Oui, Oui it is Tour time here at Podium Cafe and well, for me at least, it has a more exciting feel to it than last year and one of the reasons that I am excited is the young rider. Being in that age range myself, I am in awe of guys just a few years older than me who are beating world champions and slaying some of the highest peaks in all of Europe while I am sitting at my computer typing this..It should give me more motivation to go out and ride myself but at least for right now I am content to bring you the young riders for this Tour de France.
For this and and any future TdF young rider post, to be in the young rider classification you must be under 26 years of age, and I am assuming racing age if I read the rules right, so that means being born after 12/31/1984. In this year's edition there will be 38 riders that will be included in the young riders category. Some riders like Messers Cavendish, Schleck, Kreuziger, Ciolek, and Di Gregorio will be starting their 3rd TdF while 24 are jumping into the pool for the first time. Some other mind-numbing statistics...Youngest Rider in the race is Fabio Felline at the tender age of 20. His Footon team has the greatest number of U-26 riders at 4 and an average age of the team as a whole at a astronomically low 25.7 years.
Also, 18 of the teams have young riders, or riders under the age of 26, in the race which leaves 4 who don't: Radio(Geriatric)Shack, Garmin, Astana and Euskatel. They are hereby shunned from this post and are placed in cycling purgatory which is essentially an uphill Passage du Gois (Doesn't make sense? Well it's my purgatory and I make the rules) in blinding rain and tornadic crosswinds for this gross oversight.
For this post, I will go through the battle for the maillot blanc and then go through categories like Time Trialling, Sprints, etc. and trying to highlight all the young riders of this race. It is going to be lengthy, The War and Peace of pre-TdF posts, so no bitching is allowed about my attention to detail and please, put your seats into the upright position and secure your tray tables before lift-off. Well let's get this show on the road, shall we...
Le Maillot Blanc
For those of you who are completely new, the maillot blanc is awarded to the best young rider, based on overall time. First awarded in 1975 to Francesco Moser, this jersey is Since 2000, when the actual white jersey was again rewarded after an 11 year hiatus, the performances of the maillot blanc winners have been, well, pretty unspectacular save Contador and Schleck in '07 and '09 respectively. Since then only Basso, Menchov and Contador have gone onto win GT's, which Contador did during his white jersey run in '07. Other winners like Damiano Cunego and Vladimir Karpets have experienced success but have failed like so many others to live up to the "next big Grand Tour thing" monicker that is given.
This year's category well...is kind of boring. The race for the white jersey this year has only a few riders that really distinguish themselves from the pack. Andy Schleck, Robert Gesink and Roman Kreuziger are the only 3 legitimate riders that I see being able to pull on the white jersey in Paris. Why you ask? Well out of all riders, they are the only ones with any real Grand Tour pedigree and harbor any real chance at the top 10.
Schleck- Plusses include him having a very strong team, including another youngin in Jakob Fuglsang, who thanks to Phil and Paul I always want to call Fools-gang. Also he is the best climber consistently out of the three. Losses points with his Time Trialling...Something that needs to be noted is how people were talking about his performance in the Lux. TT by beating Frank who just did the time trial of his life and was only 5 seconds down on Lance. Seems like people forgot Andy was also in the same Time Trial and was 55 seconds down on Frank, who rode out of his skin and unless a leader's jersey in on the line, won't ride like that again and Andy will probably 9 times out of 10 beat him. Also Andy and cobbles to not mix well so that is a big question mark though he just needs to remember to bring a tow rope to hook onto Fabian and he should be all good. His form has seemed to have come around and he has tested himself appropriately so he might be able to stick it to Alberto on a stage or two.
Gesink- Plusses is that his climbing was crazy good at Tour de Suisse and was even stretching the peloton up the hills in the Dutch nationals. He isn't totally inept on the cobbles (7th place, U23 Ronde...but I could do a whole post on why that race isn't the best determination for cobbles success) and with guys like Boom and Tankink, he should be okay. His time-trial, while quite bad at Suisse, is usually fair and around 30th place most of the time so he usually makes up time against Schleck's but its something that could be improved upon. Something bad that could happen is his shaky pack skills and bad luck that he tends to have so he needs to watch for positioning. Also, if Menchov is going very good and gets into yellow somehow, you can probably see super-domestique Gesink on a computer/TV screen near you.
Kreuziger- Plusses include his crazy good time trialling ability which allows him to gain a lot of time back against his younger competitors. One thing that needs to be taken into consideration is that he can have off days though where he can't get on top of a gear and his performance turns into just okay. His climbing isn't anything to scoff and depending on the terrain and how he is feeling, he can stick with the front group or he will be shot out the back when the pace starts to heat up.
