We’ll be counting down to the 2012 Tour de France, which starts this Saturday (June 30) in Liege, by looking at the contenders for each of the Tour’s five classifications.
We’ll start by looking at the team classification, arguably the least glamorous of the five, and rarely a starting ambition for any of the squads, but one that takes on greater significance should the pursuit of individual glory go awry.
Points are awarded to the first three riders home from each team, and securing victory may require a change of tactics from those adopted in support of a given rider.
This year, Team Sky are a good bet for triumph in any category you care to mention. Their lead out train has worked effectively for Mark Cavendish in a number of stage races, including the first of the season’s Grand Tours, the Giro d’Italia. Equally, a line up of climbers that includes Chris Froome, Richie Porte, and, of course, Bradley Wiggins, should guarantee some high-placed finishes in the mountains. Can Team Sky place three in the top 10 in a time trial? The presence of Wiggins and Froome again, and of three-time world time trial champion, Mick Rogers, would suggest so.
Garmin-Barracuda bring strength in depth. Ryder Hesjedal will contest the GC, and in a year in which he has already won the Giro d’Italia, and where (Wiggins and Evans excepted) there are few outstanding candidates for GC, he must be fancied. The team can expect strong mountain finishes also from Ireland’s Daniel Martin, winner of stage nine of last year’s Vuelta a Espana, and from Christian Vande Velde, who memorably towed Hesjedal up the Stelvio last month, as well as from Tom Danielson, third in this year’s Tour of California. An embarrassment of time trialing talent includes Hesjedal and Vande Velde as well as Scotland’s David Millar and Dave Zabriskie, who won his seventh USA time trial championship earlier this month. A strong sprinting presence includes Robbie Hunter and Tyler Farrar, while Johan Van Summeren, winner of the 2011 Paris-Roubaix and David Millar again have the ability to drive the peloton on flat stages.
Liquigas-Cannondale showed their strength as a unit in the Giro d’Italia where they routinely led the bunch up the climbs in support of Ivan Basso. Who knows yet whether Basso will ride the Tour? Six days before the start of the biggest race of the season, the Italian team has yet to announce it squad. The news page of Basso’s website hasn’t been updated since February 16, and his Tweets are limited to his love of his home trainer. Vincenzo Nibali is likely to lead the team. Either will hope for support in the high mountains from Sylvester Szmyd, who rode tirelessly in support of his leaders in the Giro. Peter Sagan has the potential to score more points than the rest of his team combined and Daniel Oss has the potential for high placings on flat stages. Kristjan Koren will arrive fresh from a time trial victory in the Tour of Slovenia; both Basso and Niabli are noted time trialists.
The stated goal of BMC Racing is to defend the title of team leader, Cadel Evans, but they have sufficient strength in depth to place strongly as a consequence of their efforts for the Australian. Marcus Burghardt, Steve Cummings, and George Hincapie will be a martialing force on the flat; keeping Evans at the front of the bunch and out of danger played a large part in the Australian’s success last year. Tejay Van Garderen and Amaël Moinard will provide support to Evans in the mountains. Evans and Van Garderen are good time trialists, and Manuel Quinziato can produce a decent effort against the clock on his day. Philippe Gilbert is likely to enjoy the support of the team on stages where the Belgian’s power can deliver victory (notably stage one from Liege to Seraing) but will also be a key team player on tough, rolling stages where his strength on the undulating terrain that typifies the Ardennes Clasics will be a vital asset to Evans (stage eight from Belfort to Porrentruy, for example).
Lotto-Belisol have strength in all areas. Andre Greipel is likely to be a major threat to Mark Cavendish in the sprints. Jurgen Van Den Broeck has already shown a return to the form that brought him a fourth placed finished at the 2010 Tour by finishing on the podium at this year’s Volta a Catalunya and fifth at the Criterium du Dauphine. Jelle Vanendert spent five days in the polka dot jersey at last year’s Tour, won stage 14, was second on stage 12, and this year enjoyed a superb Ardennes Classics campaign. Sprinter, Greg Henderson, has stage wins at Paris-Nice and the Tour of California to his credit. Lars Bak rode an aggressive Giro, capturing the victory on stage 12 that eluded him while the race was Danish style.
When the road rises, Movistar have shown themselves to be a force this year. The Spanish-registered team, comprised almost entirely of Spanish riders, will number two former winners of the Vuelta a Espana (20009 champion, Alejandro Valverde, and last year’s winner, Juan Jose Cobo) among their ranks, as well as newly-crowned Tour de Suisse champion, Rui Costa. Another former Tour de Suisse champion, Vladimir Karpets, is a useful time trialist, as is Valverde and Vasil Kiryienka, winner in Milan of the final time trial in last year’s Giro d’Italia. They lack sprinting ability of any kind, however, and are unlikely to prove a force on the flat.