2013 yellow jersey contenders
This year’s Tour seems set to boast an unusually strong field with Vincenzo Nibali and Bradley Wiggins about the only major stage racers missing. Here are the main contenders for the yellow jersey and a few dark horses as well.
Alberto Contador – Saxo Bank
Contador has won almost every Grand Tour he has entered. The two exceptions are the 2005 Tour – his first three-week race – and the 2010 Tour, which he entered despite having already won the Giro the same season. Two of Contador’s wins have now been rendered void after a very small quantity of clenbuterol was detected in his system during the 2010 Tour. I won’t go into the ins and outs of that case, because scientists have argued long and hard about it and the only certain fact to emerge is that Contador typically produces 2.115 litres of urine a day (his own experiment, apparently). He returned from his ban last year and won the Vuelta despite being short of racing.
Chris Froome – Sky
A faint air of haplessness and an overly-polite conversational tone shouldn’t hide the fact that Chris Froome is possessed of an iron will and an independence which sits a little awkwardly in a team sport. Twice last year he advertised his superiority to Wiggins on the climbs without actually heading up the road. We saw then that he had grown weary of riding in support of a rider who at times holds him back. Froome had already been denied the 2011 Vuelta through having to support Wiggins and he was still in much the same position at the 2012 Tour. It now looks like he won’t ever have to put up with that again. He wants to win. Maybe he will.
Joaquim Rodriguez – Katusha
One of my favourite riders. He climbs with the best of them but then tends to finish more strongly. That finishing kick won’t be of such great use in the Tour where there are no time bonuses on offer and he’s also likely to suffer because he ain’t much cop at time trialling.
Cadel Evans – BMC
Cadel has a whole raft of top ten Grand Tour finishes to his name on top of his 2011 win. Last year, he had some sort of low-level virus and came seventh in the Tour. This year, it at first seemed like he must have been even more sickly, right up until the Giro, at which point he rode very encouragingly. If he improves further, he could threaten. He’s 36, so he’s the middle-aged representative at this year’s race if you look for that kind of quality in a rider.
Alejandro Valverde – Movistar
Served a doping man and has never seemed enormously contrite about it, but I don’t speak Spanish so maybe I should lay off him a bit. As a rider, he’s a bit like Joaquim Rodriguez. Only not quite so much.
Ryder Hesjedal – Garmin-Sharp
Won the Giro last year. Got ill during the same race this year and that, combined with a pared-back racing programme before it, means we’ve relatively little idea what kind of form he’ll be in. But he’s won a Grand Tour, which is a pretty good qualification for being considered a contender for another one.
Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil) probably isn’t a real contender, but I like his style because he seems to like a bonkers breakaway.
Speaking of bonkers, Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) is always worth watching, if only for his facial expressions. He too likes a long attack and often finds himself in the yellow jersey for a period until the toughest climbing eventually does for him. You should definitely support him. He’s magic.
Tejay Van Garderen (BMC) defied the major handicap of having such a ludicrous name to finish fifth last year, ahead of his team leader, Cadel Evans. He is younger than Evans and will take over leadership at some point – possibly in the middle of this Tour.
Nairo Quintana (Movistar) is my dark horse pick. He’s supposed to be working for Valverde but at this year’s Tour of the Basque Country, he managed to come second in a time trial. This, allied to his spectacular climbing ability, allowed him to secure the overall win. A really strong rider who, unlike some of the more famous names, is on the way up. I’m sure he’ll win the Tour one day.
The Schlecks (Radioshack-Leopard) come in the form of Andy this year. He’s been in dire form for ages, but Cadel Evans has shown that form can be recovered.