Much to my surprise, I love the Tour de France. I never used to pay it any attention at all, but I tuned in a few years ago for the first time when drawn to watching Lance Armstrong after my mother was diagnosed with cancer. I was hooked, and now I don’t miss a second of it. I know that there all sorts of issues with drugs and the like, but I just don’t care. These guys are incredibly freakish athletes, and the sport is just ridiculously packed with strategy, intrigue and drama. Great stuff.
Another thing I really like about the Tour de France is that it is great to bet on. Because of the length of the event and the structure of the teams, there really aren’t that many guys who can legitimately win the event, so it is easier to handicap than a lot of events.
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The race is already underway this year — two regular stages and the team time trial are already in the books. The Tour de France odds are still open and ready to be bet, though, and since the race is still wide open that betting is still quite attractive. If you haven’t been paying attention this year then let’s get you up to speed with some Tour de France betting predictions (all odds are from Bodog):
Alberto Contador (11/10) - The three-time winner is still favored to win the race, but he is in a tough position after just three stages. He was involved in a wreck late in the first stage that found him more than a minute behind most of the major contenders, and then a lousy team trial dropped him further behind.
It doesn’t seem like he’s out of it yet — he is still less than two minutes behind with hundreds and hundreds of miles to ride. In this position, though, that is massive. In order to make up that time he’ll have to break away and get away with it. That would be most likely to happen on a big climb, and Contador is a very good climber.
The problem, though, is that any time he makes a move he’ll have Andy Schleck and other top contenders stuck to him like glue. Last year Contador won the race by just 39 seconds, and he gained all that margin in a brutally unsportsmanlike way — he rode away on a climb when Schleck lost his chain when etiquette dictates that you wait until your opponent is ready to go again. Other than that moment Schleck and Contador were neck-and-neck the whole way.
Contador would need a tremendous amount of luck to come out on top. I just don’t think you can justify betting him as the favorite given what he faces and how strong and determined Schleck is.
So, what has gone wrong with Contador so far? Well, luck has been a factor. He’s working with a new team this year after leaving Astana, so that transition hasn’t helped things out — especially in the time trial. You could also cynically suggest that it’s harder to ride fast when you aren’t drugged out, and Contador has to be careful after being under investigation for a positive test in last year’s race. Personally, I think it’s just karma for all the slimy things the guy has done in the past. He’s as unlikeable as a guy can be.
Andy Schleck (6/5) - Schleck has the unfortunate distinction of being the best rider never to have won the Tour — he has finished second to Contador twice. I thought that that streak was going to end before this race started, and now I am even more confident of it.
Like Contador, he is with a new team this year. He started new team Leopard Trek with his former director. Contador actually took the spot on Saxo Bank that Schleck vacated. Schleck seems more comfortable with his move, though — in large part because he has his brother Frank at his side. Frank was injured early last year, so Andy had to compete without his biggest weapon. Having him back and healthy is a huge asset.
He’s very hungry after last year, and it showed in his team’s respectable team time trial showing. He can match Contador in the mountains, and the individual time trial — a weakness — is something he has been working hard on. He’s only four seconds off the lead right now — an irrelevant margin. He’s set up very well, and I think he represents nice value at this price.
The rest — There are many other serious contenders, but I frankly don’t think any are up to the challenge of beating the top two unless there are issues. Cadel Evans has started well and has a good team behind him, so he’s worth a bit of a look at 8/1, and Bradley Wiggins has been focusing hard on his climbing and could be interesting at 22/1. I can’t look beyond Schleck, though.