It’s less than 80 days until the start of the Tour de France 2013, officially the 100th. The Prologue for this year’s Tour will be staged in Corsica for the first time, and it will be the first time that the entirety of the Tour will be held within France since 1988.
So, with just under 3 months to go before Le Grand Depart, it’s time to have an early look at the potential contenders for the General Classification.
Chris Froome (Team Sky)
Second place on the podium in 2012 Tour, and many people’s favourite to be Team Sky’s leader in 2013, Froome will be very confident after last year, when it is entirely possible, if not probable, that he would have won, had he not been held back by the Sky management in the mountain stages.
Froome has had a good start to 2013, winning the Genera l Classification of the Tour of Oman in February ahead of Alberto Contador and Cadel Evans, as well as finishing 2nd in the Tirreno-Adratico behind Vicenzo Nibali and ahead of Contador.
Alberto Contador (Team Saxo-Bank Tinkoff)
Alberto Contador. A name that probably rings some bells, and bearing in mind it is professional cycling, the likelihood is that it will be as a result of a doping scandal, and subsequently being stripped of his 2010 Tour de France and 2011 Giro D’Italia wins, as opposed to his two Tour victories in 2007 and 2009.
With his 2 year ban now served, Contador is back and must be considered as one of the favourites, given his climbing ability, where, so often, Le Tour can be won or lost. 3rd place in the Tirreno-Adratico is his best result of 2013 in the UCI World Tour so far.
Andy Schleck (RadioShack-Leopard)
Schleck, 28 when the Tour starts on the 29th June, returns to the fold this year after a lower back injury suffered in the Criterium du Dauphine and the aggravation of a knee injury forced him to sit out in 2012.
Despite having a less than successful start to 2013 – where he has started, but failed to finish in the Tour Down Under, Tirreno-Adratico, the Tour Mediterraneen and the Tour of Oman, Schleck is a strong rider and still has time to find some form before Le Grand Depart.
Vicenzo Nibali (Astana)
Nibali, a 28 year old Italian and the new captain of the Astana team should be a strong contender for the overall Yellow Jersey. He scored his first podium at the 2012 Tour behind Wiggins and Froome, and challenged throughout the Tour last year.
His 2013 form has been reasonable thus far, finishing 7th in the Tour of Oman, and winning the Tirreno-Adratico in early March.
You may notice some names missing from that favourites list, namely Bradley Wiggins. ‘Wiggo’ has already confirmed that his focus this year will be firmly on the Giro D’Italia, the first Grand Tour of the year. It would therefore appear that his aim for Le Tour then, is to support fellow Team Sky rider Chris Froome in his bid to be the second Briton (albeit Kenyan-born) to win – although Froome is yet to be confirmed by Sky as their leader.
Another name that should be mentioned, is Cadel Evans of BMC Racing. The 2011 winner challenged Wiggins before dropping back and finishing 7th overall last year.
It’s a little early to be able to nail colours to a particular mast, but there are a few early indicators to look out for. The Giro, starting in early May, is the first Grand Tour of the year, and should provide a good indicator as to who is in, or coming into form. Other key results to look out for are those from the Criterium du Dauphine from the 2nd-9th June (7 winners of the Criterium have won the Tour the same year) and the Tour of Switzerland 8th-16th June, with different teams deciding between the two.
Whatever happens, it should be another intriguing and exciting 3 weeks that will see over 200 of the world’s best cyclists battle it out to wear the coveted Maillot Jaune into Paris on the 21st July.