June 24, 2011 by Irish Peloton
How the big contenders have prepared for the Tour
It’s that time of year again when all the Tour de France contenders are done with their race preparation and we’re just left waiting for the big event to start. Once again, Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador will be the overwhelming favourites for overall victory.
Andy Schleck has been beaten into second place by Alberto Contador in the last two Tours de France. Although the margin of victory in last year’s Tour (39″) was more than six times less than Contador’s winning margin in 2009 (4’11”). But if the Spaniard does this to Schleck again it will be the first time that one rider has beaten another into second place three times in a row.
There have been three previous occasions where this has happened twice in a row but nobody has ever gotten the hat-trick over a rival.
Lance Armstrong did it to Jan Ullrich in consecutive years in 2000 and 2001. Bernard Hinault did it to Joop Zoetemelk in 1978 and 1979. And tragically for Zoetemelk, Merckx also did it to him in 1970 and 1971. But, unlike Zoetemelk and Ullrich, Andy Schleck has yet to win a Tour de France of his own.
So will Andrew Schleck finally get the job done this summer having been runner up in a Grand Tour three times?
There is a whole lot of yellow and orange going on in Contador’s column but no so much for Andy Schleck. In fact Schleck is the only rider in the table above who hasn’t won a race this year. It’s a point I’ve harped on about before, but Andy Schleck has still never won a professional stage race. And yet again this year, he hasn’t even tried.
Helping team mates win throughout the year in return for service at the Tour is admirable but leading and winning a stage race provides vital experience for when the Tour rolls around. When Schleck got the yellow jersey at the Tour last year, that was his first time to ever wear a leader’s jersey. How is he supposed to know how to ride when leading a race, any race, never mind the Tour? Whereas Contador rides to win every stage race he enters. Contador’s attitude is that of a winner. Schleck’s attitude, for a rider who has aspirations to win the biggest race in the world, is meek.
I have no doubt that despite the lack of meanignful results, that Schleck has timed his form peak to perfection, as he did last year. But the lack of any sort of experience of winning stage races could be detrimental to how he conducts himself should he end up in the yellow jersey once more.
The fact that Contador is the only contender who rode the Giro d’Italia is significant. Even though he won it and won it easily, it was still a bloody hard route and he must surely be more fatigued than those riders who rode the relatively placid Tour de Suisse or Critérium du Dauphiné.
Cadel Evans is another rider with plenty of yellow and gold in his column, and one of his greens is the Volta a Catalunya where he finished eighth. Evans has also racked up remarkably few race days this year, a mere 29. Compare this with last year when he raced 42 days before the Tour when he had the responsibility of displaying the rainbow stripes of World Champion. Evans’s preparation has been much more measured this year and he should be coming into perfect form at the perfect time.
Samuel Sanchez also has some good results to his name this year with top 10s in the Vuelta a Andalucia, Paris-Nice, Tour of the Basque Country and Fléche Wallonne, and he also won the GP Miguel Indurain. The podium is a definite possibility and hopefully we’ll see him wreaking havoc on the Stage 17 descent into Pinerolo.
Robert Gesink has also had a solid season thus far. He only finished 20th in the Dauphiné, but he managed second and third on the final two stages. He also won a time trial in the Tour of Oman, so comparisons to Michael Rasmussen are extremely unfair.
As for Ivan Basso, he started the season well with a rare one-day victory in the GP di Lugano, fourth in Tirreno-Adratico and seventh in the Volta a Catalunya. But a face plant whilst training on Mount Etna last month has meant time off the bike and now means Basso’s form is a bit of a mystery.
Finally, kudos to Bradley Wiggins who yet again is the only Tour contender who braved the pavé this year and rode Paris-Roubaix.