This is a guide for the General Classification (GC) contenders of the 2011 Tour de France. For most of the riders on this list, the GC battle at the Tour is the primary goal for the season. These riders have made tremendous sacrifices in an effort for a high finish at the Tour. In addition to the riders, results at the Tour play a large part in determine the success or failure of a team’s season.
While there are two big favorites, it is likely to be more than just a two person race this year. Contador is coming off of a strenuous Giro and Andy Schleck has displayed less than stellar form in his warm up races for the Tour. Cadel Evans, Robert Gesink, Alexander Vinokourov, Sammy Sanchez and others should make for a great race.
The Tour route this year only has 41 km of individual time trials which may favor the climbers. Teams chasing the points classification will have to put more emphasis on the intermediate sprints this year as they have increased in points. This might make it difficult for GC riders on teams such as Garmin and HTC to get much support. Saxo Bank, Leopard-Trek, Astana, Rabobank, Sky, and others will likely make their GC riders the primary focus of the Tour.I included a numerical value for easier comparison for their strengths and weaknesses. I did not total them as I’m not sure they are worth equal weight. Climbing is probably more important than any of the other traits this year. I also added a preparation score to try to balance out Contador’s fatigue from the Giro with the more ideal build up of the other riders.
The riders are roughly listed in the order of how I see them as favorites, not how I see them finishing at the end of the Tour. Personally, if I were betting, my money would be on Andy Schleck as I don’t see Contador completing the double, but Contador has to be the favorite.
Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank) Age: 28.
Contador is the defending Tour champion and is coming off a win at the Giro. He has won the last 6 grand tours he has entered which includes wins in all three grand tours. In addition to his win at the Giro, this year Contador won the Vuelta de Murcia and the Volta Catalunya.
Why he could win: Contador will win because he doesn’t lose grand tours. His string of 6 straight grand tours is amazing. He has proven to be one of the best grand tour riders in history. He may be the best climber in the world and probably in the top 5 in time trials.
Why he could lose: Contador is coming off of a strenuous Giro. The Giro/Tour double has not been done since 1998 when Marco Pantani won both. While Contador is a tremendous talent, he is still human and will have to recover from the Giro. The normal approach to the tour is to complete a warm up race such as the Tour de Suisse or the Criterium du Dauphine. Riders who use the Giro as preparation for the Tour normally do not try to win the Giro and may only produce a max effort on a few specific stages. It remains to be seen if a rider, even one as gifted as Contador, can recover from winning a difficult grand tour in time to win a second grand tour a month later.
Team Support: Contador can count on complete support from his team as he will be the only leader. When Contador signed with Saxo Bank he brought over Benjamin Noval, Daniel Navarro, and Jesus Hernandez with him. Other notable support riders might include Chis Anker Sorensen and Richie Porte. Several of these riders provided Contador support at the Giro, so if they are on the Tour team, fatigue might be a factor for them as well.
Time Trialing: 8.5
Andy Schleck (Leopard-Trek) Age: 26.
Schleck is seen as the upcoming talent to challenge Contador. Schleck was second to Contador last year by only 39 seconds and was second to Contador in the 2009 Tour. He best performance this year was third in Liege-Baston-Liege. Other notable performances this year include 12th at the Tour of the Basque Country, 8th in California, and winning the Mountains Classification at the Tour de Suisse.
Why he could win: Andy improves every year and seems to close the gap to Contador. With Contador possibly being fatigued after a difficult Giro and the gap the previous year being only 39 seconds, it is possibly that Andy Schleck has improved enough to beat Contador.
Why he could lose: It is hard to call not beating Contador losing, but Schleck is yet to show he has the form to beat Contador. His performances in his lead up races (California and Tour de Suisse) were less than stellar. He may not have been going all out, but I thought he would perform better especially in the time trials. Its hard to tell what form he has, but if he doesn’t substantially improve before the key stages of the tour, he won’t win.
Team Support: Andy and his brother Frank who are two of the best climbers in the pro peloton. On the flatter stages and in the team time trial he will have the best time trial rider in Fabian Cancellara. Maxime Monfort, Jacob Fuglsang, Jens Voigt, and Linus Gerdemann make for powerful support. This will be one of the strongest teams in the Tour.
Time Trialing: 7
Sammy Sanchez (Euskatel) Age: 33.
