2010 Tour de France – 10 Questions

It’s the day before the start of the 2010 Tour de France.  While countless questions abound, here are 10 that I’ll be looking to have answered.  Feel free to share your own questions and comments below.

1. What impact will the Wall Street Journal’s “Blood Brothers” feature have on Radio Shack’s Tour?

While I would prefer to focus on the racing itself, it would be irresponsible to ignore what could potentially be the story of the race. While it’s impossible to tell what the feature might contain, one can only hope it’s not speculative—we’ve had enough of that.

It’s a shame the WSJ couldn’t have picked an earlier date for its story as it risks overshadowing the start of the race itself. A week before the Prologue, a Rest Day, anything would have been better—in my opinion—than tomorrow.

C’est la vie, I guess.

2. Will Tyler Farrar and his Garmin challenge Mark Cavendish and HTC-Columbia in the Tour’s field sprints—and will either of them affect Thor Hushovd’s quest for a third green jersey?

Sunday’s Stage 1 travels from Rotterdam to Brussels, and should give us our first bunch sprint of the race. Tyler Farrar has been the fastest and most consistent field sprinter this year taking wins in the Scheldeprijs and the Giro against some top competition. Garmin has honored the American’s progression by building a team of riders able to deliver Farrar to the line with the best.

On the other hand, Mark Cavendish’s season hasn’t exactly gone as planned. He lost George Hincapie this past off-season (one of the more ingredients in his 6-stage showing in last year’s Tour), and began the season suffering from bad teeth. This was followed by inconsistent results, public displays of his immaturity, and a crash at the Tour de Suisse (and subsequent rider boycott). While Cavendish comes to the Tour as confident as ever, one cannot help but wonder why.

Look for Sunday’s Stage 1 to set the tone for the rest of the week—whichever sprinter and team gets the first punch might go on to subsequent fights over the next several days. And don’t forget Hushovd—he might not have the team of the other two, but he still warrants attention.

3. What effect will Stage 3’s trip over the pavé have on the GC?

Tuesday’s Stage 3 from Wanze to Arenberg Porte du Hainaut is already one the more hyped stages in recent memory. With 13.2km of pavé—the last section of which comes a mere 7.7km from the finish line—the stage is being touted as one of the key strategic points of the first week.

First of all, one should not discount the effects that the previous day’s ride from Brussels to Spa might have. With a finish resembling a mini-Ardennes classic, some serious time gaps could evolve, perhaps creating a bit of early daylight between one or two of the main contenders. Remember Miguel Indurain’s attack on the road to Liege in 1995? It might be too early for a repeat of that surprise move, but don’t discount the role the stage could have in what we see the following day.

In this year’s Giro, bad weather and several stretches of strade bianche greeted the riders in Stage 7. While a favorite or two did lose precious time, the ultimate battle for the maglia rosa was not immensely effected by the day’s muddy carnage. In fact, Ivan Basso, Michele Scarponi, and Vincenzo Nibali all lost chunks of time, but they all went on to finish the Giro within the top-4, with Basso taking the overall victory. In other words, while Stage 3 could prove pivotal for some, there’s a long to go before Paris.

All in all, I think we can expect to see several teams attempt to stick it to Astana with maybe one or two favorites losing significant chunks of time.

But after only 3 days of racing, will it be enough to effectively end someone’s Tour so soon after it began?

4. Will the Alps blow the race apart or will most contenders be content to wait for the Pyrenees?

This year’s Tour features no time trialing between the Prologue and Stage 19, so we can expect the main favorites to hit the Alps bunched together—barring any time losses in the Ardennes, on the pavé, or due to crashes. Next Saturday’s Stage 7 ends with a flat 4km drag to the line from the summit of the Cat. 2 Cote de Lamoura, while Sunday’s Stage 8 finishes atop the Cat. 1 climb to Morzine-Avoriaz.

It will be interesting to see how the contenders handle these two days. Saturday’s finish is considered the easier of the two, but with 6 climbs on the day, a break could escape early of riders eager to stake claims in the KOM competition. And the final 20km are almost entirely uphill; it will be a difficult day for those unable to adjust to the sudden change in terrain.

Sunday looks to be a more significant test with the Cat. 1 Col de la Ramaz softening the leading group before the finale to Morzine. With a rest day following, it could be our first chance to see fireworks from the contenders.

5. How will Sky support Bradley Wiggins in the mountains?

When the race does hit the high mountains, I’m eager to see who Sky assigns to usher Bradley Wiggins through the early parts of each stage. On paper, his team is built more for stage wins than cultivating and protecting a high placing on the GC. Will Simon Gerrans be asked to sit-up from a breakaway to drift back and pace Wiggins?

Michael Barry and Serge Pauwels are true domestiques—few can forget Pauwels bailing on a breakaway in last year’s Giro to work for Sastre. But the rest? Flecha, Cummings, and Boasson Hagen are more suited to flatter days, while Gerrans and Lokvist are opportunists—not true climbers.

