Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Komentaar - 13 June 2012

With the biggest race of the season - the Tour de France (TdF) - looming just over the horizon, here in the ClassiquesKlassiekerClassiche headquarters we ponder the usual: how will our classics warriors fare in this year's TdF?

We start with the route and stages, and we finish with short comments on riders.

This year's parcour is notable as it introduces quite a number of new start/finish locations, and that it seems to have even more classics-like routes compared to last year's edition. There are 4 stages classified as "Medium Mountains", which tend to be good for classics warriors. However, we think that several other stages are also very well suited to classics warriors.

The first of these "flat" stages is also the first stage of the TdF starting from Liège. There were rumors that the starting stage from Liège was changed to best fit Philippe Gilbert, last year's king of the classics. Given Gilbert's lack of wins this season, he'll definitely be motivated to win this one, but so will many other contenders.

Stage 1 (flat): Liège to Seraing.
Stage 3 from Orchies to Boulogne-sur-Mer starts right where the secteurs pavès Chemin des Pieres and Chemin des Abattoirs of Paris-Roubaix are. Indeed, Orchies almost always features in the finale of Paris-Roubaix, 7-9 sectors from the finish. The string of climbs and descents are sure to disrupt the sprinters' teams as the route approaches Boulogne-sur-Mer.

Stage 3 (medium): Orchies to Boulogne-sur-Mer.
The next day's Stage 4 from Abbeville to Rouen, classified as a flat stage, is decidedly not flat. Undulating terrain with sharp, short climbs sap the strength and rhythm of a dedicated peloton, and we think this can be won by a motivated small group of puncheurs who can time their attack wisely.

Stage 4 (flat): Abbeville to Rouen.

Despite their classification as "Medium climbing", we think that Stages 7 and 8 are not very suited to classics warriors. For one, Stage 7 is a summit finish (or nearly so), which means that GC contenders will be very watchful. Being an early stage in the TdF, the interests of GC contenders and stage hunters are still very much correlated. On the other hand, Stage 8 has a long flat 20 km to the finish.

Our warriors may do well if they survive to Stage 12, from St.-Jean de Maurienne to Annonay Davézieux. Two difficult climbs early on the stage means that a breakaway might succeed. Of course, a later capture is possible even if the preceding two stages are high mountain stages, which may necessitate that teams with GC aspirations take it easy for Stage 12 and let stage hunters battle it out.

Stage 12 (medium) from St.-Jean de Maurienne to Annonay Davézieux.
Such is the brutal calculus of stage racing, which we saw in the Giro d'Italia. Different riders and teams have different interests and goals, and these evolve as each stage reveals its outcome and set of possibilities.

Now that we have discussed stages, which riders are we paying attention to? The start list is not yet finalized, but here are our thoughts.

  1. We will see a very different GC battle this year.
    First, the obvious: Alberto Contador isn't in the race. Second, the nearly obvious: last year a great many number of GC contenders were eliminated early in the TdF. The injury list had a wide range, from top contender Bradley Wiggins of Sky to GC pretender Jurgen Van Den Broeck, then riding for Davitamon-Lotto. Add to this Alexandre Vinokourov. Will the Europcar duo of Thomas Voeckler and Pierre Roland do as well this year? We have our doubts, as historically those who put all those eggs in the TdF basket are likely to have their investment ruined by a bad day or two. Last year Voeckler had won a great number of races by June. This year, much less. 
  2. We will see a very different sprint battle this year. 
    The joker, of course, is Team Sky. They have both Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish. Last year Wiggins' early exit means that they dedicated themselves to sprinting excellence. This year things are less clear. Is Cavendish's sprint a secondary issue to Wiggins' GC hope? If so, which sprinter team will step up to the challenge of controlling and catching breakaways? Last year we clearly saw that most teams were content to let Sky do almost all the work. If the same attitude prevails this year, the 2012 TdF may be a very good one for breakaway specialists and last-gasp attackers. 

Given the two points above, we put our hopes on Sylvain Chavanel (OmegaPharma-QuickStep) the breakaway specialist, Dani Moreno (Katusha) the climbing specialist, Jérôme Coppel (Saur-Sojasun) the attacker, Mikel Nieve (Euskaltel), and Peter "Hungry like a Wolf" Sagan (Liquigas).

Team Lampre will want to net a stage, but placing their hope in Damiano Cunego hasn't been a very good investment this year. Perhaps Diego Ulissi will deliver, but this is a speculative bet. Maybe their best bet is Grega Bole?

On the other hand, Dutch teams Rabobank and Vacansoleil seem to have a huge pool of young talent, the problem is none of them really stand out. Vacansoleil's Johnny Hoogerland, last year's hero after his crash, is one possibility. So is Rabobank GC hope Robert Gesink. In the past, Spaniard LL Sanchez has done well in the TdF, with decent GC placings and stage wins. Rabobank's acquisition of Mark Renshaw means that they actually do have a decent shot at sprinting glory.

In that respect, we shouldn't discount Orica-GreenEDGE. Even in their maiden year they have delivered significant wins. Can Simon Gerrans repeat his feats this summer?

How will the 2012 TdF play out and what do you look forward to?

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