Beyond the Peloton

July 1, 2010 11:23 PM

And the Winner of the 2010 Tour Is ...

The winner of the 2010 Tour de France is easy to pick. A slam dunk. You can take it to the bank.

Mark Cavendish.

Right, we're talking about the green jersey. The Mad Manx should run away with this after a spectacular showing last year, winning six sprint finishes, including the grand finale on the Champs Elysees. Of course, Cavendish didn't win the sprint title because of a dubious referees' decision at Stage 14, allowing Norway's Thor Hushovd to claim his second sprint title.

Mark-Cavendish-001.jpgThat's not going to happen this year (unless the race referee gets involved again) and Hushovd isn't even Cavendish's most capable foil. That's now American Tyler Farrar, who's had a great season so far for Garmin, including two stage wins at the Giro. But it says here that Farrar won't be able to chase down Cavendish, who's still the fastest man this side of Usain Bolt.

Now that we got that out of the way, here comes the difficult choice for the GC winner. There are the usual list of pretenders, but when it comes down to it, there are only five who can win:

Alberto Contador: The defending champion is an otherworldly talent. He's better than when Jan Ullrich first burst onto the scene and at least on par with the Lance Armstrong in the midst of his seven-peat. He's a beast in the mountains and his time trial skills are unrivaled by all the current GC contenders, including the aging Armstrong.

So how can he lose? The only Achilles heel is that he's a bit thin on support riders. If your best wing man is Alexandre Vinokourov, who's as likely to go off the script as Contador himself, then that's trouble. For the first time since his breakout year of 2007, Contador will be racing without the master strategist Johan Bruyneel on his side, with whom he claimed four grand tour victories. Worse yet, Bruyneel will be working against Contador on Armstrong's team.

Lance Armstrong: After a disastrous early season that included abandonment in the Tour of California, Lance appears to be back on form in the nick of time. He finished second in the Tour de Suisse behind Frank Schleck, and seemingly had his climbing legs back. Armstrong has Bruyneel and a great supporting cast with two former Tour podium finishers in Andreas Kloden and Levi Leiphemer. But at 38, his biggest nemesis, besides Contador, is father time.

Andy Schleck: Saxo Bank has a strong team to support the Schleck brothers with Bjarne Riis calling the shots. And the younger Schleck has proven his credentials in the mountains during last year's Tour, holding his own against Contador and Armstrong in some of the most savage mountain stages, including Mont Ventoux. Andy's biggest weakness remains his time trialing ability. It's a major liability that could cost the Luxembourg native even though this year's Tour has only one time trial stage after the short Prologue.

Cadel Evans: The Aussie is the Colin Montgomerie of cycling, the best rider who's never won the big one. And like Monty, time is running out for the 33-year-old Evans, who's finished in the top five of the three grand tours a total of five times, without ever winning one. But with his new team BMC and having raced in the Giro earlier this year (finishing fifth), he still doesn't quite seem primed to don the maillot jaune.

Levi Leipheimer: Should Armstrong falter, bonk or in any way unable to press on as Radio Shack's team leader, look for his fellow American to assume the role. Leipheimer has plenty of credentials of his own, having finished third at the Tour (2007, as Contador's teammate at Discovery) and two podium finishes at the Vuelta. He was riding a strong Tour last year as well until crashing out at Stage 12 while he was fourth overall.

Other podium (but not yellow jersey) contenders: Andreas Kloden (Germany, Radio Shack), Frank Schleck (Luxembourg, Saxo Bank), Bradley Wiggins (Great Britain, Team Sky), Ivan Basso (Italy, Liquigas), Roman Kreuziger (Czech Republic, Liquigas).

And the winner is: Believe it or not, it's a tough call. With Contador's talent and youth, it should've been easy. But there are several significant obstacles in his way, not the least of which is that most of the other teams will try to gang up on him while his own team might not be strong enough to fend off all challengers, unlike Armstrong's Postal/Discovery squads in the 2000s.

At the end of the day, though, Contador's immense ability should still carry the day. He's the best all-around rider of this generation (remember Lance rarely raced in the other two grand tours while Contador's won both the Giro and Vuelta). The last rider to beat him on a mountain was the tainted Michael Rasmussen in 2007. And he doesn't need anybody's help in the time trial.

Our pick is Contador, with Armstrong a distant second in his farewell tour, just ahead of Andy Schleck.

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