As many a rider can attest to, if I predict you’ll do well, you’re already with one foot in the ambulance. So I apologize in advance to anybody mentioned here.
Wiggins is the favorite to win this Tour in many reviews. That in itself is a stunning development. We’re talking about a rider who has been very strong this season, who is among the best in the TT and is difficult to drop in the mountains when he’s on form. And the course certainly favors the time trialers.
But he’s also a guy who has never finished on the podium at the Tour, and who in his last Grand Tour (2011 Vuelta) wasn’t even the top Sky rider on GC or in the time trials! It’s not that I disagree with him being one of the favorites, and he has been impressive in the Dauphiné, but I’m amazed how he’s been thrust in the absolute favorite role over:
Cadel Evans. Maybe Cadel hasn’t had a spectacular run-up to the Tour, but it’s been solid. When he’s on-form, he can time trial with the best of them, also on the last weekend of a 3-week race (something Wiggins hasn’t shown to the same degree). In reality, he’s not that different a rider from Wiggins (when it comes to TT strength and steady climbing), and he’s got the experience of a Tour win and several Grand Tour podium finishes to back it up.
What’s more, I think Evans is one of the few riders in the modern peloton who has a keen tactical eye. He doesn’t need to wait for somebody to talk into his ear, he can spot opportunities and more than that, he’s willing to take them when they appear. That can really make the difference in Grand Tours nowadays.
Instead of burning through all your helpers in the lead-up to the final climbs, after which it is a fairly predictable mand-to-man combat between the leaders anyway, modern Grand Tours see a lot of activity on the descents and other unexpected moments. Quick math of who is gone and how to respond is paramount then, especially for those who are short on teammates. You saw this almost go spectacularly wrong at the Giro this year when De Gendt attacked towards the Stelvio.
Also note that when it really matters, everybody will be short of teammates. As impressive as Team Sky was in the Giro and Dauphiné, when the big boys start riding there won’t be 5 Sky riders hanging on.
So how about Hesjedal with his new-found confidence. Can he be the first rider since Pantani to do the Giro-Tour double? I don’t see why not, I completely believe it’s still possible to win the double. Last year Contador tried and failed, but there was so much going on with him, it’s hard to draw a definite conclusion from it.
I am afraid that Hesjedal will fall a little bit short compared to Wiggins and Evans overall, and also compared to a few others in the mountains, but confidence is a powerful drug. If he pulls this off, and with the World Championships on the Cauberg (where Hesjedal once finished second at the Amstel-Gold Race), Stephen Roche and Eddy Merckx could even get company as triple crown winners!
But as we now know, all of the above is nonsense. Trek has unveiled a new Madone that saves 2min per hour, so that’s around 3 hours saved over the entire Tour. I know Frank Schleck says he’s not a contender, but that’s a nice buffer I would think. So my final prediction is Frank Schleck as the winner of the 2012 Tour, with a 2 hour advantage over the rest of the field.