Tour de France Betting: The Preview
Bradley Wiggins and Cadel Evans are clearly the ones to beat.
There's no such thing as a dull Tour De France, and the Tour Connoisseur sees the 2012 edition as no exception.
For the Australian fans, the 2012 TDF will carry some extra significance as it will be the very first time in the event's 99 year history they have a defending champion in Cadel Evans.
Across the English Channel, the Brits have other ideas.
They will no doubt be pinning their hopes on Bradley Wiggins to become the first Englishman to win the title. With over 100km of time trialling in this year's Tour, I see this as the most important discipline that the riders will need to master if they are to be triumphant.
The Australian has an impressive resume at the Tour: runner up in 2007 and again in 2008, he finally broke through for a well-deserved win in 2011. He has again hit form at the right time with a second place in the Criterium Du Dauphine just a few weeks ago, historically a good indicator of who is on for the big one. His team seems stronger than last year and if all goes to plan for him, it will take a far better rider to beat him.
Without a doubt the in-form cyclist of 2012. He was the winner at the Paris-Nice in March, backed it up at the Tour De Romandie in April, and, to close it out, took out the Criterium Du Dauphine just a few weeks ago. Three big-stage races that no rider has ever previously managed to win in the same year. His biggest strength is how well he performs in the time trial, and with that playing a prevalent role this year it all seems to be falling into place for the Englishman.
At 26 years of age, many suggest the Dutchman is still a fair way off his best, but his form of late has shown that he could be one to watch this July. He signalled his arrival on the international scene in May when he took out the Tour of California, where it must be noted that quite a few TDF hopefuls were left in his wake. His strength is undoubtedly his ability to climb, but the glaring weakness in his repertoire is his capacity to perform in the time trial and coming up against the likes of Evans and Wiggins this could well end up being his Achilles heel.
The Italian has been a consistent performer so far in 2012 with a win in the Tirreno-Adriatico as well as podium finishes at the Milan-San Remo and Liege-Bastogne-Liege. He elected to bypass his home tour this year, putting all eggs into the TDF basket. He knows how to prepare for a three-week race, with five top-10 overall placings at previous Grand Tours, including a win in the 2010 Vuelta. His time trialling is improving each year and he could be the biggest threat to Evans and Wiggins.
Pulled off a monumental victory at the Giro d'Italia a little over a month ago and something tells me he may be able to do it again here. Originally he didn't even plan to make it to the start line of the TDF, but has since changed his plans following recent success. He is a rider that fears nobody and will no doubt be full of confidence. His team (Garmin-Barracuda) has always believed in the Canadian and it's fair to say that post-Giro, the belief will be even stronger!
Jurgen Van den Broek
The Belgian deserves the tag of a pre-race favourite and I expect him to give a good account of himself. He crashed out of last year's race and since that day every ounce of his energy has gone into preparing for this year. He has had a pretty good lead up to the Tour with a fifth placing overall in the Dauphine stage race. He finished fourth here in 2010, so it's proven that he can mix it with the best. He will no doubt be aiming a little higher this time around.
Started the year with a bang at the Tour Down Under in South Australia with a stage win and second placing overall, but since then the Spaniard has been abnormally quite. A previous winner of the Vuelta e'Espana and two top ten finishes at TDF suggest he has the ability to be an absolute star. I simply don't believe he would be coming to France in July for a training run and that's why he is my smokey to take out the title.
Undoubtedly the fastest man on two wheels. Boasting 20 stage wins at TDF and 10 at the Giro d'Italia, including three in this year's race. Won the green jersey for the first time last year and is my pick to go back to back in 2012.
He had an interrupted start to 2012 with injury and illness, but found form again at the Giro d'Italia with a stage win. Seems to be on track now and unlike other riders he will have the support of his entire team.
Has been super fast of late and in some terrific form heading into the Tour, he even got the better of Cavendish recently in a head to head. Arguably the in-form sprinter heading into the Tour, but I think the mountains will be too much to handle.
Is the name on everyone's lips in 2012 with a bucket-load of victories to his name. At 22, he will make his debut at TDF and is set to give a serious challenge for the green.
Jose Joaquin Rojas
The Spaniard isn't the fastest guy in the peloton, but he is very consistent and can get over some of the smaller climbs where other sprinters can't. He will need to claim at least one stage though if he's going to win the green.
With his brother absent due to injury, it seems as though Frank has rethought his objectives. He's said he doesn't want to be team leader of RadioShack-Nissan and he doesn't feel he has the goods over the three-week journey. The Polka Dot is the perfect alternative for him.
Took it out last year as he was simultaneously challenging for the overall title. Expect lightning to strike twice here if his quest for yellow begins to slip away in the second half of the race.
Bradley Wiggins and Cadel Evans are clearly the ones to beat.
Wiggins for his outstanding form so far this year and Evans because you know exactly what you're going to get from him. Barring any unforeseen mishaps those two will fight it out over the next three weeks. For me personally, I just can't split them.
Nibali, Gesink, Van Den Broek, Valverde will all be in the mix, but watch for Canadian Ryder Hesjedal. I know in years gone by anyone who has performed well at the Giro has always been left wanting come Tour time, but there's something about the Big Canadian that I think may change that trend.