Germany comes to the Tour de France armed to the teeth with a roster of riders with diverse skills. It’s not a particularly difficult stretch of the imagination to say that it’s entirely possible for Germany to bring home a rider each with a top-5 GC placing, a sprint win, a time trial win, and a stage win.
Germany’s best hopes for a high placing on the General Classification look to be RadioShack’s Andreas Kloden. Klodi may be getting old – he just turned 36 – but that’s hardly unusual for the curious squad he rides with, which also brings 40-year-old Chris Horner to the Tour. Since that team has two other riders capable of threatening GC contenders, Kloden’s GC hopes might be tanked by a leaderless “Let the road determine the captain” approach. Johan Bruyneel may be a tactical whiz, but if he relies on Jonathan Vaughters’ folly of the spring, Kloden’s – and everyone else on his team’s – GC chances might sufer for it.
Meanwhile, Germany also brings the young Tony Martin (HTC-High Road) fresh off a disappointing loss to Bert Grabsch in Germany’s Time Trial National Championships. He’ll be charged up for a victory, and he’s got some promising experience with stage-race ITT victories: this year’s Paris-Nice, which propelled him to the GC victory, last year’s Tour de Suisse, and a bronz medal at the World Championships. To win a stage he’ll have to overcome a peaking Alberto Contador and an ever-fearsome Fabian Cancellara, but in a three-week grand tour, anything can happen. Can he parlay his time trial strength into a high GC placing? A top-10 is not out of the question, but it would be a very surprising performance on the pitched roads if he could work his way much higher than that.
Meanwhile, Omega-Pharma Lotto’s Andre Greipel finally gets his shot at riding the Tour de France. Unfortunately for him, he’ll be riding against HTC’s Mark Cavendish, rather than in place of him. Greipel has clamoured for years to be recognized as one of the world’s best sprinters, but when he’s given the most prestigious opportunities, he fails to impress. Does he have the motor to impress in the first week, when the stage finishes offer chances for high-threshold power sprinters? Maybe.
And while those riders are hacking away at their chances, Germany has ahandful of stage-hunters, roleurs, and supercapable riders supporting their respective leading men. Markus Burghardt will be supporting BMC’s Cadel Evans, but he’s a rider whose threat exceeds his palmares a bit – don’t write him off. Leopard-Trek’s ever-youthful Jens Voigt, who turns 40 this year, will doubtless take the opportunity to add to his collection of three Tour de France stage wins, if the opportunity presents itself. No worries if it doesn’t: he’s more than happy to simply work for his leader. Sebastian Lang might sneak into a breakaway or two. Meanwhile, Danilo Hondo and Gerald Ciolek will likely be consigned to leadout duty for their respective sprinters – Alessandro Petacchi and Tom Boonen.
Man of the Hour: Tony Martin. Germany’s future is on his shoulders, and he’s shown his ability in shorter stage races, impressing in the Tour de Suisse last year and Paris-Nice this year. Look for him to take revenge on Bert Grabsch and anybody else who will get in his way.
On the Hot Seat: Andre Greipel, who finally has his chance to ride the Tour de France. If he can’t manage a respectable showing – a couple of sprint podiums at least – then it’s time to admit that maybe Cavendish was right all along.
Up-and-Comer: See Man of the Hour. Tony Martin’s no overnight sensation, but I get the sneaking feeling that he’s still on his way up. How far will it take him?