Sanchez finished 4th at the Tour last year after finishing 2nd in the Vuelta in 2009 and 3rd at the Vuelta in 2007. He has an impressive total of 6 top ten finishes in grand tours and won the Olympic Road Race in 2008. This year Sanchez finished 5th in Paris-Nice, 6th in the Tour of the Basque Country, and 17th at the Dauphine.
Why he will win: Sanchez is a consistent grand tour performer beginning with a 10th place finish in 2005 at the Vuelta. Sanchez is among the better climbers on a team that is full of great climbers. He showed his climbing credentials this year by wining the queen stage of the Tour of the Basque Country. What sets him apart from other Spanish climbers is his ability to time trial as well. Sanchez will not be confused with Cancellara as he finished 40th in the stage 19 Time Trial at the Tour last year, but he is capable of turning in a good time trial as he finished in the top 20 in time trials this year at Paris-Nice, Criterium International, and Tour of the Basque Country. Sanchez can also gain time on long downhill sections when needed.
Why he will lose: Like other climbers in the Tour, Sanchez needs to improve his time trialing ability if he is going to win the Tour. While Euskatel is known for its great climbers, it is not known for its ability in the Team Time Trial. Sanchez may lose ground in the TTT to other climbers on teams with better time trial support like Leopard-Trek and Rabbobank.
Team Support: Sanchez is no doubt the captain of the team. If you threw a dart at a photo of the Euskatel team, you would no doubt hit a strong climber. It is what they do. Carrots roll uphill. Egoi Martinez is an experienced rider who will be on of the main support riders for Sanchez who will try to limit his loses in the team time trial to stay close to the other Tour contenders.
Time Trialing: 7
Ivan Basso (Liquigas) Age: 34.
Basso finished 3rd in the Tour in 2004, 2nd in 2005, and won the Giro in 2006 prior to his suspension for a doping related offense. Last year Basso won the Giro and finished 32nd in the Tour. This year he won the GP di Lugano in February followed by a 4th place finish in Tirreno-Adriatico, 31st in Romandie and 26th at the Dauphine.
Why he could win: Basso has the talent and experience to win a grand tour as he proved last year in the Giro. He doesn’t appear to be the extraterrestrial he was prior to his suspension, but he has been solid in grand tours. Basso is focusing his efforts this year on a strong performance in the Tour and did not ride the Giro. He will likely have a strong team to support him in the Team Time Trial.
Why he could lose: Basso lacks a strong time trialing ability. There are fewer time trial kilometers in this year’s Tour than in the past, but he still cannot afford to lose minutes in a time trial to Contador, Evans, and other likely rivals.
Team Support: Liquigas is providing Basso with the full team support for his bid for the Tour. Sylwester Szymd, Vincenzo Nibali, and others will provide strong support in the mountains. Liquigas finished second in the team time trail at the Giro which bodes well for their showing at the tour. The only question in team support is if their key riders are well rested from a difficult Giro.
Time Trialing: 7
Cadel Evans (BMC) Age: 34.
Cadel finished a disappointing 26th in the Tour last year after riding to a 5th place finish in the Giro. More of a testament to how difficult the Giro-Tour double is than to Evans’ ability. Evans has twice finished second in the Tour in 2007 and 2008. He has several other top finishes in grand tours although the top step has eluded him so far. He has shown some excellent form so for this year winning Romandie and Tirreno-Adriatico. He placed second in the Dauphine, one of the key warm up races to the tour.
Why he could win: Evans can time trial and climb which are the attributes needed to be a grand tour rider. He has the experience and this year has shown great form. Evans appears to be more comfortable at BMC than he did at Lotto.
Why he could lose: Evans has not performed well at the Tour the past two years. While he has done well in both the Giro and the Vuelta in recent years, but the Tour has presented some problems finishing 26th and 30th in the last two years.
Team Support: BMC has improved their team, but they do not appear as strong as some of the other major contenders. George Hincapie has more experience at the tour and being on a winning team than any other current rider which will help. Amael Moinard, Steve Morabito, and Brent Bookwalter may be able to provide some support on the climbs. BMC has several strong riders such as Marcus Burghardt and Manuel Quinziato who could provide great support as well. It is interesting that some of their top classics riders such as Karston Kroon, Greg Van Avermet, and Alessandro Ballan were left off the Tour team.
