The 2012 Tour de France is now well and truly underway & what an exciting first week it has been, most recent tours have started with a dominant sprinter a few obvious General Classification (GC) contenders and a whole lot of crashes, what’s great about the 2012 tour is that almost all of these normalities have been changed.
Cancellara & prologues are always a match made in heaven & he certainly didn’t disappoint, putting a margin into some seriously tough competition including World TT champion Tony Martin (who suffered a puncture) Bradley Wiggins who is on the form of his life & various other TT specialists, Radioshack Nissan Trek’s Fabian has returned to form after his collarbone injury in the Tour of Flanders. No one expects a big guy like Fabian to hold onto the yellow jersey for long but Cancellara did it proud, fighting to stay at the front throughout the week and even challenging for another stage win on the tough climb of the Cote de Seraing dragging eventual winner Peter Sagan with him. Even as the Tour hit it’s first real mountains Cancellara valiantly charged up the Planche des Belle Filles to try & hold on to yellow but losing out to the might of Team SKY’s two pronged attack in the form of Wiggins and Froome – the stage winner. There were high hopes for Fabian in the first ITT but the pressure of retaining a leaders jersey for a week & having ridden mountains the day before took the edge of Spartacus who lost out to an impressive ride from Wiggo. With his wife expecting their 2nd child imminently Cancellara has now abandoned the tour, this will probably also help him in the run up to the Olympics with more focused training & recovery.
Team SKY’s Wiggo went into the race as the bookies favourite, even above defending 2011 Tour Winner BMC’s Cadel Evans – Wiggo went into 2012 with one goal in mind & his dedication to reaching it has been unwavering, training at altitude for much of the spring doing excessive climb training & then going on to win the Dauphine/Romandie double has been the perfect run up to the tour. Coming a close second on the prologue & staying out of trouble – but in check of the other GC contenders, Bradley spent his 1st week playing a waiting game. When the first mountains came into view it was clear that this would be a proving ground for the GC hopefuls -and a fair few were found wanting. Not so for Wiggins & Team SKY team mate Chris Froome who followed Cadel Evan’s attack up the Planche des Belle Filles, Wiggins seemed to be relatively comfortable on the 20%+ gradient of the final slope, not even needing to get out of the saddle, compared to Evans who looked spent, Froome could see this & decided a stage win was worth a shot since his job was done in getting Brad to the line. Wiggo then cemented his lead over Evans with an astonishing performance in the ITT, his first ever stage win and surely a special one when wearing the Malliot Jaune.
Cadel’s form in the run up to the tour has been good but nothing remarkable, a win in the Criterium international showed that he hadn’t lost anything over the winter but he doesn’t appear to have upped his game from the previous year. Without the comedy double act of the Schleck brothers to shadow he has the altogether more difficult task of beating the might of Team SKY and the time trialling ability of Wiggo & Froome – something Cadel can’t match. His chances will rest on misfortune or complacency if he wants to defend his title, perhaps sacrificing Teejay Van Garderen & the rest of the team as mountain domestiques.
Impressive performances from Kenyan SKY rider Chris Froome have seen him elevated from super domestique (to team leader Wiggins) to actual GC contender (and stage winner) – sitting comfortably in 3rd at present – something SKY insist they wont defend, either way having two riders so closely matched can only be a good thing in terms of covering any incidents in the next two weeks. Vincenzo Nibali has also done well in sticking to the wheels of his rivals – even putting in a good ITT performance, if anything he could be more of a threat than Evans in the mountains though Liquigas have a conflict of interest with Sagan in green, though he does seem pretty capable of looking after himself! Katusha‘s Denis Menchov (also a former Giro d’Italia winner) has been quietly keeping pace too, though it’s difficult to see where he may take any advantage. Radioshack’s Frank Schleck has himself admitted a podium place is unlikely (probably because his brother said so) and other GC contenders noticeable by their absence include Jurgen Van den Broeck, Janez Brajkovic and Michele Scarponi though that doesn’t necesarily put them out of the running, sometimes having a bit of a time gap takes you off the GC radar & allows you escape options.