Jakob Fuglsang- Chris Anker Sorensen said that he is a threat for the top 10 which I kinda have a hard time believing especially since he didn't exactly light the world on fire in the Vuelta last year, but I don't think he will be getting dropped too bad which will slot him somewhere in the 15-20 place range is all goes well.
Pierre Rolland- French Talent, don't say the next big thing otherwise he will crash and burn, who could surprise with a strong ride and could be one of those riders that sneaks into a breakaway to gain time to move him up the classification.
Kevin Seeldraeyers-Is he still alive? Really, the maglia bianca winner from the '09 Giro d'Italia has only finished 1 stage race this year and has pulled out of 3 others which is not good preparation for the biggest race of the year. If he is able to survive the first few stages relatively unscathed, he might be able to pull off some strong rides in the hills.
Rein Taaramae-The Pride of Estonia (shutup Jaan Kirsipuu) is making his TdF debut. His debut GT, last year's Vuelta, didn't set the world alight but if he is on form, his climbing skills could make some heads turn on a few stages though his classification riding is going to be something to work on for the future. The big question is...will he unleash a Rein of Terror on Bastille Day? Sorry, couldn't resist that one
Francis De Greef- He isn't in it to win it by any means but his last 3 GT's (Giro, Vuelta, Giro) have resulted in a 20th, 21st and 21st overall placings which is consistency by anybody's standards so he also might be another rider to have lower par climbing be rewarded with a breakaway. He will most likely be working for Jurgen Van den Broeck who has the chance to crack the top 10 if he is firing on all cylinders.
My White Jersey Prediction
1. Andy Schleck (3rd overall) 25 years old
2. Roman Kreuziger (7th) 24 years old
3. Robert Gesink (9th) 24 years old
4. Jakob Fulsgang (17th) 24 years old
5. Pierre Rolland (18th) 23 years old
Feel free to chime in if you got something different! but onwards and upwards....One thing I should note is that Robert Gesink has only been on one podium in a stage race since he moved up to the PT ranks and that was the 2007 Tour of Poland...just something to nosh on; so don't be thinking he will miraculously come out of nowhere to take 3rd or something.
VROOOOM! Yes, this is one of the strongest categories for the young rider this year from one obvious reason and a couple more strong reasons. Mark Cavendish is still only 25 so he is still a young rider which gives this category such weight. In the last 2 Tour de Frances, young riders have won 14 stages, 10 of which by Cavendish, so even if some people think, myself included, that he isn't up to his dominate form of years past, he is going to win at least 1 stage. There are just too many chances for him not too win one.
It doesn't end at Cavendish though by any means...Edvald Boasson Hagen is making his Tour debut, something that has been so talked up that even Dave Brailsford forgot that he was in the Giro last year. The Hammer from Lillehammer will have good support this year to try and make a stab at the green jersey though I am sure they would be satisfied with a stage victory. He has a leadout train that is under-rated in my opinion that could surprise people with a lot of horsepower provided by youngster Geraint Thomas, but more on him later
The 3rd and 4th place riders from last year's green jersey, Gerald Ciolek and J.J. Rojas are back again and while they might not be winning stages, one thing that you can't deny is that these guys are pretty consistent in their 3rd-7th places which is really what the green jersey is about. They only thing that can help these guys out is some hills near the end which they can both get over. If Ciolek is recovered, he can still place high for the green jersey. Last year, he placed 11th or higher in 8 stages so consistency is good for him though he was still a massive 98 points off Cavendish for 2nd place. Ciolek will have another youngster that he can rely on in Roger Kluge. It will be his first GT and he is a bit of an unknown but he can be a very fine leadout man, judging on his TT and track background, for Ciolek along with Luke Roberts.
One darkhorse that I will give is Grega Bole because the boy can climb pretty well and if Petacchi is off even one beat, he should be given a free role by Lampre after the form he has shown in the prior weeks. Jurgen Roelandts also deserves a mention, starting his first Tour, though he probably might have difficulty when the race reaches the high mountains and could potentially pull out, he will be active in the first week especially when the race hits Belgium
Cavendish-3 stage wins but 2nd in points again.
EBH-1 stage win and a strong ride in the TT
Bold prediction- Gerald Ciolek wins a stage...and yes, I might be mad.
Contre la Montre
I was commanded by the great WillJ to use this instead of time trial in his post about key French terms so I must abide by his ruling. One name shines above the rest here and that is Tony Martin. After trying to do his best Erik Zabel impression in the off-season and failing and the subsequent rehab, Martin has found the form that has made him the biggest German talent since Ullrich himself. His climbing seems to be a touch off of where it was last year after his breakout Tour de Suisse and Tour de France so he will most likely be helping both Mark Cavendish and Mick Rogers on their own pursuits though he has his eyes on two days in particular, the prologue and stage 19 TT.
