10 riders to watch at Tour de France
PARIS (AP) — From the field of 198 riders at the Tour de France, which starts June 29 on the French Mediterranean island of Corsica, here are 10 to keep a particular watch for, either because they are contenders or they could make waves at the 100th edition of the three-week race over 3,479 kilometers (2,162 miles) divided into 21 stages:
Career highlights: 2nd in 2012 Tour; 2nd in 2011 Tour of Spain; time-trial bronze at 2012 London Olympics
Why watch: Kenyan-born Froome is strong favorite to win after runner-up finish in 2012 behind teammate Bradley Wiggins, who is missing this year’s Tour, hampered by sore left knee. Eats up steep climbs, solid in time trials, has perhaps strongest team, giving Froome tools he needs to win Tour’s 100th edition. Looked fresh and fit in winning Criterium du Dauphine stage race in June
Career highlights: Stripped of 2010 Tour title after anti-doping controls detected banned drug clenbuterol in his urine. Court of Arbitration for Sport rejected Contador’s story that he unwittingly ingested the drug in contaminated steak. Two-year ban forced him to miss 2012 Tour and London Olympics. Also stripped of 2011 Giro d’Italia victory.
Why watch: Contador, a former teammate of Lance Armstrong, was becoming cycling’s Next Big Thing until stopped in his tracks by drug-test fail at 2010 Tour. Has won all three of cycling’s grand Tours — Tour of France in 2007 and ’09; 2008 Giro d’Italia; Vuelta a Espana in 2008 and 2012. Hasn’t looked as sharp as Froome this season. Mounds of experience and bursts of uphill speed make Contador most dangerous rival for the Briton.
Team: Omega Pharma-Quick-Step
Career highlights: Too numerous to list. Called “Manx Missile” because he hails from Isle of Man and is explosively quick. Finest sprinter of his generation; winner of coveted points jersey for sprinting at all three grand Tours, just one of five riders to achieve that triple.
Why watch: Cavendish will never win the Tour; he is too slow up mountains. But he can whip anyone in sprint finish. Some expect Cavendish to overhaul Eddy Merckx’s record of 34 stage wins at Tour before he retires. With 23 wins now, Cavendish could this year catch Andre Leducq, third on Tour’s all-time list of stage winners, with 25, or even get within spitting distance of Bernard Hinault’s 28 wins, second-highest total after Merckx.
Career highlights: Winner of green points jersey at 2012 Tour
Why watch: Because three stage victories and green jersey for collecting most points from wins and sprints at debut Tour in 2012 identify Sagan as an attacking rider and rival this year for Cavendish. Made fool of himself by pinching bottom of podium hostess at Tour of Flanders; later apologized.
Career highlights: Winner 2011 Tour; 3rd in this year’s Giro d’Italia gave him podium finishes in all three grand Tours (3rd in 2009 Vuelta; runner-up at Tour de France in 2007 and 2008); 2009 road race world champion
Why watch: Bit long in tooth to win another Tour but still podium contender. A diesel engine —not explosively quick uphill but regular and constant in mountains and time trial.
TEJAY VAN GARDEREN
Career highlights: With 5th place at 2012 Tour, resident of Boulder, Colorado, won white jersey for best rider aged 25 or less. This May won eight-day Tour of California
Why watch: Because USA cycling needs a rider to cheer for after disgrace of Lance Armstrong. Too young to win this Tour but strong performance expected after breakthrough last year. May be forced to play second-fiddle to Evans in BMC team.
Career highlights: 10th at 2012 Tour, win on stage 8
Why watch: Because France hasn’t had a Tour champion since Bernard Hinault won his fifth title in 1985. Pinot, too young, won’t win this year but performance last year marked him out as future French talent.
Career highlights: Initially runner-up, inherited 2010 Tour title stripped from Alberto Contador for failed drug test. 2nd in 2011 and 2009; 2nd at 2007 Giro d’Italia
Why watch: Broken pelvis in 2012 forced Schleck out of Tour and London Olympics. Triptych of podium finishes at Tour from 2009-2011 show his pedigree but questions over fitness. Older brother Frank Schleck, third in 2011 Tour, tested positive for banned diuretic Xipamide at 2012 edition and misses this year’s race as he completes one-year ban.
JURGEN VAN DEN BROECK
Team: Lotto Belisol
Career highlights: 4th in Tours of 2012 and 2010 — best performance by Belgian since Claude Criquielion finished 5th in 1986
Why watch: Started career with Lance Armstrong’s squads, U.S. Postal Service and Discovery Channel. Podium contender this year, along with Alejandro Valverde and Nairo Quintana at Movistar and Joaquim Rodriguez of Katusha.
Team: Garmin Sharp
Career highlights: Stage wins at all three grand Tours; searing biography about his doping
Why watch: Reformed doper who speaks mind about his and his sport’s drug history, its testing regime and continuing doping problems. Expect colorful language from Millar against any rider involved in doping scandal again this year. Not incidentally, a fine bike racer, too.