The Curse Of The Former Tour de France Champions

wiggins_froome_evans_tdf_stage11_2012
by Barnaby CHESTERMAN

LEEDS, United Kingdom, July 02, 2014 (AFP) – There could have been five
former Tour de France winners lining up at the start in Leeds on Saturday but
instead there will be three, and one is unlikely to even finish in the top 20.

It is a measure of how the fortunes of those who have reached cycling’s
summit can change so quickly.

The official record books show that the champions from 2010 to 2012 were
Andy Schleck, Cadel Evans and Bradley Wiggins, yet none has the slightest
chance of riding into Paris on July 27 wearing yellow.

For the latter two they simply haven’t been selected by their teams.

In the case of Australian Evans, he is no longer able to compete over a
three-week Grand Tour and was shifted from the Tour team to the Giro d’Italia
by BMC this year.

The defence of his Tour crown in 2012 saw him finish seventh, upstaged by
his young support rider Tejay Van Garderen, who finished fifth.

Evans wouldn’t give up, though, and was joint leader with the American in
2013 but slumped to a 39th-placed finish — although Van Garderen’s own 45th
final position completed a miserable Tour for BMC.

At 37, Evans is no longer able to maintain his form through to a major
tour’s last week, as he showed at the Giro in May, wearing pink for four
stages but cracking on the tough climbs of the final week to end up eighth.

So to Wiggins, who only two years ago made history by becoming the first
Briton to win the world’s biggest, greatest and most famous cycle race.

He followed that up with Olympic timetrial gold, his fourth Games title
following three on the track.

Yet while last year he missed the Tour through a knee injury, this time
around he has simply been judged not good enough by Team Sky.

Or perhaps it’s not a case of being not good enough, after all he did win
the Tour of California and finished ninth at Paris-Roubaix.

But the potential for a personality clash with reigning champion and
undisputed team leader Chris Froome, as well as possible conflicts of interest
and Wiggins’s media, or rather headline-friendly mood-swings, ensured the
popular 34-year-old was very much dispensable.

As for Schleck, the problem is very different and considerably more
mystifying.

He finished second in the Tour three years in a row from 2009 to 2011,
eventually being awarded the 2010 victory after Alberto Contador was stripped
of his win for doping.

Yet Schleck crashed at the 2012 Criterium du Dauphine, breaking a bone in
his lower back, and missed the Tour that year while his brother Frank, with
whom he is especially close, subsequently was given a one-year doping ban.

Since coming back to the sport from his Dauphine injuries, Schleck has been
far less than a shadow of his former self.

He finished 20th at last year’s Tour, complaining that it was tough to
rediscover his form after such injuries.

But loss of confidence and form can only go so far to explain what has
happened to Schleck.

His finish at last year’s Tour has been his highest in any race since
coming second at the 2011 edition and he suffered the indignation of being
announced as a support rider for his less-talented older brother Frank and
veteran Haimar Zubeldia by his Trek team for the Grand Boucle.

He can have no complaints, though, as he failed to finish any of the
Ardennes Classics in April and then managed an unimpressive 29th place at last
month’s Tour of Switzerland, more than 15 minutes off the pace.

For a former Tour winner to struggle up the climbs in a mountainous stage
race with his rivals’ support riders is nothing short of a spectacular fall
from grace.

What’s more, Schleck is only 29, the same age as Froome, and should be in
his prime. Quite unlike Froome, he was a brilliant junior tipped for great
things.

But perhaps, just like Evans and Wiggins, his time has come and gone, yet
before its own time.

And while the world’s focus this month will be on Froome and Contador, even
perhaps Vincenzo Nibali, Schleck will likely cut an anonymous figure somewhere
in the middle of the pack.

Oh how the mighty have fallen.

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