Garmin-Sharp is first of a few teams heading to the Tour de France with more than one GC option. In fact, they have three of them.
Giro dâ€™Italia champion Ryder Hesjedal leads the way in an attempt to do what no rider has done since Marco Pantani in 1998â€”win both races in the same season. Several riders have triedâ€”including recent attempts by Alberto Contador and Ivan Bassoâ€”but it appears as if the time between both races is just too short. Of course, the fact that most riders attempting to win â€œthe doubleâ€ find themselves competing against riders who have targeted the race all season long doesnâ€™t help either.
That said, the course of this yearâ€™s Tour de France appears, on paper at least, to suit Hesjedal (who finished sixth in the 2010 Tour de France). As we saw at the Giro, the Canadian excels on long, consistent mountain grades in which he can find a rhythm and set a tempo thatâ€™s too strong for his companions to accelerate away from. Heâ€™s also one of the better time trialists among the sportâ€™s current grand tour contendersâ€”a bonus in a race with three time trials. In the end, while a yellow jersey might be too much to ask of him, I can certainly see Hesjedal improving as the race progresses and perhaps standing on the final podium in Parisâ€”a spot or two behind riders who built their season around the Tour.
Garminâ€™s second GC contender was last seen setting a ferocious pace on Hesjedalâ€™s behalf on the bottom half of the Stelvio during the penultimate stage of the Giro. However, it must not be forgotten that the Christian Vande Velde has two top-10 Tour de France finishes of his own and, like Hesjedal, is well-suited to this yearâ€™s parcours. A source close to Garmin recently told me that Vande Velde did not push himself as hard as Hesjedal at the Giro (which goes without saying) and will likely prove to be the fresher, and therefore better, rider at the Tour as a result. Donâ€™t be surprised if both men find themselves in contention heading into the Tourâ€™s third and final week of racing.
Garmin-Sharp also takes the line with Tom Danielson, the eighth-place finisher in last yearâ€™s Tour. In any other year, Danielson might be his teamâ€™s sole captain for the Tour de France, but with only three summit finishes on tap, he could find himself on the outside looking inâ€”especially if his time trialing proves insufficient. That said, the American comes to race on the heels of top-10 performances in the Tour of California and the Tour de Suisse. No matter which riders turns out to be the best of the three, look for Garmin to reward Sharpâ€™s investment with a successful defense of its team prize from a year ago.
And what about Tyler Farrar? Well, your guess is as good as mine. After winning his first Tour stage last season, it appears as is things have gone pear-shaped for the American sprinter. Actually, â€œcobbled-shapedâ€ is perhaps a better phrase, as the teamâ€™s decision to let Farrar focus his training on the spring classics seems to have negatively affected his ability to win field sprints. With just about all of his greatest rivals winning races in weeks prior to the Tour, Farrar comes to the race winless and in dire need of a confidence boost.
Last but not least, one has to mention David Zabriskie in a race with three individual time trials. DZ hasnâ€™t taken an individual stage at the Tour since he won the Prologue for CSC in 2005. And while Tony Martin and Fabian Cancellara pose formidable threats to the Americanâ€™s chances, Zabriskie looks stronger than he has in years. I would send him out early Saturdayâ€”then hope it rains.
Man of the Hour
Can Ryder Hesjedal upset both Bradley Wiggins and Cadel Evans to win the Giro-Tour double? Probably not. Then again, how many of us underestimated his chances to win the Giro?
Dan Martin has finally made Garminâ€™s roster for the Tour de France after years of being told to wait until next year. The course doesnâ€™t exactly suit his chances for a high overall finish, but a mountain stage win is certainly not out of the question for the aggressive Irishman.
On the Hot Seat
Garmin hopes that Tyler Farrar has put the worst behind himâ€”by next week weâ€™ll know if theyâ€™re right.
You can bet that climbers like Hesjedal, Vande Velde, Danielson, and Martin will be thankful to have a diesel like Johan Vansummeren back on Garminâ€™s Tour squad this year. A rider who can drive the bunch over a variety of terrain, the Belgian will play an important role in the teamâ€™s bid to repeat as winners of the Tourâ€™s Team Classification.
Follow Whit on Twitter at @whityost