Just one week to go before the world’s greatest annual sporting event, the 2012 Tour de France!
The Tour normally starts on the first Saturday of July which would have been 7 July this year but it’s been brought forward by a week to 30 June . . . I suspect to give the riders a little bit longer to recover and prepare for the Olympic Games.
The 2012 Tour de France begins with a prologue (short time trial) in the Belgian city of Liège and will end – as always – on the Champs-Élysées in Paris. In between, there are the normal flat stages, individual time trials, medium mountains, high mountains in the Alps and high mountains in the Pyrenees that the riders will have to negotiate before they reach Paris.
There is no team trial in this year’s tour but for time trial specialists like Fabian Cancellara, Tony Martin, Bradley Wiggins and Cadel Evans there are over 100km of individual time trial . . . the 6.1km Prologue in Liège, the 41.5 stage 9 ITT from Arc-et-Senans to Besançon and the 53.5 stage 19 ITT from Bonneval to Chartres.
Famous mountains to be crossed in the Alps include Col du Grand Colombier (for the first time in the TdF), Col de la Madeleine and the Col de la Croix de Fer while the passage of the Pyrnees includes Col de Tourmalet, Col d’Aubisque, Col d’Aspin and the Col de Peyresourde which are all climbed on the same day on stage 16. This is where climbers like Franck Schleck, Jurgen Van Den Broek and Sammy Sanchez – as well as last year’s two new climbing sensations Pierre Rolland and Jelle Vanendert – will stake their claims for overall honours if they’re good enough. Stages 11 and 16 in particular are both magnificent climbing stages and you can be sure that the overall winner of the Tour will be someone who is competitive in these two gruelling stages.
For the top sprinters like Mark Cavendish, Tyler Farrar, Andre Greipel, Alessandro Petacchi and Peter Sagan there will be many opportunities to score points in the first week and several other opportunities for mass sprint finishes between the big climbs. There are also several stages with difficult sprint finishes or challenging terrain that favour the fighters like Phillip Gillbert and Edvald Boassen Hagen or the breakaway specialists like Thomas Voeckler and Jeremy Roy. All in all, there’s something for everyone at the 2012 Tour and personally I won’t miss the Team Time Trial . . . although it may well have favoured Team Sky!
I suppose it would be no big surprise to anyone if I said I am tipping the in-form Bradley Wiggins for the Yellow Jersey this year and Mark Cavendish – The Manx Missile – for the Green Jersey . . . but note that Wiggins still has to prove he can stay with the big guns on the really steep slopes while Cavendish has stated that has prepared for the Olympics this year, meaning he’s lost a bit of weight and he doesn’t expect to be as dominant in the TdF sprints as he was last year.
Wiggins will face stiff competition from last year’s winner Cadel Evans as well as the likes of Dennis Menchov, Vincenzo Nibali and Jurgen Van Den Broek . . . although my idea of good value for money and an excellent outsider (at current odds of 50-1) is last year’s White Jersey winner Pierre Rolland who rode so bravely for Thomas Voeckler while Voeckler was in the Yellow Jersey and then won Alpe d’Huez when he was freed from his domestique duties. It’s been nearly 30 years since a Frenchman won the Tour de France and if something happens to Wiggins, I will be supporting Pierre Rolland in the overall classification.
I think I’ve listed most of the Green Jersey contenders but apart from the sprinters I named above, watch out for Matthew Goss, the ultra-consistent Jose Joaquin Rojas and also Mark Renshaw. I’m not sure if Renshaw will be the lead-out man for someone else in his team but if he’s the main sprinter in the team, we can look forward to some fascinating duels between Renshaw and his old team mate Cavendish.
If I’m not posting much on the blogs during this year’s Tour de France that’s because I am going to be following the Tour live . . . and I can’t wait! I will be at the finish of the 10th stage from Mâcon to Bellegarde-sur-Valserine, the next day I’ll be on the slopes of the final climb of stage 11 from Albertville to La Toussuire and then I’ll be at the feeding point of stage 12 from Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne to Annonay Davézieux. We then stay in Nice and Monte Carlo for a few days (and we may try to watch the finish of stage 13 in Le Cap d’Agde) before going to Paris. From Paris I’ll catch up with the Tour again for stage 19 – the individual time trial from Bonneval to Chartres – and then we’ll be on the Champs-Élysées for the final sprint on the last day. I’m sure I’ll be able to post on the blogs every now and then but I doubt if I’ll be around here much until the Tour finishes. Then it’s back home for the rest of the cricket series and the Olympic Games! I do love summer!
If anyone wants a closer look at the route and the stages, the best place to go look is the official website of the Tour de France. This is also a good place to get overall standings, news and live coverage if you don’t have access to a TV.
For those who are keen to play in a Tour de France Fantasy League, go and register here (the same competition we played last year) where I have set up a pool called Sport24 Bloggers. The League Code is 16184286850074.
Come on Bradley, come on Cav and come on Team Sky!