It’s going to be a bit of a strange Tour de France this time around. Lance Armstrong is in the second year of his retirement. Alberto Contador is serving a doping suspension. Andy Schleck is out with an injury. There is still no shortage of talent, but the biggest names in recent editions of the race are not going to be there. That just makes things more interesting from a betting perspective.
One fascinating factor here will be the timing of the Olympics. Some big names have skipped the Tour to prepare for the Olympics — the road race there occurs just six days after the Tour ends. A lot of big-name riders are doing both, but you could definitely see guys ease up on the effort, or even drop out of the Tour if they aren’t in contention so they can concentrate on their London preparations. That could be another strategy twist in a race that certainly doesn’t lack for strategy at any time.
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This year’s race gets underway on June 30 with a Prologue in Liege, Belgium. Twenty stages and 2,173 miles later the riders will arrive at the Arc de Triomphe on July 22. The race features fewer mountain features than in some years, three individual time trials, and no team time trial. Here’s a look at some of the most serious contenders in the field along with some 2012 Tour de France predictions (all odds are from Bovada):
Cadel Evans (2/1)
Evans is not only the defending champion, but also the only previous winner of the race in the field. That experience should be an edge for him.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding his as well.
He didn’t race at all in May, and he won just one race this spring — back in April. He’s 35 years old now, and it’s hard to know if he is still in top form. His BMC team is strong, though, and he is the unquestioned leader, so he’ll have all of the support that he needs.
My strong sense is that he is not going to be able to defend, but he’s clearly a factor here, and he’ll be in the thick of things throughout.
Bradley Wiggins (7/5)
Wiggins is the strong favorite here because the race sets up very well for him.
He has won three races already this year — a rare accomplishment — so he is in very good form coming into the race. He has finished as high as fourth in the Tour in the past, so he has experience.
He’s a former track racing star, so the abnormally high number of time trial miles in this race are a big advantage for him.
Hi Team Sky is strong and deep, and there is a chance that they could win both the yellow jersey and the sprint title with Mark Cavendish. Incredibly, Wiggins could become the first British rider ever to win this race. The chance to make history like that will be a big driving force for Wiggins.
I think Wiggins is certainly well positioned in this race, but it is very tough to put everything together to win this race — especially when you have never won a grand tour before — so these low odds make me very uneasy. Last year a crash ended his Tour prematurely.
He’s the deserving favorite, but I’m tempted to look elsewhere for value.
Ryder Hesjedal (22/1)
The Canadian vaulted into the top levels of cycling last month by winning the Giro D’Italia in impressive fashion. He is sound in the time trials, though not at the level of Wiggins. He’s also sound in the mountains.
His Garmin team supported him brilliantly at the Giro, and he will be their leader again.
At his best he clearly is a major contender. The question is, though, whether he has enough left in the tank after the punishing Giro effort.
I’m a believer at this price, but I could be accused of being biased towards my fellow Canadian.
Vincenzo Nibali (20/1)
Nibali hasn’t ridden in the Tour since 2009. He won the Spanish Vuelta — the third of the grand tours — in 2010, though, and was second in the Giro last year. He clearly has the game to contend, and his style is appropriate for the race.
The biggest knock against him in my eyes is that I just don’t have a whole lot of faith in his Liquigas-Cannondale team.
Robert Gesink (28/1)
Gesink won the increasingly important Tour of California earlier this year, so he is in good form. His Rabobank team is a good one, and he is very solid in time trials and in the mountains.
He’d need a lot of luck, but the price is right.
Tony Martin (50/1)
If you are looking for a longshot special this is it. Martin is a guy who has had tremendous potential who has been unable to put it all together yet.
He’s the reigning World Time Trial champion, so the format of this race clearly suits him. He can also climb well, and should be well supported after moving to Omega Pharma-Quick Step this year. If he gets off to a good start he certainly has the potential to make things interesting.
The biggest factor working against him could be that teammate Levi Leipheimer could also be a serious contender. If Martin doesn’t get off to the best start on his team then he might be forced to take a secondary role on his squad, and that makes it harder for a guy to win.
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