Hey, since everyone is doing it... I can do it too. But instead of concentrating on the favorites or the sprinters or the various classification threats, I'll go with those guys who animate those long transition stages. Because you can't go on talking about geology forever.
Stéphane Augé, Cofidis
Stéphane Augé is the spiritual heir of Jacky Durand as he can do only one thing: attack. No matter the odds, no matter the race, he will try to go on a breakaway. His last major win came in 2008 when he won the 4 jours de Dunkerque. How did he do it? On a breakaway in stage 1. He took 2:36 on the peloton, and managed his advance until the very last day. He also won stage 7 of the Deutschland Tour that year on a 11 man breakaway, beating such names as Voeckler, Jens!, Angel Gomez Gomez...He doesn't win a lot, but he sure is entertaining.
Prediction: He will be in a breakaway on stage 1, stage 2 at worst. A couple of early KOM points, maybe the Maillot à Pois for a day or two.
Sandy Casar, FDJ
Once considered a future hope and a GC rider, Casar has now evolved in a stage hunter role which suits him better. He is a rider I really like, and he always finds a way to be in the action in the Tour. A decent climber, he can have a shot for the win in the hilly stages. He has a stage win to his palmares, the Cahors-Angoulême stage in 2007, beating Merckx, Lefebvre and Boogerd to the finish line (after colliding with a dog earlier in the stage). He is also known for his long string of second places. Two in 2005 and one in 2007, 2008, 2009. He had another second place in 2009, but it transformed into his second stage win as Astarloza was disqualified for doping. He is the guy you root for because for once you'd like to win, not finish second.
Prediction: Another second place in a stage.
Serguei Ivanov, Katusha
Ivanov is having a somewhat disappointing year after a terrific 2009 where he won the Amstel, a stage in the Tour of Belgium and the infamous stage to Besançon (remember the Evil Garmin / Hincapie controversy). It was his second TdF win, the first coming in 2001 in Aix-les-Bains (beating the peloton by half a minute). He has no wins yet this year, but he had interesting results a few weeks ago at the Tour de Luxembourg, finishing fifth overall. His climbing is way too limited in the mountains to hope for a good GC placing, but in the hilly stages, he's very good. Like in the Ardennes. And oh, look, the Tour passes through the Ardennes this year!
Prediction: He'll try his luck on the stage 2 or stage 13.
Pierre Rolland, BBox Bouygues
This young French climber won't feature in the first week breakaways... but we'll see him in the mountains. As many young French riders, he's living through the curse of being viewed as the next big hope. Ask about that to Chavanel... That always involves a lot of pressure and expectations, and he has to learn to live with that. He is a good climber; this is proven by his KOM jersey in the Criterium International this year and in the Dauphiné last year. Bouygues Telecom is a team that has no real GC or green jersey threat so the riders always have a lot of freedom to try something. I really hope to see him try something in the mountains. My VDS team needs him.
Prediction: A breakaway on stage 16... and why not, the Souvenir Jacques Goddet on the top of the Tourmalet?
Wesley Sulzberger, FDJ
The youngest rider of my Top 5, he's also on my VDS team. It's his first Tour, riding for the Française des Jeux team. He is still a young prospect, not an established rider with a big palmares. Yet this year, he won the Grand Prix de Plumelec-Morbihan, beating Stéphane Augé. He won't finish high in the general classification (he finished 117th in his first grand tour last year), but he may try his luck in a breakaway... and bring me some much needed VDS points.
Prediction: He'll try is luck in early breakaways, and maybe try his luck at a massive sprint finish.