Martin has consistently shown that he is a time-trialler at heart with high placings throughout his whole pro career and he seems to just be getting stronger. Since the Tour of California, he has had 3 Time Trial wins, one of which came after a stage where he pulled the lead group for the last 90k to protect Mick Rogers lead in AToC, and his last one was less than a week ago at the German championships.
The bigger question is if Der Panzerwagen, his very appropriate nickname, can take it to Mr. Time Trial himself, Fabian Cancellara. They traded wins at Tour de Suisse with Cancellara taking the stage one TT by 3 seconds but Martin stormed the final TT by beating Cancellara by 17 seconds over 26.9 km. With the stage 19 test being 51 kilometers, Fabian definitely has the experience edge but I am going to say that they will be within 30 second of each other and 1 and 2 if they are both still in the race. I am going to give T-Mart the edge here just because of his amazing nickname. If he does happen to get the prologue win, he could hold the jersey for a good amount of time, barring cobbles, but it will be a tough fight against the more sprightly Cancellara, who has a bit better cornering and knows how to roll speed well.
Other Time Trialists of the young sort include:
-Adriano Malori- Only 22, the Lampre rider could show some of his Time Trial talent that he is so vaunted for in the prologue before joining the Lampre sprint train to help the vast amount of sprinters that seem to be on that squad. A step or two behind Tony Martin, he could come up with a high placing in the prologue but I have doubts he will be a threat on stage 19, if he is even around at all.
-Geraint Thomas- Kid has some horsepower on him...Former pursuit world record holder (not counting Boardman), will be shooting for a top 5 in the prologue and can pull it off, especially with the flat course. He has done some growing up since his debut Tour in '07 where Millar was quoted that Geraint was "going on bread and water" and finished 2nd to last. After the prologue, his climbing skills will help him with moving the SKY sprint train along to help EBH in his pursuit for glory.
-Ignatas Konovalovas- The guy who stormed onto the scene last year with some very strong rides, especially at the Giro and his stage 21 TT victory. His year this year has not been as great so far but he seems to be coming along and will be able to try and show some of his skills in the prologue, though it is a bit short for him, before going to help Hushovd with the green pursuit (a trend among all of the young TTers).
Yeah, he gets his own section because frankly he is confusing me this year. I was going to put him with the TTers but then I was looking over his past TT performances in recent weeks and while he did good, it wasn't going to be world beating good and I couldn't define him as just a TTer. Then I remembered what he said a couple of weeks ago I believe on twitter that went like "I am only going to be a domestique this year.." which I could see especially in the early going. Then I thought about what other people said, including our glorious leader Chris, with how he could hunt a particular stage or two and go for the win but I couldn't quite put him in the stage hunter category because if Gesink and Menchov start going very well then they are going to need all hands on deck which even if they put him in a break, just so they wouldn't have to chase and could use him later on, would make it less likely that he would go for stages.
So I am just confused with him so if you have any real ideas, please discuss so I don't keep rambling.
Had to add the 'z' to Hunterz because since this is a young rider post, I have to keep it hip and trendy and I hear Z is one of the coolest of them all in terms of letters. I am going to break this up into categories of how likely I think a rider will be to make it into an attack that will stick...Not the most scientific way but deal with it.
Most Likely: Anthony Roux, Simon Spilak, Rui Costa and Johannes Frohlinger
Roux is one of my favorite riders currently because of his tenacity which suits him in stages that are hilly but nothing too crazy and has a good finishing kick that could suit him if a group comes to the line. He is a good pick for an FdJ stage win. Spilak is another rider that I was confused about but decided that he wasn't going to go for G.C. scraps at all and try to target some transition stages with his good climbing skills though he needs to come to the line alone if he wants to win. Costa will probably be on some form of domestique duty during the race of LuLu Sanchez but he will have chances to get out on his own and show his stuff. He can drop weaker guys in the hills and has a decent sprint though would be better suited to Time Trialling away. Frohlinger is the token Milram cow for the breakaways but he is not a pushover by any means. He is a career breakaway rider and has had some near misses in the past including stages in the Giro (think the stage where Millar was perfecting the bike toss, he was 2nd) and last year in the Tour on the stage to Arcalis where he was 3rd. He loves a hard race and one that is peppered with climbs so look for him there when he isn't on domestique duties plus Johannes is a bitchin' name if I do say so myself.
