We haven't talked much about the Pro Cycling Tour competition, just posted some numbers now and then, but it's starting to shape up, so now is a good time to acknowledge its existence, talk about whether it's meaningful, and look ahead to who might take it.
On the flip...
First, maybe this is a good time to ask whether people care about the competition. I don't remember much about the Super Prestige Pernod series, though I do recall that the World Cup rankings were essentially the Pro Tour for the Classics riders, giving points in all the one-day races you'd expect. Simultaneously the UCI calculated its rider rankings, which did include the grand tours, although with no leaders' jersey the rankings functioned as little more than bragging rights.
The benefit of the Pro Cycling Tour is that it's relatively clear how it's structured; it has a jersey so you can detect a leader; and it requires all the Pro Tour teams to take part -- the best chance of making it meaningful. We chatted earlier in the season about the fact that you can't just design a jersey and expect the top riders to make it a priority, and there will always be disagreement about whether it's more or less meaningful to lump the stage races in with the Classics. But there's been a compromise of sorts in the new point system, where stage wins in grand tours are no longer worth one measley point but rather 8 (Giro, Vuelta) or 10 (Tour).
Last year Danilo DiLuca won by crossing over the disciplines, bagging two Ardennes classics, fourth overall (and a stage win or two) in the Giro, and some high placings in the fall classics. This year... hard to tell. Valverde has a chance of submitting the same resume as DiLuca last year. Two Classics wins, and a shot at a high placing in Paris, not to mention contention in later one-day races. But if Basso does the double, he could win only on stage race points... that'd get him at least 238 points, plus any stage points he bags along the way. Behind them all is Boonen, who could win solely in one-day results, if Basso doesn't run away and hide, and if he hogs out on stage wins and a late classic or two.
So, one way of looking at this year's competition is a showdown between a classics rider, a tour rider, and a crossover rider. Maybe the fact that Valverde will actually be wearing the jersey during the Tour will spice things up.