Australiaâ€™s Tour contingentâ€”while smallâ€”might just be the deepest of any nation in the race. A solid mix of youth and experience, look for the Aussies to contend in all phases of this yearâ€™s Tour de France.
For obvious reasons, the bulk of the countryâ€™s Tour hopes lie on the battle-tested shoulders of BMCâ€™s Cadel Evans, a rider with two second-place GC finishes and a stage win on his resume. Once heralded as a future Tour champion, Evans struggled to compete in the last two editions, but in the midst of a terrific season that has already seen the Aussie score wins in Tirreno-Adriatico, the Tour of Romandie, and a second-place finish in the Criterium du DauphinÃ©, it appears the 34-year-old is up to his old tricks again.
This yearâ€™s course suits â€œCuddlesâ€ well. While his BMC team might lose some time in the TTT, several of the first weekâ€™s trickier finishes could give him an early opportunity to earn back some timeâ€”after all, this a man with an Ardennes classic and a hard-fought World Championship title on his resume. Stages 1, 4, and 6 are particular opportunities for Evans to sneak-up and surprise one or two of his rivals.
By the time the race hits the Pyrenees and the Alps, Evans should be firing on all cylinders (if he succumbed to the crashes or mental breakdowns that affected him in the last two editions). Look for him to do his best to limit his losses to the younger, more aggressive climbers in the high moutains, all in the hopes that the final individual time trial will give him one last chance to move himself up the GC. While an overall victory might be a bit our of the veteranâ€™s reach, a stage win or two plus a spot on the podium certainly is not. For Evans and his BMC squad, that has to be considered a job well done.
As for the rest of the Australian crew, HTC-HighRoadâ€™s Matthew Goss gets his first chance at the Tour de France, leading his team in the field sprints together with Great Britainâ€™s Mark Cavendish. Team Skyâ€™s Simon Gerrans showed flashes of his former stage-winning self during the Ardennes classics; heâ€™ll be a valuable ally for Bradley Wiggins in the mountains and could find himself fighting for a breakaway victory on transition days.
And last but not least, we canâ€™t discuss Australians the Tour without mentioning unsung heroes like HTCâ€™s Mark Renshaw and Leopard Trekâ€™s Stuart Oâ€™Grady, both of whom will play key roles should their teams have successful Julys. If thereâ€™s any sense of justice in the sport (I know, I know) Renshaw will be gifted at least one day to try and sprint for himself. HTCâ€™s leadout is certainly powerful enough to make it possible, and after all Renshawâ€™s done on behalf of the squad, it would be a worthy â€œthank youâ€ as the team looks poised to break apart.
As for Stuey, heâ€™ll play a valuable role at Leopard Trek, shepherding the Schleckâ€™s through the first week and perhaps finding himself in a breakaway or two in the second and third weeksâ€”just to keep the pressure off his team. Oâ€™Grady won a stage in
Man of the Hour: Everything has gone as planned for BMCâ€™s Cadel Evans heading into the 2011 Tour de France. Perhaps a bit overshadowed by other favorites, the veteran would be smart to exploit his underdog status while top favorites like Contador and Schleck mark one another.
On the Hot Seat: Not only is HTC-HighRoadâ€™s Matthew Goss riding his first Tour de France, but heâ€™s doing it under the pressure of a collapsing team and while trying to earn a hefty contract on the transfer market. Of course, Goss has shown himself to be one of the most talented riders in the pelotonâ€”at 24 he already has a win in Milan-San Remo to go with a stage victory in last yearâ€™s Giro. Another rider to watch during the first week, Goss could steal the yellow jersey should his team win Stage 2â€™s TTT.
Up-and-Comer: Saxo Bankâ€™s Richie Porte finished seventh overall and won the white jersey as Best Young Rider at last yearâ€™s Giro dâ€™Italia. He rides his first Tour this year, after supporting Alberto Contador in the Giro. Heâ€™s likely riding to bolster the team in the Stage 2 TTT, as the majority of Saxo Bankâ€™s roster is filled with climbersâ€”maybe Porteâ€™s mission will be accomplished by the end of the first weekend?