Time Trialing: 8
Robert Gesink (Rabobank) Age: 25.
Gesink is a skinny climber who appears to have improved his time trial abilities this year. Gesink finished 6th in the Tour last year and began this year by winning the Tour of Oman, placing 2nd in Tirreno-Adriatico, and finishing 3rd in the Tour of the Basque Country. He showed strong form on stage 7 of the Dauphine finshing third on a category 1 mountain finish after several hard days of racing. His 23rd placing in the Dauphine time trial may not bode well though.
Why he could win: Gesink has been steadily improving and it still only 25 years old. In addition to his 6th at the Tour last year, Gesink placed 7th at the Vuelta in 2008 and 6th in 2009. At only 25 Gesink has several top placings in big stage races. Gesink can climb extremely well and the lack of time trials in this years tour will benefit him.
Why he could lose: Gesink needs to improve his time trial ability to improve his placings in grand tours. His performance in Oman earlier this year indicated he had been working on this TT ability, but 23rd in the Dauphine TT, does not bode well. While he could go better than 6th, the top step will likely be a tall order this year.
Team Support: Getting Gesink to a high GC finish will be the aim of Rabobank at the Tour. Louis Leon Sanchez Gil, Carlos Barredo, Laurens Ten Dam and Bauke Mollema are likely to be key support riders. Rabobank has other strong men such as Lars Boom and Maarten Tjallingii among others who could provide useful on the flats and in the team time trial.
Time Trialing: 6
Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Loto) Age 28.
The improving Van Den Broeck appears ready for the Tour based on his fourth overall finish at the Dauphine including a stage 1 victory. Other notable results this year include 13th at the Tour of the Basque Country and 2nd at the Vuelta a Andalucia. Van Den Broeck was 7th at the Giro in 2008, 14th at the Tour in 2009, and 5th at the Tour last year showing steady progress in grand tours.
Why he could win: Van Den Broeck appears to be reaching the prime for his career with good form. His whole year is focused on the Tour and he appears to be peaking at the right moment. He form appears to be steadily improving which means he may go better than his 5th place last year.
Why he could lose:Winning the Tour is a tall order. While Van Den Broeck will likely be the sole GC leader, the team is likely to have other ambitions with Gilbert and Greipel looking to win stages. Van Den Broeck finished 17th in the time trial at the Dauphine indicating he has some work to be done there. He is likely to lose time to the top contenders in the team time trial as well.
Team Support: Van Den Broeck will be the main focus of the team for the tour, but they have other stars as well. Van Den Broeck is not likely to have great support in the mountains. In looking at the results from the Dauphine and Tour de Suisse, there are few Omega Pharam-Loto riders that stand out. Several riders from the team performed well at the Giro, but they are unlikely to ride the Tour.
Time Trialing: 7.5
Levi Leipheimer (Age 37)
Andreas Kloden (Age 36)
Chris Horner (Age 39)
Janez Brajkovic (Age 27) (Radioshack)
Radioshack will begin the tour with four leaders. Liepheimer and Kloden have both been on the podium at the tour and Horner produced the best Tour result on the team last year finishing 10th. Brajkovic’s best grand tour performance was a 17th place finish at the Giro in 2009. Leipheimer, Kloden, and Horner have all had good results so far this year in stage races. Kloden won the Tour of the Basque country and finished 2nd in Paris-Nice. Leipheimer won the Tour de Suisse and finished second in California while Horner was 2nd in the Basque Country and won California. Brajkovic should be coming into the prime of his career while the other three should be on the down slope.
Climbing: All four riders can climb, but they might lack the climbing prowess of Schleck or Contador. Leipheimer is more of a steady climber while the others have a bit more explosion. The best rider of this group will likely still lose time on the hardest mountain stages.
Time Trial: Kloden appears to be the best time trialest of the group this year. Leipheimer has great time trial ability as he has previously won a time trial stage at the Tour and finished 3rd in the recent Tour de Suisse time trial (behind Kloden and Cancellara). For a climber, Horner and Brajkovic can time trial well, but not as well as Kloden and Leipheimer. If Kloden and Leipheimer are going well they can make up time in the ITT on the climbers although all four riders lost time to Condator in the stage 19 ITT at the Tour last year.
