Team BMC comes to the 2012 Tour de France with a simple goal: win the race. With defending champion Cadel Evans healthy, confident, and fit, the team has a very good chance to do so. Few changes have been made from last yearâ€™s squad. Tejay Van Garderen has been signed to help Evans in the mountains while gaining valuable experience for a Tour-assault of his own one day. And of course, Philippe Gilbert was signed this past off-season and will ride the Tour de France hoping he can once again animate the Tourâ€™s first week like last year.
These two riders join Steve Cummings as the only new additions to BMCâ€™s rosterÂ from last yearâ€™s Tourâ€”the team is clearly taking the â€œif it ainâ€™t broke, donâ€™t fix itâ€ approach to this yearâ€™s race by bringing six of last yearâ€™s nine to the start in Liege. (Management dodged a bit of a bullet thanks to Thor Hushovdâ€™s sicknessâ€”otherwise another domestiqueâ€™s spot would have been sacrificed to accommodate the double-stage winner from last yearâ€™s race.)
But aside from Gilbertâ€™s first week and a possible stage win in front of his Wallonian compatriots during the raceâ€™s opening weekend, this team is all about Evans. And why not? The Australian rode a terrifically consistent race last year, claiming victory on the penultimate day after a hard-fought battle from the first stage to the last.
This year, things wonâ€™t be as easy. First of all, no one seemed to take Evans all that seriously last yearâ€”at least not until it was too late. After a career filled with near-misses, everyone expected the Aussie to have at least one bad dayâ€”or that his relatively underwhelming BMC teammates would prove unable to defend their captainâ€™s placing when it mattered most. They wonâ€™t surprise anyone this year. Second, Evans faces a rider in Team Skyâ€™s Bradley Wiggins who appears to be riding at a level above his peersâ€”with a talented team that has fine-tuned the art of protecting a race lead in Paris-Nice, the Tour of Romandie, and the Criterium du Dauphine. Wiggins and his teammates pose a threat that is likely to be larger than any he faced last July.
And while this yearâ€™s course looks tailor-made for Evans, itâ€™s equally appealing to Wigginsâ€”a rider who took 2 minutes out of Evans during the Dauphineâ€™s long time trial. Overall, one gets the sense that Evans is once again an underdog at the Tour de Franceâ€”even a year after he won it. Of course, this isnâ€™t always a bad thing.
Man of the Hour
Despite a slow start to the season, Evans is ready to defend his title. While itâ€™s not quite his race to lose, heâ€™s certainly one of the 2 or 3 riders most suited to this yearâ€™s course.
Tejay Van Garderen rode his first Tour de France last year with HTC-HighRoad and almost won a stage (he also spent a day in the polka dot jersey). This year he returns as one of Evansâ€™ key mountain lieutenants, while perhaps being given a bigger taste of what it will take to contend himself one day.
On the Hot Seat
This time last year, Philippe Gilbert had won more than 10 races and was well on his way to recording one of the most successful seasons of the modern era. This yearâ€™s been a different story though, as the Belgian has struggled mightily. That said, winning heals all wounds and Gilbert will have a chance to do so on a Stage 1 course that seems to have been made for him.
This spot was originally reserved for Brent Bookwalterâ€”but heâ€™s not riding the Tour this year. Instead, the honor goes to Manual Quinziato, one of the more interesting (and Twitter-friendly) riders in the peloton. Originally hailed as a future classics star, Quinziato has become one of the most experienced and trusted domestiques in the sportâ€”like an Italian version of his teammate, George Hincapie.
Follow Whit on Twitter at @whityost