In the previous installment of our preview, we looked at some of the favorites to win the Tour de France. Today, I’ll make some predictions about who will actually win it.
I’ll answer the biggest question up front: Lance Armstrong will not win the Tour de France this year. He’s in great shape, and he certainly won’t embarrass himself, but he’s not going to win.
The favorites for the Tour, according to oddschecker, are Contador (1:1), Armstrong (5:1), Andy Schleck (7:1), and Cadel Evans (11:1).
First, let’s address the insanity of those Contador odds. The Tour de France is a three week slog through 2,141 miles. Anything can happen during those three weeks. I wouldn’t bet on Lance Armstrong in his prime at even money.
Beyond that, the Astana team dynamics worry me, as I mentioned in Part 2 of the preview. Contador seems to have issues with someone else being the team leader, and in fairness, he’s earned the title of leader. I’m just not sure how he’ll respond to three weeks of the Lance Armstrong media circus with the 7-time winner breathing down his neck. It’s a tough position to be in, and while Contador is an incredibly gifted rider, I’m not sure how he’ll handle that pressure.
As for Armstrong, he has always been the sole focus of his team, and benefited greatly from having a well-trained team of domestiques riding out in the wind in front of him except on a few select mountain stages. He always rode the most perfectly organized races, almost like a horse in the Kentucky Derby getting a perfect trip from the post. He seemed to have an uncanny knack for avoiding trouble and only exerting himself when it would have the optimal payout. As either a co-leader or a supporting rider (depending on whom you believe) this year, Armstrong won’t be able to conserve his energy for most of the Tour and rely on an entire team supporting him. He seems to be physically ready for the Tour, but I’m not sure he still has that extra gear that allowed him to accelerate up a mountain while everyone else looked exhausted.
Leipheimer won’t get any support from his team (Contador and Armstrong will be fighting over it), Sastre won in a perfect storm, and Kreuziger is still probably a couple years away.
That leaves Denis Menchov, who finished fourth last year and won the Giro d’Italia this year. He’s a great climber who should do well in a year that de-emphasized the time trial. I also like Schleck to finish second, under the assumption that he’s in better condition than last year. For third, it’s a toss-up between Armstrong and Contador. I think experience triumphs over youth, so I’ll say Armstrong.
For a long-shot pick, I like American Christian Vandevelde (100:1) who looked good last year and should be improved.
For the green sprinters jersey, I like Mark Cavendish, who shone last year. I think Schleck will take the King of the Mountains classification, especially if he’s not contending for the Yellow Jersey. Kreuziger should take the white jersey for the best young rider.
As for the other question on everyone’s mind (Who will be the biggest rider caught doping?), I’m going to be optimistic and say that this will be the year we don’t see a major doping scandal.
Only 2 more days until Monaco!