That said, Wiggins hardly had the full support of his team in last year’s race—Garmin was a squad built relatively similar to Sky’s, albeit with slightly lesser talent—with one key exception: Christian Vande Velde.

If one of Wiggo’s mates rises to the occasion as a mountain lieutenant, another top-5 performance is within reach. Otherwise, without a TTT or an ITT before the high mountains, Wiggins could find himself outmanned when the heavy lifting begins.

6. Will HTC-Columbia be faced with the reality that it might actually have a contender or two for the overall? If so, when?

Last year, there was little expectation of a GC rider emerging from HTC-Columbia. Tony Martin held the white jersey for a few days, but he was widely expected to cough it up once the race went into the mountains. And Michael Rogers? Well, he wasn’t on anyone’s radar either.

That’s all changed this year with both Martin and Rogers enjoying banner seasons to now. Throw-in the fact that Mark Cavendish is showing cracks in his indomitability and you have a case of a team that might be on the verge of an identity change.

Looking down the team’s roster, it seems to be split down the middle: Cavendish, Eisel, Grabsch, Hansen, and Renshaw for the sprints; and Martin, Monfort, Rogers, and Siutsou for the GC. While every rider will certainly pitch-in when and wherever asked, it’s clear that Bob Stapleton has more than just stage wins on his radar.

With Martin still a year or two away from being a true contender, Rogers is the key to this year’s race. If he’s able to make it through the first week (and maybe even the Alps) inside the top-10, the team might have a tough choice to make—especially if Cavendish is still in contention for stages or the green jersey.

But no matter what happens this year, HTC will face an even tougher dilemma next season if young stage racers Tejay Van Garderen, Peter Velits, and Craig Lewis continue to develop. That’s not entirely a bad problem to have.

7. Is Lance Armstrong the best rider on his team?

Team Radio Shack might face a dilemma of its own in this year’s Tour should Lance Armstrong prove weaker than a few of his key support personnel. Andreas Kloden looked to be the stronger of the two several times during last year’s race, ultimately sacrificing his own chances for the sake of Big Tex. Should the gap between Lance and the competition prove even greater this July, it might be tough for Kloden to make the same sacrifices—he’s not retiring after all.

And then there’s Janez Brajkovic, a man who surprisingly makes his first Tour appearance this year. Brajkovic rode a fantastic Dauphiné, taking the win with an impressive mix of time trialing and climbing. If he comes to the Tour with similar form, he could throw a wrench in The Shack’s plans.

8. Will the new “Team Luxembourg” negatively impact the chemistry at Saxo Bank?

Bjarne Riis needs to do something—and quick—if he wants to keep Saxo Bank functioning harmoniously. Already having lost his press officer, Bryan Nygaard, and DS, Kim Andersen, to start the new formation (rumored to be sponsored by French supermarket chain, Auchan) Riis now faces the departures of several of his riders to the start-up squad.

Andy and Frank Schleck have been the most-discussed departures; they’ve been talking about forming their own team for months now. Fabian Cancellara has been rumored to be BMC-bound; while Jakob Fuglsang and Matti Breschel are already fielding offers should Riis prove unable to save the day.

But with such dissention in the ranks, how will it affect the team’s chances in a race in which they’re considered one of the top 2 or 3 contenders?

9. What will be the Tour’s juiciest transfer rumor?

It seems that the transfer rumors heat-up earlier and earlier each year. Aside from the Saxo Bank situation, we’ve already heard rumors about HTC’s Andre Greipel, Quick Step’s Stijn Devolder, and Lampre’s Damiano Cunego—just to name a few.

While I’m curious to hear your thoughts, I’ll leave you with my prediction: Roman Kreuziger has already indicated his desire to stretch his wings. Look for his landing-place to be one of the Tour’s hottest topics—and for the likely answer to be Radio Shack.

10. With no Italian or Belgian tricolored jerseys in the Tour this year, which national champion(s) will have the biggest impact?

Will Thomas Voeckler win another stage for France? Will Christian Knees and Niki Terpstra grab Milram it’s first Tour win? What about Norwegian champ Thor Hushovd—will he take his third green jersey?

So many choices—so little time.

A few notes before wrapping things up:

1. Assuming everything goes well this afternoon, we will be launching the new site tomorrow. The address will change to www.pavepavepave.com, but we plan to have the old URL re-direct you as well. Please update your bookmarks, readers, etc.

2. Also, I’ll be live blogging for Bicycling several times during the Tour, beginning tomorrow with Bill Strickland. Please stop-by and ask a question, join the discussion, or share your thoughts—it will be nice to see some from friendly faces! (Even if I’ve actually never seen you.)

That’s it for today—please share your thoughts, questions, and comments below.

And most of all—enjoy the Tour!

Á bientôt!

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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