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Who's Got That Monkey On Their Back Now? (Hint: Not Cadel)

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When Cadel Evans won the Tour last year he removed himself from a Very Bad List: that list of riders who Can't Win The Big One. No wonder he smiled so much as he paraded into Paris. BUT WAIT! Didn't he already win The Big One and removed that monkey off his back when he won the Worlds race at Mendrisio in 2009? Ah, yes and no. And therein lies the rub: in our sport, winning what is billed as the World Championship may or may not sorta kinda mean a whole lot because Cycling has various sorts of Big Ones. Let's look a little deeper and then take a quick survey of who is riding with that monkey for 2012.

What we got is a mess. Between the history of the sport and the lack of a cohesive governance structure plus how different bodies excel on different roads, we have in reality a moving target as to just what a Big Race is. But let's start with a loose but fairly default definition: the Big Races in cycling these days are the five one day Monuments, the Worlds and Olympic RR and TT races, and the three Grand Tours: twelve races in total this year, ten in non-Olympic years. These happen to be in the FSA DS competition the races of categories 1 and 2, the races that give the most points.

But really: TWELVE races this year are the Big One? SERIOUSLY? Is this little league baseball where everyone gets a slurpee after the game regardless if they won or lost? There's no sport that peaks anywhere near so many times. We cycling fanatics may love all of these races and defend their worth to all comers but when you pull back a bit you got to think that this is one reason why Pro Cycling is not so popular. Its all fuzzy. There's not enough build up, especially for some of the races. And with different types of riders winning one type of Big Race is more important than winning another. For Grand Tour riders like Cadel, winning the Tour dwarfs winning any of the other races-and that's why he was so happy last July. He finally got that second place monkey off his back.

But what the hell. Let's look at some riders who really could use to win one of these Big Races...

Who's got that monkey on their back? Who feels the pressure to break through? Here's an informal list:

1. Bradley Wiggins. Great time trialist who hasn't won a World's time trial. Pretty good climber toot who hasn't won any Grand Tour much less THE Tour, nor one of the climby Monuments. From their founding, Sky has said that it expects to have the Tour winner in its ranks within a few years and Wiggo is (for now) That Guy. If Brad doesn't come up with something this year (preferably the Tour and then an Olympic TT championship) then Sky will start to look elsewhere. Monkey type on his back: Howler

2. Bobo Gesink. Already the whispers are getting louder: is he mentally tough enough? The crashing thing is getting old. Should Rabo start to favor Cruise Ship or Big Bird? It seems like last year Gesink was set up for to excel. Menchov was no longer on the team plus he was just entering his Prime at 25. The year started off well with a win at Oman then podiums at T-A and Pais Vasco. Then pratfalls-a whole series of them. 33rd at the Tour. And the whispers grew louder cause Bobo crashing at the Tour is as I said-getting kinda repetitive. He's gotta step up or Rabobank will look elsewhere. True, he's young enough to fail this year, switch teams, and win a few years down the line like Cadel did. But right now he feels the pressure. Monkey type: what else? Bonobo

3. Andre Greipel. Spent his early years in Cav's shadow, and subject to this taunting: winner of dozens of SSR's. Moved away from Cav's team but wasn't totally in the clear last year as he did a ton of work riding for Gilbert. This year he's the unquestioned leader of Lotto's sprint team so its time to produce-before that huge horde of young sprinters comes of age and makes him just a face in the peloton. Monkey type: Gorilla of course

4. Tyler Farrar. The Wenatchee Wonder is a talisman of the Garmin team: a good sprinter who has yet to truly break through. Monkey type: Chimpanzee

5. Joaquin Rodriguez. 33 years old and no Monuments and no Grand Tour victories. Spent much of his career in Valverde's shadow but has had two good years at Katusha riding for himself. Notice I said good and not great: where are the Big Wins? No, Burgos isn't a big race. Several top fives are not enough. On the other hand, two years ago no one expected him to be so good so in a sense he's playing with house money. Monkey type: Lemur

6. Andy Schleck. Ooohhhhh this is fun ain't it? The little Schleck lives in a world that even Cadel never touched. What they had in common: both won a major one day race (Cadel, World's, Andy LBL). But both are Grand Tour riders so for them the stakes are higher: Tour or bust I'm afraid. Both have come in second at the Tour more than once. But this is where they part ways: Cadel won his Tour, while Andy Pereiro'd his win: he needed a DQ by Contador to be declared champ. Never stood on the top step of the podium in Paris. Until the ruling came down, the 2010 Tour from Andy's perspective was mainly known for chain gate. Not the best of memories. Can we have a 2010 do over?

Oh sure, the Andy apologists can get as legalistic as they want. Andy knows that he needs to win the Tour outright or he'll just be a second Oscar Pereiro and no one wants to live in that hell. Winning the Giro or Vuelta won't do. Monkey type: some sort of freaky cyber-gorilla-spider monkey hybrid bent on destroying all humans.

7. Michele Scarponi. Can't mention Andy without Scarponi, can I? He'll be 32 at this year's Giro. Monkey type: Baboon

8. Frank Schleck. The neglected Schleck. If Andy weren't around, we would all be wondering if Frank had what it took. A few Monument podiums plus a Tour podium last year. The window ain't closed on a breakthrough from him but he turns 32 this April so the clock's ticking. Monkey type: Orangutan

Since there are so many major races it stands to reason that most of the stars have won one of them sometime. Samu has his Olympic win. Happy Puppy has that Giro win and a few Lombardia's. Gilbert has a LBL win, the Shark has his Vuelta. Besides the riders I list above I suppose the biggest names who haven't won something big or are still too young to be expected to are Leipheimer, Chavanel, Kloden, and Voeckler. Robbie McEwen too though winning a Green Jersey is practically the same as some of the Monuments.

But let's see what happens with these guys this year knowing that they have added pressure to perform. And how many of them do you have on your FASA DS team?