After all the hype surrounding the pick-ups made by Omega Pharma-Quick-Step this past off-season, the teamâ€™s biggest results this season have so far been earned by riders who were already on the team. But with classics stars such as Tom Boonen and Niki Terpstra staying home to prepare for the Olympics in London, the Belgian super team finally has a chance to let new recruits Tony Martin and Levi Leipheimer do what they were hired to do.
Letâ€™s start with Tony Martin. Ever since he wore the white jersey as Best Young Rider for 12 days during the 2009 Tour de France, the German has been tipped to be the sportâ€™s next Jan Ullrich. Winning Paris-Nice last year seemed to intensify the expectations heaped upon the Germanâ€™s back, but hereâ€™s the thing: he canâ€™t climb. Yes, heâ€™s arguably the best individual time trialist in the world, but this only means he able to contend in weeklong stage races where his prowess against the clock is enough to overcome whatever mountains the race might offer. But in a 3-week grand tour, Martin has proven unable to withstand the sustained mountain stages that a race such as the Tour de France offers.
Thus, it should come as no surprise that Martin enters this yearâ€™s Tour focusing on the eventâ€™s three time trials. A day or two in the yellow jersey and three stage wins would be an impressive haul for any rider. Martin deserves credit for tempering his expectations in favor of more attainable goals.
On the other hand, Levi Leipheimer is a proven grand tour contender. And despite his relatively advanced age (heâ€™s 38-years-old) the American might find himself challenging for a spot on the podium at this yearâ€™s Tour de France.Â Last year, Leipheimer came to the Tour fatigued following a first half to the season that had been built around the Tour of California. Yes, he won the Tour of Switzerland, but itâ€™s clear from his performance at the Tour de France that his week in Switzerland came near at closing of his window of good form.
But this year, the broken leg he sustained while training in Spain might have helped Leipheimer stay fresh for the Tour. His third-place finish in Switzerland is a promising reminder that the veteran has a few good rides left in his legs. Solid time trialing and a few good days in the mountains should keep him in contention through the final weekend where the penultimate dayâ€™s time trial will determine his final outcome.
Man of the Hour
On paper at least, there has never been a Tour de France more suited to Levi Leipheimer.
While heâ€™s not particularly young (relatively speaking, of course), Dries Devenyns is a rider who seems due for a break-out result.
No one really, Quick-Stepâ€™s fantastic spring (and Boonenâ€™s National Championship victory) has satisfied sponsors and fans. Martin and Leipheimer are confident, healthy, and the team doesnâ€™t have to worry about supporting a sprinter in the first week. Itâ€™s a rather ideal scenario if you ask me.
Sylvain Chavanel is unsung only in the sense that we have not mentioned him until now. After winning two stages in 2010, Chavanel went winless at last yearâ€™s Tour de France. Thanks to his improved his time trialing, look for Chavanel to challenge for the yellow jersey by the end of the Tourâ€™s opening weekendâ€”a short TT and an uphill finish could land the Frenchman in the maillot jaune.
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