Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Tour de France 2013: Preview & Favorites

The Tour de France route 2013 - click for larger view.
Many people criticized last year’s Tour de France of being ’too boring’. Looking at start list, I doubt that will be the case this year.

It’s true that Team Sky once again have the big favorite but the compared to last year, there are a lot more riders able to fight for the final podium.

This year’s race includes 21 stages. I have divided them into the following categories:

6 x “100 % sprint”.
2-3 x “sprint in a reduced peloton”.
3 x time trials; 2 ITT and 1 TTT.
4 x mountain top finish
2 x mountain downhill finish
3-4 x hilly/breakaway

Both of the individual time trials are short this year (33 km & 32 km) and with an extremely hard last week (one hilly ITT and three mountain stages in the Alps), it’s safe to say that the pure climbers have a good chance of succeeding this year. I have a good feeling about the first five riders in the general classification. Still, I only see two riders with a solid chance of winning Tour de France overall. My view on the riders’ chances can be categorized like this (the order is irrelevant):

Winner:
Podium:
Chris Froome
Richie Porte
Alberto Contador
Alejandro Valverde
Joaquim ‘Purito’ Rodriguez
Top5:
Top10:
Cadel Evans
Thibaut Pinot
Tejay van Garderen
Jakob Fuglsang
Jurgen Van den Broeck
Bauke Mollema
Ryder Hesjedal
Daniel Navarro
Nairo Quintana
Jean-Christophe Peraud
Haimar Zubeldia
Top20:
Rein Taaramae
Rui Costa
Pierre Rolland
Damiano Cunego
Dan Martin
Andy Schleck
Wout Poels
Andrey Amador
Roman Kreuziger
Janez Brajkovic
Robert Gesink
Daniel Moreno
Arnold Jeannesson
Laurens Ten Dam
Igor Antón
Thomas De Gendt
Michal Kwiatkowski
Mikel Nieve
Andrew Talansky

Chris Froome has been the best stage race rider this year and anything but a top performance from him in the Tour will be a big surprise. He is one of the best time trialists in the race and despite the short distances; he will be able to take a lot of times on this rivals against the clock. Had it been Wiggins, I would expect the climbers to take back the time in the mountains but Chris Froome will be very difficult to drop uphill. He was the strongest rider in the mountains in the last year’s Tour de France and he only seems to be stronger this year. Furthermore, he has Richie Porte to help him. 

Porte has taken a big step up the ladder this season with his overall win in Paris-Nice and his second place (behind Froome) in Dauphiné. Porte’s next big individual target is the Giro d’Italia 2014 but that doesn’t stop him from talking about a podium spot in this year’s Tour. The time trials are definitely in Porte’s favor but I don’t think Team Sky can make a double (1st & 2nd) like last year. Still, third place overall doesn’t seem unlikely. It all depends on how strong Froome is in the last week. If he gets isolated early, naturally he’ll have to use Porte early as well. If not, Team Sky probably end with two riders on the podium again this year.

Many are questioning Alberto Contador’s chances. This year he hasn’t been as strong as earlier but what people tend to forget is that this has all been part of a bigger plan. Read more about that here and see what his teammate Jesus Hernandez says about Contador's chances. It's also important to remember that Contador's results haven't been bad at all. He was 4th overall in San Luis, 2nd overall in Oman, 3rd overall in Tirreno, 5th overall Pais Vasco and 10th overall in Dauphiné. Contador said he was only on 75 % in Dauphiné and I think he would have won the final stage had he not waited for Michael Rogers. Many would probably have a different view on Contador’s chances had he won that last stage and I guess that’s why so many don’t think he stands a chance against Chris Froome. Personally, I think it will be a close fight between Froome and Contador but it all depends on how much time Contador loses to Froome in the time trials.

As my list reveals I expect Valverde & Purito to be fighting for a spot on the final podium. This year’s route is as perfect as it gets for Purito. The time trials are short and the final one is very hilly. He will probably lose about four minutes to Froome against the clock but he has a chance of taking some of it back in the mountains and in the stages ending downhill. Few - if any - in the professional peloton can match Purito’s kick uphill and I won’t be surprised if he takes 10-15 seconds on Froome (thanks to late attacks close to the line) in a couple of the uphill finishes. Purito is also very good on the descents and knowing he needs to take back time, he should embrace every opportunity he gets. The most important thing for Purito this year is to get the overall place “he deserves”. Most likely he feels that he should have won both the Giro and the Vuelta last year and therefore he now hopes to end where he deserves. 2nd or 8th is not ‘that’ important it seems - as long as it matches his performance.

Alejandro Valverde has one of the strongest teams in the race to support him this year but that doesn’t help him much in the time trials. I think Movistar will be very close to Team Sky in the team time trial but in the two individual ones, Valverde will lose time. Therefore, he too needs to attack. His big goal is a spot on the podium in Paris and with super domestiques like Quintana and Rui Costa (and Amador) he can’t complain about the support. I doubt Valverde can drop Contador, Froome and Purito uphill but he will be able to drop many of the other contenders with help from his team and especially Nairo Quintana.

Stage 15, 18, 19 & 20.
Click for larger view.
The Colombian super climber could very well aim at Top5 himself this year but he knows the time is not right. He is still young and this year everything is build up around Valverde. Quintana has been preparing himself for the Tour home in Colombia for the last two months. Contrary to many of the Tour riders, he will arrive to Corsica without any recent race competition in his legs and I won’t be surprised if he loses time in the first week. That being said, don’t be surprised either if Quintana is fighting with Thibaut Pinot and Tejay van Garderen for the white jersey in the last week. The final week is so extremely hard this year and anything can happen. A couple of lost minutes from the first week is nothing compared to final days in the Alps.

