Ah the time of year when I dust down the coffee machine, plump the cushions and try to avoid doing absolutely anything between the hours of 13.00 and 16.30. Yes, its Grand Tour silly season in the world of professional road cycling. Whilst the general classification contenders have been preparing on some hors categorie climbs, I have been gorging myself on the Hors d’oeuvre’s of cycling’s seasonal menu. One day classics and short stage races have been a relative amuse bouche ahead of the full 21 course tasting menu of a grand tour.
There is nothing in the world of sport that is longer or warrants such investment than the Giro, Tour or Vuelta. As a result I, like you, I hope, have numerous ‘jours sans’. This usually involves a perfectly concocted TV montage set on repeat. The breakaway going hell for leather, the delightful landscape, an ambling peloton, the faint noise of the helicopter or motorbike engine… riders’ legs going up, and down, up, and down, up, and down….. Suddenly it’s the end of the stage and the top 10 for the day flashes up on the TV – I’ve missed the whole stage!!! Like a Bardiani-CSF rider aiming to get in the breakaway, I shall try again tomorrow!
So we come to the first of grand tour of the year the Giro d’Italia, perhaps confusingly for the uninitiated, starting in Ireland! The spaces and landscapes of the Giro never disappoint and the dash through the Emerald Isle will certainly match the vistas of Italy. It may even be capable of halting my usual mid stage slumber mentioned above! Judging by the stages planned the racing shouldn’t fail to satisfy either. The route starts with a team time trial around Belfast and finishes with a stage to Dublin, after which comes the 1st rest day for travel to Italy.
Giro d’Italia Route 2014
Ultimately the route this year is one primed for climbers – yet unlike recent years the profiles tend to build gradually rather than shoot for the hills right away. Stage 8 in the Apennines mountain range should bring the first shake up for the general classification. The Carpegna climb is back loaded towards the end of the stage and final climb at 13% should be a treat. A nasty trio, the Passo Gavio, Stelvio and the Monte Zoncolan are all attempted in the final week and the final mountain time trial will ultimately destroy some riders hopes.
Four previous Giro winners line up this year and the smart money suggests none of them will be in contention come Trieste. Ivan Basso and Michele Scarponi are the wrong side of 35, whilst Ryder Hesjedal and Damiano Cunego have not shown anything to date to suggest they can repeat their victories of 2004 and 2012 respectively. Of the old guard perhaps only Cadel Evans has a right to warrant a contender badge after a productive spring cumulating in GC victory at the recent Giro del Trentino.
So, roll up roll up how about a brand new grand tour winner? The bookies favourite, Nairo Quintana, looks a good bet to at least match his podium finish from last year’s tour. He has had a solid preparation in the run up, landing the win at the Tour de San Luis, second at Tirenno and 5th in Catalunya. This combined with his eminent climbing ability, solid time trialling and a world class Movistar line up ensures he certainly warrants favouritism.
Rigoberto Uran, 2nd last year has a good chance too. He has kept his powder dry this season with only a 3rd in GC at the Tour of Oman the only result of note. The Omega-Pharma quickstep team is built around him with no Mark Cavendish. If Thomas De Gent and Wout Poels and can provide suitable domestique support in the mountains he may have a shot. Joaquim Rodriguez, the Raymond Poulidor of our times, could at last win the general classification at a grand tour. This may be his last chance as he enters the last few golden years of his career and he probably missed his best chance in 2012. The time trial on stage 12 does him no favours. Daniel Martin, Domenico Pozzovivo, Rafal Majka, Nicholas Roche and Wilco Kelderman could all make a step up this year after showing glimpses of what might be. All must ride their luck and have the best of legs to usurp Quintana et al.
My Giro d’Italia Top 5:-
- Nairo Quintana
- Cadel Evans
- Rafal Majka
- Nicholas Roche
- Daniel Martin
Stage Win – Tim Wellens (Lotto Belisol)
When Henri Desgrange and Geo Lefevre created the first Tour de France back in 1903, they surely can’t have thought that it would evolve into what it has become today. Historian, Jim McGurn noted that the Tour back then was “a magnificently imaginative invention, a form of odyssey in which the lonely heroism of unpaced riders was pitted against relentless competition and elemantal nature.” Whilst the heroism and extent of the competition has waned slightly, as any rider, journalist or fan will tell you, the Tour is still the Tour. Faster, harder, higher, hotter than many other races the 100th edition of the Tour de France lives up to this expectation on paper.
