Friday, 29 June 2012

You Stuporous Funker

Feeling a bit stuporous myself this morning, which is to say un-stoked, as I managed to unwittingly discover the result of the Germany/Italy match that I was twenty minutes short of fully downloading whilst researching Le Tour. Suffice to say you can book my seat at the head of the table for your next Dick Meeting. Dinnae fuss yerself, there’ll be nae spoilers here, but my morning is ruined. With no classes today and eight hours to kill at my desk, I may still watch the match, but I also have all six series of Reno 911! which might be better for cheering myself up.
Helping to raise a smile is this excellent summation of the English effort at the Euros that I received from Brendan Dempsey:

"Stewart Downing was picked for the England squad on the back of a season where he contributed no goals and no assists in the Premier there is one player who can look back on the Euros and say he has performed to his full potential. Same old England."

Excellent stuff there from Demps.

There was some incredible news overnight from Wimbly, with Nadal going out in five sets to world number 100 Lukas Rosol. He’s the lowest ranked player to ever beat Nadal at an Open, and save for 2009 when he was injured, it is the first time Nadal has failed to make the final since 2005. Unfortunately for Kiwis, Marina Erakovic went out with a bit of a whimper in straight sets, but hopefully she can kick on in the doubles having made the semi final last year.
But enough of all that. I know all you lycra enthusiasts out there are champing at the bit, so let us turn our attention to Le Tour.

‘Allez’ means ‘go’

“Smithers, you infernal ninny, stick your left hoof on that
flange, now! Now, if you can get it through your bug-addled
brain, jam that second mephitic clodhopper of yours on the
right doodad! Now pump those scrawny chicken legs, you          stuporous funker!” – C. Montgomery Burns

With the increased sophistication of communications technology and developments in sports science, this is not the kind of instruction we are likely to hear from team managers in the 2012 edition of Le Tour. But with no Alberto Contador or last year’s runner-up Andy Schleck, what can we expect this year? Well, before getting too deeply into it, for an explanation of the basic terms associated with the race, check this blog from last year, and scroll down to the section that is imaginatively titled, ‘Some Basic Terms.’

The Route

For the first time since 2009, the GC (I told you to check the blog), will be weighed much more heavily in favour of time trials than mountain climbs. I’m not overly pleased about this, as I find epic battles up spirit crushing slopes of astounding length and steepness to be far more exciting than checking split times as riders boosh around alone on a time trial. I think it also overwhelmingly plays into the hands of just two of this year's competitors, though of course the organisers couldn’t have known this when they planned the course.
Now it should be noted that this isn’t due to a lack of climbs. In fact there are more HC, Cat.1, and Cat.2 climbs than there have been in the last five years. But the defining stages are likely to be 9 and 19, featuring 41.5kms and 53.5kms in time trialing, which is huge, around 30% more than last year. And why is this significant? Because up a mountain, you can follow or ‘mark’ your major opponents, but on a time trial, you’re out there alone, with no team mates, and no wheels to sit behind. As already mentioned this is likely to benefit two riders in particular, but more about that anon.
Obviously it’s hard to say too much more about a course that runs for over 2000kms in total, but there are a few other distinctive features this year.
-the race starts in Belgium this year, and also visits Switzerland.
-the mountain stages are not as evenly split into two distinctive groups, as they usually are. Instead, from Stage 7 right through until Stage 17, there are only a couple of let ups for sprinters and domestiques.
-it will all be aesthetically stunning, and will make being in the middle of sweaty, humid, dusty, hazy Seoul quite excruciating.

To help you keep on top of the route and stages, a couple of excellent links, from The Guardian and the official Tour site.

Teams, riders, contenders

So due to the length of the time trials, this year’s race is widely predicted to be a fight between defending champion Cadel Evans of Australia and Bradley Wiggins of the UK. Unfortunately, Evans has a (deserved) reputation as being an extremely dour and defensive rider, and with even less reason to go on the attack in the mountains than usual, many neutrals out there will be hoping a few darker horses can emerge from the pack and put the favourites under pressure. I have to say though, that after looking through the complete rider list for this year, I found myself making note of many names that could conceivably shake things up. In fact, of the twenty-two teams competing this year, I wound up selecting twelve that were strong enough overall to have a chance at the GC, or had some wildman in their midst who could produce something remarkable.
But what makes predictions for any of the jerseys so tough this year is the looming specter of the Coca Cola McDonald's Lloyds TSB General Electric Proctor and Gamble Acer Samsung Panasonic Visa Adidas BMW Games. Many riders are expected to pull out of Le Tour in the second week, including sprint giant Mark Cavendish, and it quickly becomes very difficult to accurately assess the long-term strengths of many of the leading teams. A gold medal is a big lure, and with the London course to favour sprinters, the Green Jersey in particular may turn out to be a wide open contest.
On the whole though, BMC for Evans, Radioshack for Frank Schleck, and Sky for Wiggins look like the teams most likely to produce a Yellow Jersey winner. They all have a lot of strength in depth- Gilbert, Hincapie, Quinziato and Van Garderen for BMC; Kloden, Monfort, Voight, Zubeldia and Popovych for Radioshack; and Eisel, Hagen, Knees and Rogers for Sky- which is always the most crucial factor over three weeks of racing.
Outsiders who could produce a winner include Euskatel for Samuel Sanchez, Liquigas for Nibali or Basso, Garmin for Vuelta winner Ryder Hesjedal, Lotto for Jurgen Van Ben Broek, or Rabobank for Robert Gesink. And actually, looking even more closely I can see a few other names- Menchov, Gerrans, Leipheimer, Valverde- who, if absolutely everything goes right for them and they have the best form of their lives, could make it to at least the podium on the Champs-Elysees.


I guess I’ve probably lost many of you already, so I won’t go into as much depth for the sprint (Green) jersey or the climbing (polka dot). New Zealand’s sole representative this year is Greg Henderson, and he will be a key lead out rider for the Lotto team’s star sprinter Andre Greipel, who will be amongst many possible contenders for the Green should Cavendish withdraw early. Other names being bandied around are Matt Goss from Orica, Jose Joaquin Rojas of Movistar who came second to Cavendish in 2011, and a twenty-two year old named Peter Sagan from the Liquigas team, who Eurosport describe as a ‘Slovakian sprint sensation.’ Nice. There are also a few veterans around such as Tyler Farrar, Alessandro Pettachi and Oscar Freire who may still fancy themselves too.
Up the mountains is particularly difficult to predict due to some new climbs, fewer double point summit finishes, and my inability to keep on top of the vast hordes of Spaniards and Frenchmen who live to assail these peaks. You can find out more about the Polka dot Jersey here, but I reckon Moncoutie, Sorensen and Sanchez or one of his teammates are the best shout. Personally I hope it goes to Johnny Hoogerland due to his heroic return to the race last year after being sideswiped into a barbed wire fence by one of the TV cars, resulting in thirty-three stitches. Beast.
Also, watch out for Alexandre Vinokourov. Seriously, he's back again. He could just as likely win the race or turn up at your door with an AK-47. You have been warned.

Ok then. My personal prediction is that when they finally arrive in Paris, Evans will be pipped very narrowly by Wiggins, but my offical dark horse prediction is Robert Gesink. The best places to follow the action on a daily basis are at Eurosport or the offical Tour website, and of course here at the Comments. There is of course plenty of other sport on this weekend, but I think that that is more than enough for today. The Comments will be back early next week with a wrap of all the weekend's action, a look ahead to the final week at Wimbly, and the opening stages of Le Tour. Until then, have a good couple of days.

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