Tour de France Preview – 5 "Indefensible" Claims

Sorry Mark, it’s not your year…

What would the Tour be without the surprising and unexpected?

Here are Pavé’s 5 “Indefensible” Claims for this year’s Tour:

1. This year’s Tour will be free of any doping controversy.

Okay, Thomas Dekker and the latest rumors of several more positives might have already debunked this claim, but we’re sticking to our guns: from the Prologue to Paris we’ll have a clean race.

Naive? Perhaps. But while we think the sport is still years away from teams not signing riders they suspect are doped, we have entered a phase (maybe?) where teams at least leave suspected dopes off their rosters for the sport’s biggest races. Teams just don’t seem willing to take the risk of having a rider test positive at events on a world stage anymore. The UCI’s Biological Passport makes it easier for them to make educated guesses, and this year could be the first where the results—or lack thereof—speak for themselves.

2. Mark Cavendish will win one individual stage and one stage only.

This year, Mark Cavendish won’t find it as easy as it was last year to win sprint stages. The reason?

Well, its initials are TB, it now wears a tri-color jersey, and it likes rocks…er…stones…um…cobbles.

Tom Boonen’s back, ladies and gentlemen, and he’s ready to show the world that he’s still one of the fastest men in the world—on a bike. But it’s too simple to say just one rider’s presence is enough to thwart Cavendish’s bid for sprint dominance. And it isn’t.

Last year, Cavendish came to the race with everyone thinking he would win a stage, but not certain as to how many. This year he arrives with the pressure of repeating and perhaps surpassing his indomitable performance.

The parcours also does him no favors. The mountains come a bit earlier than in years past, and Cavendish could struggle to make it over them while maintaining his sprint speed. He’ll also miss the presence of Marcus Burghardt, one of his most trusted lead-out men.

Plus, there’s the chance factor. Crashes, mechanicals, and blown lead-outs all factor into even the best sprinters’ plans from time to time. Cavendish might not get away so easily this time around.

3. French riders or riders from French teams will win more stages than any other country, making it a banner year for the “home équipe”.

It’s become apparent that we could have used Mad Libs to preview the 5 French teams in this year’s Tour. Here’s what they have in common: few serious GC candidates; no top-tier field sprinters capable of seriously threatening Boonen, Cavendish, Hushovd, and the like; and no climbers able to stay with the GC favorites in the mountains on a consistent basis.

We wish no disrespect for these teams; it’s just the reality of the situation right now. But it does mean—as we’ve been saying all week—that these teams come to the Tour with rosters full of men eager to attack, animate, and make the race aggressive as possible—particularly on days when the GC teams would be more content to just ride doucement.

This year, riders like Roman Feillu, Vladimir Efimkin, Thomas Voeckler, David Moncoutié, Yauheni Hutarovich, and the like will launch themselves off the front of every stage, gunning for victory. The odds will be in their favor on several stages.

Thus, with so many talented opportunists and so much to gain, we predict a banner year for French riders and French teams. If the 2009 Tour goes down as one of the most exciting in history, it won’t only be due to the over-abundance of GC favorites (those battles are always exciting, regardless of the year), it will be due to the efforts of men like these.

And we’ll all be saying, merci!

4. Lance Armstrong Won’t Finish the Race.

This claim has more to do with luck and less to do with fitness. Throughout his 7 Tour de France wins, Lance’s ability to avoid mishaps has been surprisingly underrated. While it’s certainly not as important as his other race-winning attributes, it must warrant consideration.

However, this year, Lance’s string of good luck seems to be coming to an end. He’s crashed. He’s broken a collarbone. He almost fell afoul of the UCI/WADA on an out of competition drug-testing technicality. His team almost lost its sponsorship a month before the race and comes to the the Tour with two leaders. And now, there’s rumors he might leave all together when the race ends.

One will never know just how much this weigh’s on Lance; he’s a master at keeping his emotions veiled. But it can certainly be specualted–maybe even assumed–that this has not been the ideal build-up for the 37-year old’s comeback bid.

The constellations don’t appear to be aligning in the way they used to for Big Tex. Sometime during the second week, he’ll make his exit. Then he’ll announce the creation of his new Bruyneel-led team and tell Vino to go BLEEP-himself.

And a whole new era begins.


5. Roman Kreuzinger will win the 2009 Tour de France.

A year too soon? Perhaps.

Too many other favorites? Maybe.

But while those are two compelling arguments against the claim, the list ends there. Kreuzinger’s won some pretty big races against some top competition in his young career. He’s finished well in the Tour and comes to the race this year with a better idea of what to expect. He also has a solid team behind him of capable riders able to support him in the race’s difficult moments.

But the biggest thing going for him might just be the two things working against him. The fact that no one seems to consider him a serious contender for the win—this year—could enable him to pull a surprise. Maybe he has a stellar Prologue, losing only seconds to the bigger GC favorites. Maybe he rides away from the lead group and gains some time in the Pyrenees because the “bigger” favorites are too busy looking at one another’s poker faces. Maybe he attacks and takes yellow in the Alps, defends it in the ITT, and then lets it all hang-out on Ventoux to take the jersey to Paris.

Stranger things have happened.

No matter what happens though, this year’s race is a sure bet to be one of the most exciting in years. We hope you’ll come back often for reports, opinions (no matter how outrageous), and more.

And please, share your thoughts with the rest of us below.

And for 5 more bold predictions, check-out our friends at Euro Peloton.

About Whit

My experiences might easily fit many cycling fans' definitions of “living the dream.” Since getting hooked on the sport watching Lance Armstrong win the 1993 U.S. Pro Championship, I've raced as an amateur on Belgian cobbles, traveled Europe to help build a European pro team, and piloted that team from Malaysia to Mont Ventoux. As a former assistant director sportif with Mercury-Viatel, I've also seen the less dreamy side of the sport – the side rife with broken contracts, infighting, and positive dope tests. These days, I live with my lovely wife in Pennsylvania and share my experiences and views on the sport at Bicycling Magazine, the Embrocation Cycling Journal, and at my own site, Pavé.
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