Team Support: The team should do well in the team time trial as they have a number of strong riders. It remains to be seen how well the team can support four protected riders, but they will no doubt let other teams control the race similar to the Tour de Suisse this year.
Time Trialing: 8.5 (Kloden)
Ryder Hesjedal (Age 30) & Christian Vande Velde (Age 35) (Garmin-Cervélo)
Garmin-Cervélo will have two GC riders with the revelation of Hesjedal’s 7th in the Tour last year after Vande Velde crashed out. Vande Velde has previously finished 4th and 8th at the Tour although crashing has been a larger problem for him in recent years. Hesjedal has been consistent in stage races this year finishing 7th at Criterium International, 9th in the Basque Country, 10th in California, and 20th in the Tour de Suisse. Vande Velde has two top ten finishes this year with a 5th in Oman and 4th in Califonia. He was 26th in the recent Tour de Suisse.
Why they could win: Vande Velde has been crash free for the firs time in years. He has been building for the Tour and showed some good form in Califonia. In 2009, he showed a tremendous ability to peak at the Tour after a devastating crash in the Giro. Hesjedal got his opportunity to display his grand tour skills last year after a Vande Velde crash and finished a surprising 7th overall including a 4th place finish on the stage 17 climb to Tourmalet. Hesjedal appeared to get stronger in the Tour’s final week which is important for a grand tour rider.
Why they could lose: Neither Vande Velde nor Hesjedal has the climbing ability of Schleck, Gesink, or Contador. Vande Velde is probably the better time trialist of the two finishing 10th in the recent Tour de Suisse ITT compared to 24th for Hesjedal. Neither has been on the podium of a grand tour and both may have to help out on sprint stages supporting Farrar and Hushovd.
Team Support: While a good GC placing will be important, Garmin also brings two quality sprinters in Farrar and Hushovd to the Tour. Hushold has won the points classification (green jersey) and may try to win it again this year. With increase in value for intermediate sprint points, any rider that chases the green jersey will need more support than in past years. This may mean less support for GC riders and more work required of Vande Velde and Hesjedal. Garmin prides itself in the team time trial, so they will likely be one of the top teams for the TTT.
Time Trialing: 7.5
Bradley Wiggins (Sky) Age: 31.
Wiggins is a top track rider who began to focus on road cycling in 2007 and 2008. While Wiggins has had numerous high placing in time trials, his 4th place finish at the Tour in 2009 while riding for Garmin was his first display of grand tour ability. After transferring to Sky in 2010 and focusing on the Tour, Wiggins finished a disappointing 24th. Wiggins recently showed great form wining the Dauphine and displaying great climbing ability.
Why he could win: Winning the Tour is about being able to time trial and climb. Wiggins has shown his ability to time trial for several years coming from a background on the track. In 2009 Wiggins rode well on several mountain stages at the Giro before showing his climbing legs at the Tour. His recent win at the Dauphine indicates he is back on the 2009 form that could lead him to a high placing.
Why he could lose: Sky placed their hopes on Wiggins last year, but he did not perform well. It is difficult to perform under pressure as Wiggins found out last year. Wiggins ability to climb has come as a result of weight loss that allows him to have a high power to weigh ratio. It is not easy to lose weight and maintain power. The Tour will be a three week test to determine if Wiggins has dialed in the right weight to power ratio. Also, Wiggins specialty is time trialing which there is less of in this years Tour compared to past years.
Team Support: Wiggins will be the focus of the teams goals at the Tour especially with his win at the Dauphine. Sky hired Rigoberto Uran to help out in big races. Michael Rogers, Thomas Lofvkist, Edvald Boassan Hagan, and others will likely form one of the stronger teams at the Tour. With the team management knowing a great deal of track racing, they should be one of the better teams in the team time trial.
Time Trialing: 9
Nicolas Roche (AG2R-La Mondiale) Age: 27.
Roche should be reaching the prime of his career after finishing an impressive 15th at the Tour last year. Following the Tour, Roche rode to a 7th place finish in the Vuelta. Roche crashed out of the recent Dauphine although his website reports he has fully recovered from the crash. Roche does not have any high placings in stage races this year, although he has finished well in several individual stages.
