jersey on the podium in Paris.
Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale)
In a dream scenario for Sagan and his Liquigas-Cannondale backers, the Slovak would claim the green and white jerseys in Paris. At just 22 years old, the Slovak is cycling’s most exciting prospect. There can be no talk of Sagan as a prospect for the future. A glance at his results this season shows that he is already realising his potential. Stage victories at the Tour of Oman and the Volta a Catalunya bookended a solid Classics campaign that brought top five finishes at Milan-San Remo, Gent Wevelgem, the Amstel Gold Race, and the Tour of Flanders. Since April, he has gone up a gear. Five stage wins in the Tour of California revealed Sagan as a fully fledged phenomenon and not one to watch for the future. Four victories at the Tour de Suisse the following month, including victory in the opening time trial, provided further evidence of a rider at the peak of his powers. Victory in last week’s Slovak national championships, ahead of Omega Pharma-QuickStep’s Peter Velits, confirmed Sagan’s form.
Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing)
The 23-year-old American is enjoying a hugely impressive season. Fifth overall at Paris-Nice (where he won the white jersey), fourth overall at the Tour of California, and second to the vastly experienced Dave Zabriskie (Garmin-Sharp) in the US national time trial championships, van Garderen has continued a career of almost unbroken success. Should he continue his meteoric trajectory, we will undoubtedly be discussing him in ‘contender’ predictions for the yellow jersey in years to come. This year, his role will be to support Cadel Evans (BMC Racing), a task for which he is more than adequately equipped.
Pierre Rolland (Europcar)
The 25-year-old Frenchman may have bigger things on his mind than defending the white jersey he won last year. Rolland and Europcar team leader, Thomas Voeckler, provided the feel-good story of last year’s Tour: two plucky Frenchman from a second tier team taking on the big boys and winning. This year, expectation will be higher and they will be under pressure to prove that the story of 2011, which included a hugely impressive victory on the slopes of Alpe d’Huez for Rolland, and 10 days in yellow for Voeckler, was no fluke. The absence of the world’s two best climbers (Contador and Andy Schleck) will prove a boost to Rolland’s ambitions, as will a parcours that despite only two summit finishes, provides plenty of opportunity for a climber of his abilities to shine.
Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano)
The German sprint sensation has been in superb form all season, laying down an early marker by winning two stages of the Tour of Oman. He carried his speed into the vastly different conditions of Flanders, winning Schelderprijs ahead of two other feared sprinters: Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp) and Theo Bos (Rabobank). A more recent display of his impressive pace came at the Ster ZLM Tour, with two stage victories from four stages, both at the expense of overall winner, Mark Cavendish. Unlike Sagan and Van Gaarderen, however, Kittel is a man of just one talent and his bid for the white jersey will have to be made on flat stages.
Arthur Vichot (FDJ-Big Mat)
Vichot’s season continues to improve, suggesting the 23-year-old Frenchman may be about to hit peak form in time for the Tour. Second in the early-season Les Boucles du Sud Ardèche, a race he won in 2011, and just outside the top 20 in La Fleche Walloone and Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Vichot tasted victory for the first time this season with his biggest win to date, taking the first mountain stage of the Criterium du Dauphine.