After an undeniably drab 2012 edition in which Team Sky stifled the race to the benefit of Sir Wiggo the 2013 Tour de France must be one of the most eagerly awaited in years. Now, certainly this is in no small part due to the participants this year but the inventive, historic parcours designed by Mr Christian Prudhomme and his colleagues at ASO definitely add to the anticipation.
After a partly successful Giro d’Italia forecast (doping aside) what follows is a quick sprint through the key stages and some more wildly ill informed predictions.
The 2013 Tour de France
The headline of the 100th edition of the Tour de France was the ascension of both Mount Ventoux and Alpe d’Huez (twice) and a twilight finish on the Champs in Paris. Yet, look beyond those undoubtedly key days and you’ll see that this is an aggressively tricky circuit of France full of more saw-toothed stage profiles than you could throw a bidon at.
Aligned more to a rider who can climb and TT rather than the reverse they key stages begin as early as stage 2 as the race climbs from sea level in Bastia, Corsica over the mountains to the West coast and Ajaccio. OK, the last third of the stage is downhill but GC contenders must be on their guard throughout and this stress and toil will accumulate until the race reaches Paris.
The team time trial on the 2nd July will only modify the General Classification but will see a good old fashioned battle between the well drilled teams, Sky, Omega-Pharma Quickstep and Orica-Greenedge. As we edge into the second weekend, the climbing begins with a mouth-watering double header in the Pyrenees. The climb to Ax 3 Domaines will shake out the GC and certainly Stage 9 will hopefully see the combination of a GC battle and a breakaway sojourn over five monstrous climbs. With 30km from the last climb to the finish whoever is over the top first will be difficult to catch. Expect Jens Voigt, Simon Gerrans, Jeremy Roy or Johnny Hoogerland to be involved somewhere along the line.
If the weather isn’t dramatic the time trial on stage 11 shouldn’t change much and as the peloton girds its loins for Mount Ventoux on Sunday 14th July the second week will probably past without interest; save a Mark Cavendish win and honouree French heroes going all out for stage victories. After a teasing day in the Alps and technical time trial the hallowed ascension of Alpe D’Huez looms into view. The shear length of the two main mountain days (172.5 and 204.5km) will take its toll on the peloton and you would expect a GC contender to emerge victorious on one if not both stages. The last smash into Annecy-Semnoz on Saturday 20th July could see one final battle for general classification places.
For all you can mutter about Alberto Contador (Beef jokes included) his presence at this year’s tour adds value to the event. OK his form hasn’t been fantastic this year and Chris Froome has beaten him on every occasion they have raced together this year, but Contador’s GT experience, coupled with a strong team in support should see a ding dong battle with Froome and Team Sky. Despite Cadel Evans’ recent Giro heroics this has to be Tejay Van Garderen’s year. Proving himself at the Tour of California suggests that he will be riding into a leader’s role finally and with Cadel peaking at the Giro the time is nigh.
Daniel Martin has ultimately had is breakthrough year with Garmin Sharp. In a recent interview with Paul Kimmage in the Irish Independent he declared himself a Top 5 or Top 10 favourite. I can certainly see him achieving the later. However, with Andrew Talansky and Ryder Hesjedal riding perhaps it’s a case of the strongest rider will emerge for Jonathan Vaughters’ outfit. If Dan Martin is weakened by his Time trialing then J C Peraud is the opposite. 4th in the recent mountain TT at the Tour de Suisse his form looks solid if not unremarkable. 9th in the 2011 Tour and without Nicholas Roche to work for, perhaps this will be the last opportunity for the 36 year old to reach the higher echelons of his home race. If his Ag2r team doesn’t mutiny around him with John Gadret and Hubert Dupont in the mix then maybe a top ten is possible.
How about Alexandre Geniez for a stage win – he was climbing well in the Dauphine and came second in the young rider classification. He could certainly emulate Thibaut Pinot’s exploits last year if given the freedom.
1. Alberto Contador
2. Chris Froome
3. Tejay Van Garderen
4. Richie Porte
5. Jurgen Van den Broeck
Top 10 – J C Peraud / Daniel Martin
Stage Win – Alexandre Geniez
Here’s to a showpiece 100th Tour de France! Let’ hope we see 100 more!