Ehh, Maybe: Daniel Oss, Julien El Fares, Cyril Gautier
Oss is somebody who could potentially do something but I just don't see it except for maybe stage 3. His sprint isn't anything to brag about and from past history, he tends to be that rider that opens his sprint and then proceeds to die about 50m later. El Fares is a guy who will be on the attack like most of the rest of Cofidis and definitely has some finishing speed except...yeah, I just don't see him winning. Gautier is somebody who has been talked up by yours truly and can go either way. He has been in the attack before but I wouldn't call him a breakaway artist and he can climb well. I want to say that he will try something but it all depends on how he feels and what BBox is up to and how much Bweeg-ing they want to go this year. He could be a domestique for the bigger stars on the team but we will have to see.
Absolutely not otherwise the Gates of Hell will open: Remy di Gregorio
Oh Remy, I know you try hard and you want to do well...well I hope so anyways but I just do not see you making it to the finish line so you can finally answer your critics. "The Next Great French Hope" has never really developed into a winner since his last actual win was in the '06 Tour de l'Avenir (when it was contested by trade teams and he was on Francaise des Jeux). Though I am going to go bold and say now that he will be in the mountain breakaways and I predict a solid run for polka-dots...Just sayin'.
While many of the guys that I have gone through all ready are going to be slaving themselves away for their leaders, there are more guys that I am going to name now that will probably be on domestique duty full time or head into an attack to ease pressure on their leaders and maybe fall back when the time is right to add some fresh legs to aid them.
A good amount of young riders will be helpful in the mountains to help the old men out like Kristjan Koren, Alexander Pliuschin, Mathais Frank and Maxime Bouet. Koren will be of great service to Kreuziger and Basso and be pulling along with Szmyd until he blows up but nonetheless he is a very strong rider who is extremely talented in the mountains. Pliuschin, the pride of Moldova (shut up Andrei Tchmil) and who has all ready made his rounds on the Hottitude thread, is most likely going to be serving Joaquin Rodriguez. He will be able to go up the lower slopes well and help the team well while looking spiffy in his new Moldovan champions jersey. Frank is definitely talented in the hills and will be one of the few men that will be able to truly help Cadel Evans in the hills, along with Morabito, and the almost-24 year old will be needing to do some good work. Bouet is an attacker at heart and could help Riblon and the AG2R team go for a coveted top 10 place. He is another climber though more of a roeluer type who could go with a break.
Only a couple guys will probably be on full time bottle duty in Roger Kluge, Wesley Sulzberger and Mickael Delage. All have their talents and can even win some big races but in a race like Le Tour, they are going to be resigned to making sure the team leaders are all happy and kept up for. Maybe they can have a contest to see who can fit the most bottles in their jerseys or who pours Coke fastest at 50 kph down a slick, oily road...and the Domestique Olympics are born.
Getting sick of me yet? Just one more topic we need to cover and then you can scream your obscenities...
Footon-Servetto...What the Hell Were They Thinking
Really, this team is pretty damn backwards and that isn't even mentioning their uniforms. You saw at the start of this post that they have an average age of 25.77...They have the youngest rider in the race in Fabio Felline who is arguably their best rider too. It must be hard for Gianetti when you really don't have much to work with but this is not looking good.
Out of their 4 youngsters; Fabio Felline, Arkaitz Duran, Eros Capecchi and Rafael Valls, the only ones I really see doing anything are Felline and Capecchi. Felline is only 20 so that is a crapshoot in itself to see how long he will actually be in the race and if he will even be competitive and Capecchi, while brilliant at times, is pretty inconsistent and will probably go with the attack the one day and be in the autobus the next, barely hanging on. Felline could even go for a stage win but so many things would have to go right. Capecchi is still trying to find the brilliant form he had in '08 so while his Dauphine had its bright spots, they were quickly turned into black holes on Alpe d'Huez and dropped out on the last stage.
Valls is just a tease and had a brilliant early season followed by absolutely nothing. He can go well in the mountains but its highly unlikely that he choses the Tour to breakout. Duran is a good climber and was even 2nd on the last stage on the Dauphine so he has talent but it remains to be seen what he can do. In his GT debut in the Vuelta last year, he was all right but nothing too crazy so he is yet another mystery. I see some breakaways in his near future.
My final word on Footon is that they are either going to sink or swim and have a surprisingly good Tour or everything will blow up in their face and most of them will finish with the laughing group. I hope, for the young guys sake, that they can do something but as long as it is better than their atrocious kits, they are winners in my book.
Is this detailed enough? ;)
My predictions as a whole include 1 podium place in Paris (A. Schleck) and 6 stage wins (3 Cav, EBH, Ciolek, Martin) and a few podium places courtesy of the sprinters and Anthony Roux on one stage.