With two days until the Tour de France spins off for the prologue stage in Liege, Belgium, it is worthwhile taking a look at the contenders who will be hailed during that first cycle.
On the 1st of July the field sets off from Liege, taking part in the first real stage heading for the town of Seraing and a 198km flat spin. Leading the peloton is expected to be Bradley Wiggins, who looks to be Britain’s first ever winner of Le Tour.
Wiggins has had an imperious season, winning the distinguished Paris-Nice and Criterium du Dauphine tours and finishing third in the Vuelta. He fell out of last year’s Tour with a broken collarbone, but this time around the Team Sky principle has the shortest odds.
He has already beaten Cadel Evans this year, but the 2011 champion is unlikely to relinquish his hold on the yellow jersey easily. As the principle for BMC Racing, the Australian Evans will look forward to time trials –he came from second to defeat Andy Schleck (who is out injured this year) in the ultimate time trial –but will need to steadily accrue points in the mountains to keep touch. He will know this, though, as he is renowned for his calculating cycling.
For Liquigas-Cannondale there is a change-up. Ivan Basso has always been a perennial Tour name, but Basso has opted to be an auxiliary this year after committing to other road races. With his support new principal Vincenzo Nibali is expected to be propelled to the top of the order. When the team needs points in the mountains they can also rely on experienced climbers within the group.
In North America, though, many hopes are attached to Canada’s Ryder Hesjedal. As the principal for Garmin-Sharp he has steadily improved and has a Giro D’Italia victory from May under his belt. Now he hopes to surpass his previous best finish of 6th, in 2010’s Tour. He will want to keep in touch during time trials.
And if you want a dark horse? Look no further than jack of all trades and famous fighter Samuel Sanchez. Leading the entirely Basque team Euskaltel-Euskadi, front runner Sanchez is always in the mix and he will have the hope of Spain behind him with no Alberto Contador taking part. He fancies himself at altitude and may just keep picking up points.
Also keep an eye out for Denis Menchov of team Katusha. He is a decent each-way bet and could make the podium for a third time in his career with a mix of luck and tenacity as he sits on the tails of the leaders.
The Tour de France is the perfect mix of sheer athleticism and tactics. In two days time teams will pour towards Paris in the hope of promoting their leaders to the yellow jerseys. Teams will brush shoulders as the line is sought. Jostling within the peloton will compel. Falls will happen. France’s gorgeous countryside will color itself in behind the riders.
It will be enthralling, as always, but this year the mix seems different.