at 22 years old Liquigas rider Sagan is the 2nd youngest rider on this year’s tour, but what he lacks in age & experience he makes up for in sheer determination, taking the 1st stage with relative ease then the 3rd by enough margin to celebrate with a ‘Forrest Gump running’ impression (followed by ‘the Hulk’ on stage 6 – rumour has it the team watch a film the night before), after winning 3 stages so far Sagan currently leads the points classification by 22 points to his nearest rival Orica GreenEdge sprinter Matt Goss, Greipel & Cav trailing -45 & -88 points respectively. Even when he isn’t winning stages Sagan is winning fans with no hander wheelies over the line on finishing climbs that would have most of us mortals chewing the handlebar tape! His antics have been seen as cocky by some but it’s great to see a young rider enjoying himself in the circus that is le Tour. So far he has also been lucky enough to avoided any of the major pile ups too, a key factor in retaining the Malliot Vert to Paris.
The German powerhouse took a leaf out of last year’s Team SKY setup & seems to have a dedicated sprint train to help him safely to the the line, unfortunately for any sprinter there are so many variables in a stage that no one can guarantee success on every stage. That said his two stage victories in succession on stage 4 & 5 were textbook, beating Sagan to the line on the first one & Cavendish on the second. He has also managed to escape any serious incidents so far.
The sprint king of last year Mark Cavendish may have found himself without a steady Team SKY train due to their focus on the GC but that hasn’t stopped him being in the mix in the right conditions, on stage two fans of the flat & fast were finally treated to a Greipel/Cav showdown – Greipel’s Lotto Belisol teammates delivering him towards the line with near perfect precision, near perfect because sat in Greipel’s baffles was the the Manx Missile with launch codes programmed and a faster trajectory to the line & his 21st Tour stage win. Unfortunately the rest of the week would not go so well for Mark who was caught up in a number of crashes including one which saw him crossing the line with a shredded rainbow jersey & a KASK helmet in bits.
Orica GreenEdge’s Goss has been the shadow man so far on this tour, always there or thereabouts but never quite sealing a win, his position on the classification reflects this & is boosted by strong performances in the intermediate sprints, he just doesn’t seem to have the finishing power of the others & seems to start his sprint a little early, there are still two weeks left of racing so he has plenty of time to perfect it & score a stage win for the newly former Australian team.
With only a few hills conquered Astana’s Kessiakoff is currently wearing the polka dots of the mountain leader, taken from Froome – depending on how the GC guys chose to race on the next few weeks climbs he could well get it back as they will want to stay near the front for the most part & will pick up points in doing so. unfortunately Garmin Barracuda Sharp‘s KOM hopeful (and now their best placed in the GC ) – Dan Martin has yet to pick up any points but hopefully he will get that chance as we enter the Pyrenees.
Teejay Van Garderen of BMC Racing has done an outstanding job, staying in the top ten throughout the first week he has swapped jerseys a few times with Cofidis rider Rein Taaramae, climbs suiting the latter & TTs the former. One weeks racing doesn’t always decide the outcome of any given classification though & with Tony Gallopin of Radioshack less than a minute back it could change hands again.
Tony Martin, Ryder Hesjedal, Samuel Sanchez, Kanstantin Sitsou, Jose Rojas, Martin Tjallingii, Maarten Wynants, Mercel Kittel, Wout Poels, Thomas Danielson, Mikel Astarloza, Amets Txurruka, Oscar Freire, Davide Vigano, Hubert Dupont, Robbie Hunter, Emanol Erviti, Jose Ivan Gutierrez, Anthony Delaplace, Johannes Frolinger, Gorka Verdugo, Tony Martin, Matt Lloyd, Fabian Cancellara
Remy di Gregorio