Before the Giro d’Italia started this year, I doubted Cadel Evans chances of success, what a mistake! The Australian veteran had been talking about peaking in the Tour the whole season and therefore I couldn’t see him dig deep in the Giro. Still, he managed to finish third overall. 

The Giro was very hard this year though, despite the cancelled climbs, and once again I now doubt Evans’ chances. Maybe it’s a mistake but is it really possible - in modern cycling - to do Top3 in the Giro and Top3 in the Tour the same year? Especially with two such hard routes? Time will tell. 

BMC also have Tejay van Garderen to play but according to the American, he’s only here to help his captain. This is most likely Cadel Evans' last chance to lead a team in the Tour - aiming at the GC - and I think the team really want to back him up. Van Garderen still has about 10 years ahead of him on top level and sacrificing one year - and still doing well in the GC - shouldn't really be a big issue for him. 

There are many [equally] strong riders fighting for the Top10 places this year and instead of going through all of them (see my list above for that matter), I’ll leave you with a couple of jokers. First one is Daniel Navarro. After being one of Contador’s faithful helpers for many years, Navarro now has a chance to show his own potential. Saxo-Tinkoff didn’t want to keep Navarro at his current salary and when Cofidis were ready to make him captain, the choice wasn’t really that tough for the Spanish climber. So far it’s been a great match. Daniel Navarro finished 12th overall in Paris-Nice, 16th overall in Catalunya and latest 5th overall in Dauphiné where he were among the strongest uphill.  Originally the plan for the Tour was to aim at a stage win but with the impressive performances in Dauphiné, Cofidis & Navarro now aim at the overall classification instead. The French team also have Rein Taaramae for the GC and together with Jerome Coppel and Christophe Le Mevel they have a very strong team to support Navarro. In fact, Cofidis are my outsider for the Team Classification this year.

I also expect a strong performance from Andrey Amador. He’s probably only ranked fourth in the Movistar team for this Tour de France but I think we will see a lot of him, especially in the third week. Amador is an excellent climber and like [teammate] Quintana, he’s been preparing himself at home in the mountains. The Irazú volcano [3500 meters above sea level] in Costa Rica is where Amador has been training and he showed in Tour de Suisse that he’s ready with a strong performance in the final time trial. In the Tour de France Andrey Amador hopes to hit a morning breakaway and take a stage win like he did in the Giro d’Italia last year. Naturally, helping Valverde is the number one priority but it can also be a tactical advantage for Movistar to have Amador in a breakaway. Contrary to many other climbers Amador is also very good against the clock which will help Movistar in the team time trial. I expect them to make Top3 that day.

Before I end this Preview, let's take a look at the Green Jersey. Peter Sagan was my big favorite last year and he turned out to be even stronger than expected. This year, he’s once again the favorite but if Mark Cavendish is back on his top level, it will be a close fight. I see at least six “sure” sprint stages and even though Sagan is fast, he’s not as fast as Cavendish, Greipel & Kittel. There are more points up for grab in the flat stages. That means if Cavendish wins four of five stages without Sagan making Top3, he will get a good advantage. Sagan will be in the mix some days where Cavendish can’t keep up though. Still, I think it will be very close this year. Also, both Sagan and Cavendish have high hopes of wearing the Yellow Jersey early in the race this year. Therefore, what will end as a fight for green most likely will start out as a fight for yellow!

Many people ask me about my picks for the four jerseys. I think both the Polka Dot Jersey and the White Jersey are very tough to call this year but if I had to, these would be my picks:

Yellow: Chris Froome
Green: Peter Sagan
Polka Dot: Damiano Cunego / or an Euskaltel rider
White: Nairo Quintana
---------
Team GC: Movistar

Again this year, there will be daily Stage Previews during the Tour. I know many of you would like them online early but I simply don't have time to publish them before 21:00 - 22:00 CET. 

The stages of this year's Tour de France are set to finish around 17:00 / 17:30 CET. If you find yourself without a TV, go to steephill.tv for live streams.


7 comments:

  1. Once again Mikkel, Thanks for all your wonderful insights!
    What do you think of Vichots chances?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Mikkel, I truly love to read your previews! keep up the good work! I have 2 questions for you, that I hope, you'll answer for me. I have a manager game going on against my friends and I'll like tou hear whether you think Saxobank's Bennati will go for the sprints? And do you think Europcar's Gené will take part in the sprints? If you, can you the come up with some riders, you would imagine figting for the positions 10-15 in the sprins? Best regards a great fan, Frederik

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thank you. I think Vichot will be very eager to show off his national jersey on home soil. He'll probably already try a couple of times on Corsica. He seems to be at 100% right now and in that shape he should be able to win a stage during the race..

    About Bennati, I doubt he will sprint much. He's easily getting "scared" in the bunch sprints nowadays and in a super nervous first sprint, I doubt he will be up there. That being said, if he finds himself on a good wheel, his instincts will take over and he'll probably do Top8-15. For jokers in the sprints, stay tuned for the stage previews ;-)

    ReplyDelete
  4. Nice preview!

    What do you think the chances are for young riders like cameron meyer, ion Izagirre to do well?

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thank you. I expect Ion Izagirre to do well in the GC (Top20) and most of all; attack. Cam Meyer did well in Tour de Suisse but this is something different. I think he will target a few breakaways and go for a stage win when it's hilly.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Okey thanks. Can I also ask you who you think will do best from: Jeannesson, ten Dam, Ruben Plaza and de Clercq?

    Cheers

    ReplyDelete
  7. Great read. Had the same thoughts about Navarro.
    I see you have Andrew Talansky and Mikel Nieve in your top 20. Don't you think Talansky will be able to finish top 10?

    Also, what do you think about Rohan Dennis, Simon Spilak and P. Niemiec for GC?

    ReplyDelete