We continue our countdown to the start of the 2012 Tour de France on Saturday in Liege by examining the contenders for each of the five classifications.
Changes to the way points are awarded should extend the battle to the final climb. The winners of the two summit finishes (stages 11 and 17) will receive double points; the first 10 riders to crest an hors categorie climb will receive points (awarded only to the first six last year) with first place now worth 25 points rather than 20.
Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi)
Defending King of the Mountains champion, Samuel Sanchez, has had an inconsistent 2012, the high point of which came in April with two stage wins and overall victory in the Tour of the Basque Country. The Olympic champion will lead his Euskaltel-Euskadi team at the Tour and is a nominal contender for overall victory given the paucity of GC strongmen (Wiggins and Evans excepted) in the absence of both Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck. Sanchez rode strongly in the mountains at last year’s Tour, winning stage 12 to Luz Ardiden and finishing a close second to Jelle Vanendert two days later in the run in to Plateau de Beille. On several occasions, he formed an alliance with Contador, both men bereft of team-mates in the high mountains. Should his GC assault prove fruitless, he may target the King of the Mountains competition as his best route to the Paris podium, as he did last year.
The young Frenchman was the surprise package of the 2011 Tour and his victory on Alpe d’Huez one of the highlights of the race. Despite an aggressive campaign in the Ardennes Classics, success has eluded Rolland this season. His campaign at the Criterium du Dauphine was mediocre. But the Tour de France has a mystical allure for a Frenchman, and while he will be more closely watched than last year, Rolland could play a starring role in the high mountains. Stage 11 from Albertville to La Toussuire-Les, one of just two summit finishes, may suit him well.
The Belgian wore the polka dot jersey for five stages last year, aided by a second place to Sanchez on stage 12 and victory over the Spaniard on stage 14. A strong campaign at the Ardenees Classics in April (just off the podium at the Amstel Gold Race, second to Rodriguez at La Fleche Walloone, a top 10 finish at Liege-Bastogne-Liege) showed his power on short, stubborn climbs, as well as on the endless ascents of the Tour. His primary aim will be to protect team leader, Jurgen Van Den Broeck, but to do so he must ride at the front in the mountains, giving him ample opportunity to pursue points.
Last September, the French veteran added a fourth consecutive King of the Mountains classification at the Vuelta a Espana to his palmares. He is a two-time winner of the classification in Paris-Nice, so his performances have not been limited to Spanish soil. Yet he has never achieved his full potential at the Tour, winning two stages in 10 Tours. Now in the autumn of his career, could Moncoutié, at 37, win the polka dot jersey competition? The Cofidis Pro Continental team with which he has spent his entire professional career has secured a wild card entry to the Tour, and with Rein Tereamae’s best chance coming in the white jersey competition for best rider under 26, the team’s best chance of glory may come in the form of a polka dot jersey for Moncoutié.
Chris Anker Sørensen
With few cards to play at this year’s Tour de France, Bjarne Riis has hinted that Chris Anker Sørensen may be given a free hand to pursue the King of the Mountains competition. The Dane certainly has the ability, and may have the form. Victory in the mountains classification at the Volta a Catalunya in April and a finish just outside the top 10 at the Tour de Suisse have been the highlights of a solid, if unspectacular, first half of the season but with several brutal climbs on this year’s parcours (the Col du Grand Colombier on stage 10, for example; the Madeline and Crox de Fer on stage 11; stage 16’s quartet of Aubisque, Tourmalet, Aspin, and Peyresourde) Sørensen and the KOM protagonists will find much to occupy them.