Why he could win: Roche is the son of former Tour winner Stephen Roche. Roche is coming into the prime of his career and appears to be improving with each grand tour he enters. Roche needs to improve both his time trialing and climbing, but he has not reached his limits as a cyclist. Roche may have placed better in the overall at the Tour last year if he had not lost time due to a flat on stage 15. Prior to crashing out of the Dauphine he finished 5th on the tough 1st stage.
Why he could lose: While Roche continues to improve, he appears to be a few years away from contending for a podium spot in the Tour. He will be coming to the Tour after crashing out of the Dauphine which is not ideal preparation. He does not appear to have tested himself in any stage race so far this year, so his form for the Tour is likely to be unknown.
Team Support: AG2R should field a good team for the tour and provide support for Roche. John Gadret is coming off an impressive showing at the Giro and he and Roche are reported to have made up after their dispute last year. Cyril Dessel, Martin Elmiger, and Rinaldo Nocentini among others will provide a good supporting cast. They may not rival the top teams in the TTT, but they should not be last either.
Time Trialing: 7
Team Support: 7
Alexander Vinokourov (Astana) Age: 37.
Vinokourov will be the sole leader of Astana in his final year of racing. He finished 16th in the Tour last year wining stage 13 with a well timed attack to hold off the sprinters. Vinokourov is an attacking and exciting rider who can climb extremely well and time trial when he is on form. He finished 8th in Tour of the Basque Country, 3rd in Romandie, and 3rd in the Dauphine this year. He won the Vuelta in 2006 and has been 3rd and 5th in the Tour (2003 and 2005) prior to his doping related suspension from cycling. His 16th place at the Tour last year came after a 6th place finish in the Giro.
Why he could win: Vinokourov can climb and time trial. He will have the complete support of his team. Vino can be explosive in climbs and can be opportunistic in his attacks as he showed last year. He has won stages in Romandie and in the Basque Country this year. He appears to be aiming for a high GC finish at the Tour this year and his recent form at the Dauphine indicates that he is on track for a high finish.
Why he could lose: While Vino can time trial well compared to many of the other climbers, other than his 2nd in the Dauphine prologue, he has not have another top 10 finish in an ITT this year. Since his return to cycling, he has not threatened to win a grand tour.
Team Support: Astana focus at the Tour will be supporting Vinokourov. He will likely have Roman Kreuziger who finished 9th in the Tour last year as his main support rider. Astana finished 17th in the TTT at the Giro this year, although the Tour team may not share many of the same riders. While the team may not be as strong as Leopard-Trek or Rabbobank, it should be a quality team.
Time Trialing: 8
Peter Velits/Tony Martin (HTC-Highroad) Age: 26/26.
Velits and Martin look to be the GC men for HTC on a team that will be built around Mark Cavendish. HTC has the fastest sprinter in the peloton, so the GC men may have to help with the sprint train at some point. Velits is coming off of a strong 3rd place showing at the Vuelta last year. Martin produced wins this year at the Volta ao Algarve and Paris-Nice with a second place in Romandie. Martin finished 137th in the Tour last year so his strength in a grand tour is yet to be seen.
Why they could win: Peter Velits is an up and coming talent who turned potential into reality at the Vuelta last year. Tony Martin has been one of the best stage races so far this year. Both are young and improving which means they could surprise the bigger favorites. HTC is good at developing talent and nothing is better for finding a sponsor than a head turning performance at the Tour. Both riders are strong in the time trial with Velits winning the Vuelta stage 17 time trial last year (beating Cancellara) and Martin placing 3rd in the 2010 World Time Trial Championship.
Why they could lose: Neither rider has a strong result at the Tour. Velits had a strong Vuelta last year, but probably needs more time before he threatens the top step in a grand tour. Martin has been outstanding in stage races this year, but a grand tour performance may be too much to ask. The primary focus of HTC at the Tour is likely to be getting stage wins for Cavendish rather than a GC result.
Team Support: It looks like Tejay Van Garderen will ride the tour and can provide support in the mountains. Most of the rest of the team will likely be devoted to Cavendish and the sprint stages. If Cavendish goes after the points classification, the team will have to provide several support riders to help win intermediate sprints as well as the final sprint for the stage win. HTC won the team time trial at the Giro and will likely produce a strong result at the Tour.
Time Trialing: 9