Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Mellow Johnny needs a home.....

Saturday will begin the 3 week quest for the ultimate prize in cycling....the Maillot Jaune (yellow jersey). Wearing the yellow fleece even for one day is the highlight of most cyclists careers. No less competative are the competitions for the Maillot Vert (green jersey) for the sprinters and the King of the Mountains Polka Dot jersey. There is one additional jersey that is given to the Best Young Rider (under 25 as of Jan 1) but since those riders are as a rule newer professionals I won't be previewing the contenders.


The King of the Mountains Polka Dot jersey has lost some of its prestige over the past few years, billed as the Tour's "best climber" the strategy in the recent past is for one of the decent climbers to lose a ton of time on a flat stage or a time trial and then go out on a long breakaway to accumulate points. The following predictions are based on the riders who are the best climbers in this years Tour.

  1. Robert Gessink (Rabobank)-I fully expect him to win the KOM by a large margin. I see a page out of the "Chicken" Rassmussen's book where he loses big time on one of the flat or rolling stages and then goes out point hunting on the big Pyraneean and Alpine stages. To be fair this guy can really climb and probably is one of the top 5 climbers in the Tour.
  2. Andy and Frank Schlek (Saxo Bank)-Both are outstanding climbers and if it becomes apparent after the team time trial and the first individual time trial that one or both are no longer GC contenders then I could see the focus shifting to the KOM.
  3. Carlos Sastre (Cervelo Test Team)-Sastre is the defending champion but I honestly don't think that he has the team support to repeat this year. Last year not enough credit was given to the Schlecks for deflecting attention away from Sastre and for how much work they both did in chasing down breaks and setting an insane tempo up Alpe D'Huez. Once Carlos loses a big chunk in the first two tests against the clock I think he will be given the freedom to out climb all the GC men.
  4. Thomas Voeckler (BBox Boo-Yah Telecom)-Voeckler is not a bad climber and if he can get out on a break in some of the early stages it is very possible for him to build up a nice cushion for the high mountains. This would be a major accomplishment for a French team in this years Tour.
  5. Christophe Moreau (Agritubel)-Not nearly the climber that he used to be and by extension not the GC threat that he used to be either. If he choses to target the KOM this year he can still climb well enough to wear it into Paris.

2008 KOM Final Standings

1. Bernhard Kohl 128 pts (disqualified post race for testing positive for CERA)

2. Carlos Sastre 80 pts

3. Frank Schlek 80 pts

4. Thomas Voeckler 65 pts

5. Sebastian Lang 62 pts

GREEN JERSEY (Most consistant finisher)

The green jersey is given for the most consistant finisher based on points awarded at the finish line of each stage and points awarded for intermediate sprint lines out on the course.

  1. Mark Cavendish (Columbia)-Cav had one of the greatest Tour debuts by a sprinter winning 4 stages before dropping out to rest for the Olympics. Had he completed the Tour Cav would have won the Green Jersey hands down. There is simply no one faster in the last 200m of a sprint.
  2. Oscar Friere (Rabobank)-Winner of the 2008 Green Jersey, Friere has the unique ability to sprint very fast and is a good enough climber to make it over the mountains before most of the other sprinters. Many of the points he accumulated last year were the result of not being in the last group of finishers during the mountain stages.
  3. Thor Hushovd (Cervelo Test Team)-The God of Thunder is a former winner of the Green Jersey and is sprinting very well this season. Hushovd will win his share of stages and is also a fairly decent climber for a sprinter.
  4. Gerald Ciolek (Milram)-Last year he was the lead out man for Cavendish and still managed to win a stage for himself. Ciolek is a very talented young rider and it will be interesting to see him mix it up in the sprint.
  5. Julian Dean (Garmin-Slipstream)- Dean finished 9th in the points last year despite having no real help in the sprint finishes. This year he has young Tyler Farrar who is a fast sprinter in his own right for a lead out. I would expect Dean to be in the mix on all the flat stages.

2008 Standings

1. Oscar Friere 270 pts

2.Thor Hushovd 220 pts

3. Eric Zabel 217 pts

4. Leonardo Duque 181 pts

5. Kim Kirchen 155 pts

Maillot Jaune..Mellow Johnny..Golden Fleece...Yellow Jersey

How ever you want to refer to it, the leader's jersey of the Tour de France is cycling's ultimate prize. The man who stands on the top step of the podium this year will have undoubtedly earned the title of Champion.

  1. Alberto Contador (Astana)-The 2007 Tour champion is making his return to the race after Astana was excluded last year. Contador has won the Giro D'Italia and the Vuelta Espana in the last 12 months making him one of only a handful of men to win all 3 Grand Tours. Contador hasn't raced much this year, but won the Spanish TT championship just last weekend and appears to be on fine form. The only way that I see him not winning the Tour this year is if Astana completely implodes due to internal politics and even then I am not sure that he will lose. Contador can climb with the pure climbers and has raised the level of his time trialing to be at least competative with the likes of Leipheimer and Armstrong.
  2. Lance Armstrong (Astana)-Arguably the greatest Tour rider ever, Armstrong won the Tour seven consecutive times from 1999-2005 before retiring at the end of the '05 Tour. At age 37 Lance is making a comback and from all indications appears to be in fine form as well. My biggest concerns with him are team politics (see Contador, Alberto) and if his body can recover from day to day. There is no doubt that he can still put out the wattage to rival anyone in the peleton the question is if his 37 year old body can recover after a hard effort and repeat that the next day.
  3. Levi Leipheimer (Astana)-Lost in all of the Contador v Armstrong talk is the fact that in any other year Levi would be an odds on favorite to win or at least be on the podium. I am not so sure that is not what is going to happen this year. One of the advantages of having Contador and Armstrong on the same team is that when Levi attacks are the other teams going to be capable of bringing him back and at what cost? Do you expend energy to bring Levi back only to have Contador/Armstrong launch a couter attack which you can't cover? If Levi can put in a good attack and get some time on one of the mountain stages he can certainly defend it during the TT's. Now what? Does Contador attack his own teammate? I think not and I know that if Lance is in a position to help Levi win the Tour he would sacrifice himself to do so.
  4. Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto)-Poor Cadel, he had a chance the last two years to win the Tour and just couldn't make it happen. Now barring an epic collapse at Astana he will be lucky to make the podium. Evans has virtually no help for the mountains and has a reputation for following wheels and not attacking. He is going to have to put in an epic attack in order to win the Tour this year.
  5. Christian Vande Velde- IF (the proverbial big if) he has recovered from his crash in the Giro and IF (another proverbial big if) he can stay with Astana in the mountains, Vande Velde has an opportunity to be on the final podium in Paris. Like an other non Astana rider in this year's Tour it will take an implosion by Astana for him to win.

Best of the Rest

Denis Menchov-I toyed with putting Denis in the top 5 but there are two reasons why I didn't; one he just won the Giro and I am not sure he is recovered enough to challenge early in the Tour. By the time he comes into form his Tour may be over, and the second is that he has an uncanny ability to choke in the Tour. He could still end up on the final podium.

Carlos Sastre-Defending champion has no help on Cervelo this year.

Frank/Andy Schleck-neither can TT well enough to be on the final podium

Roman Kreuziger-great young rider who will win the Tour one day....just not this year.

Mick Rodgers-Great in the TT and getting better as a climber, he also rode high in the GC at the Giro and I am not conviced that he is recovered enough to compete early.

Podium Predictions

1. Contador

2. Armstrong

3. Evans

Tomorrow: A Viewers Guide for the First Time Tour Fan

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