Favorites for the yellow jersey for the 97th edition of the 2010 Tour de France, to be held July 3-25:
Alberto Contador (ESP) Astana
Labeled the ‘best in the world’ by none other than seven-time champion Lance Armstrong, Contador’s morale needs no boosting before his bid to add a third yellow jersey to his wins in 2007 and 2009. Contador’s sublime climbing skills were matched by few on the Tour last year as he forged victory in the Alps and Pyrenees, and this year the man from Madrid will be looking for more of the same on a race which seems tailor-made to his ambitions. Despite his slight stature, Contador has punched above his weight in the race’s time trials — a key discipline which, despite only one featuring on the Tour, he has worked hard to improve this year. To gain an advantage before the mountains, Contador’s rivals may have to target the Spaniard early.
Andy Schleck (LUX) Saxo Bank
Schleck finished over four minutes behind Contador overall in 2009 and although the bulk of that deficit was forged in the mountains, the Luxemburger lost 1min 45sec to Contador when the Spaniard won the final time trial in Annecy. The younger of the Schleck brothers — older brother Franck also races at Saxo Bank — is however considered one of the few riders able to follow Contador when the Spaniard launches his trademark, up-out-of-the-saddle attacks in the high mountains. Schleck, too, has worked to improve his time trialling but with only one long race against the clock, on stage 19, it is in the four key mountain stages in the Pyrenees, particularly the two which finish on a summit, that could prove key to Schleck’s success.
Ivan Basso (ITA) Liquigas
Basso claimed recently he is racing the Tour primarily to exorcise the ghosts of his controversial exclusion in 2006 before a pedal was turned in anger due to his suspicion of doping. Banned a year later after admitting his links to the Operation Puerto doping affair, Basso has since returned to the peloton claiming to be a changed, and more determined man. He capped a superb Tour of Italy campaign by winning the race’s pink jersey last month — a feat which came partly down to the collective strength of his imnpressive Liquigas team, which also features Italian stage racing ace Vincenzo Nibali. Basso had the measure of every climber on this year’s mountain-packed Tour of Italy, but the Italian knows the Tour de France is a different breed of animal.
Lance Armstrong (USA) RadioShack
Armstrong will line up for what could be his last tilt at the race’s yellow jersey reinvigorated by the fact he is in command of his own team, RadioShack, once more. After his return to the sport in 2009 following a three-year hiatus Armstrong endured a tense cohabitation with Contador in the Astana team at last year’s race where, ultimately, Contador was a class above the American in both the mountains and the final time trial. However the unstinting support he will be pledged this year by key lieutenants like Andreas Kloden and Yaroslav Popovych will boost Armstrong’s campaign. Although crashes and illness curtailed his early season plans, the 38-year-old has come into form lately, finishing third in the Tour of Luxembourg and runner-up at the Tour of Switzerland. The general consensus is that Armstrong will struggle to beat Contador, although the man who famously beat cancer to go on and win the Tour seven times consecutively can not be ruled out.
Bradley Wiggins (GBR) Team Sky
A surprising yet deserved fourth place finish overall last year while racing for Garmin has placed Wiggins — until then best known for his pursuit exploits on the track at world and Olympic level — firmly among the elite shortlist contenders for the Tour. The Englishman lost several kilos prior to the 2009 race and the benefits of that strict regime, which resulted in greater power-to-weight ratio, paid off in the mountains where only the accelerations of Contador threatened to put the Londoner into the red.
Although a strong time trialler there is only one long race against the clock this year, on stage 19, meaning the bulk of Wiggins’ work will come in the Alps and Pyrenees. He will be supported by a strong Sky Team who will look to impose themselves on the peloton on their race debut. But once into the final kilometres of key climbs in the mountains, Wiggins will be on his own.
Cadel Evans (AUS) BMC
Australia’s best stage racer of his generation, Evans is a classy rider who, it seems, does not always get the rub of the green in crucial moments. He was pipped to victory in 2007 by Contador when the Spaniard blasted the penultimate time trial to leave Evans with the first of his two runner-up places, the second coming in 2008 when another Spaniard, Carlos Sastre, rode away to victory on the Alpe d’Huez. Having finished runner-up in several other key events, Evans’ victory in the world road race championships last year did heaps to erase his label of being the ‘nearly man’. Nevertheless, after a disastrous Tour campaign last year with his under performing former team Silence this year’s Tour won’t get any easier. His BMC team showed its limits at the Tour of Italy last month where, left to his own devices as usual, Evans rode to a commendable fifth place finish. Given his result last year, and the quality of this year’s field, a podium finish would be a huge result.