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 d’Italia champion Ryder Hesjedal leads the way in an attempt to do what no rider has done since Marco Pantani in 1998—win both races in the same season. Several riders have tried—including recent attempts by Alberto Contador and Ivan Basso—but it appears as if the time between both races is just too short. Of course, the fact that most riders attempting to win “the double” find themselves competing against riders who have targeted the race all season long doesn’t help either.
That said, the course of this year’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 that’s too strong for his companions to accelerate away from. He’s also one of the better time trialists among the sport’s current grand tour contenders—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 Paris—a spot or two behind riders who built their season around the Tour.
Garmin’s second GC contender was last seen setting a ferocious pace on Hesjedal’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 year’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. Don’t be surprised if both men find themselves in contention heading into the Tour’s third and final week of racing.
Garmin-Sharp also takes the line with Tom Danielson, the eighth-place finisher in last year’s Tour. In any other year, Danielson might be his team’s sole captain for the Tour de France, but with only three summit finishes on tap, he could find himself on the outside looking in—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 Sharp’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, “cobbled-shaped” is perhaps a better phrase, as the team’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 hasn’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 American’s chances, Zabriskie looks stronger than he has in years. I would send him out early Saturday—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 Garmin’s roster for the Tour de France after years of being told to wait until next year. The course doesn’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 him—by next week we’ll know if they’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 Garmin’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 team’s bid to repeat as winners of the Tour’s Team Classification.
Follow Whit on Twitter at @whityost