Based on how the Tour’s two big favourites and their henchmen fared in the prologue Saturday, for now at least, it’s pretty much even-steven between Cadel Evans and Bradley Wiggins, writes Anthony Tan from Seraing.
You never want to lose time to any GC rider and I lost time to one, but I was sort of expecting that. It’s six kilometres out of 3,500 or so.Just when most thought Team Sky has the most formidable team at the Tour de France, along comes BMC Racing and places five riders in the top 25 riders in Saturday’s prologue in Liège.
Team Sky had Bradley Wiggins (2nd), Edvald Boasson Hagen (5th) and Chris Froome (11th) in the top 25; BMC Racing, by comparison, boasted Tejay van Garderen (4th), Philippe Gilbert (9th), Cadel Evans (13th), Steve Cummings (17th) and the evergreen George Hincapie (22nd), riding his seventeenth and final Grande Boucle.
It’s hard to know how significant this statistic is as the race moves on though unequivocally, we can say BMC Racing is far from an underpowered unit, as they attempt to repeat their feat of yesteryear and place their main man on the highest step of the Paris podium once again. It’s also worth remembering what Evans said in the week prior to the Grand Départ: “The Tour won’t be won or lost in the mountains, it will only sort out the contenders. But the Tour will certainly be won or lost in the time trials,” he told Reuters’ veteran cycling journalist, Gilles Le Roc’h.
To be honest, after the imperious display by Team Sky at the Critérium du Dauphiné and in particular the sixth stage that traversed the Col de Joux-Plane, I’ve been a little concerned that BMC Racing would arrive at the Tour underpowered in the climbing department. In last Friday’s pre-race press conference, Evans said that van Garderen will be one of his key (only?) wingmen when the road veers skywards, adding that, “On paper there are maybe fewer climbs or less selective climbs than last year, but that can mean that the climbs that are on the route become even more important.”
If those climbs do become more important, then, will the presence of van Garderen and to a lesser extent, Amaël Moinard, be enough? Especially when Team Sky has Froome, Boasson Hagen, Richie Porte and Michael Rogers?
Though one could argue that compared to Evans, it is Wiggins who requires more support in the mountains because the former is superior in this discipline and can respond to accelerations of others – or deliver a few of his own.
For this reason, and based on what transpired in the prologue, I would say Team Sky and BMC Racing and pretty much even-steven when it comes to their leaders and what they will demand of their respective coteries in the days to come. But as Evans noted in his press conference Friday: “The more that people concentrate on one or two riders, the more it is likely to create opportunities for other riders. You have riders like (Jurgen) Van den Broeck, as well as Grand Tour winners like (Juan José) Cobo, (Alejandro) Valverde, (Denis) Menchov. They’ve done it before and they can possibly do it again. It may even be the year for one of the emerging riders like (Robert) Gesink, for example.”
Out of the ten or so contenders the worst performer, Cobo, conceded 37 seconds to Wiggins in the 6.4km time test. Valverde lost 27 seconds to the Brit. Levi Leipheimer and Van den Broeck lost 21 seconds. Gesink 19 seconds. Andreas Klöden 12 seconds. Ryder Hesjedal and Vincenzo Nibali 11 seconds. Evans and Peter Velits 10 seconds. And Menchov lost six seconds, so for now they’re still all in the hunt.
“You never want to lose time to any GC rider and I lost time to one, but I was sort of expecting that,” Evans said, referring to Wiggins. “But it’s six kilometres out of 3,500 or so, so in that regard it’s a small comparison.”
What I don’t think is possible, however, is to extrapolate the times of the contenders from the Liège prologue and guestimate how they will fare in the Besançon and Chartres individual time trials, on Stage 9 and 19, respectively. The prologue called for an explosive, flat-out effort raced on a full tank of gas; the remaining 95 kilometres against the clock will require controlled aggression, raced on remaining energy reserves.
Let’s not forget in that final TdF time trial last year in Grenoble, with 19 days’ racing in his legs, Evans rode a time one minute and seven seconds quicker than the exact same time trial at the preceding Critérium du Dauphiné, after just three days’ racing.
In other words, so long as Evans doesn’t get ambushed like he did on Prato Nevoso and L’Alpe d’Huez at the 2008 Tour, or incur a debilitating injury like he did in 2010, he’s a rider who gets better deep into a three-week race.
Can we say the same of Wiggins?
I’m not so sure, even if, hours from the start of potentially the most important three weeks of his sporting career, he told reporters: “I’m in the form of my life.”