Does one need to race the Giro d’Italia to be competitive at the Tour de France?
7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:36 PM

The way Cadel Evans and Alberto Contador have raced at this week's Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré, coming into form just at the right time, you wouldn't think so.

Before he began his first-ever participation in the Tour of Italy, Lance Armstrong said that it's almost a must to race the season's first Grand Tour in order to be good in July, citing that the level of racing has improved to such an extent, one needs to be on song at the Tour right from the get-go.

However, after breaking his collarbone – which turned out to be another first for Lance – at the rather innocuous Vuelta a Castilla y León in Spain on March 23, the Texan lost valuable race preparation in his comeback year, so the Giro really did become a must, albeit with changed objectives. Still, 12th overall, some 16 minutes behind overall winner Denis Menchov of Rabobank, ain't bad for the soon to be 38-year-old, seven-time Tour champ.

Speaking of Menchov, in terms of the way their engines work, you can put him in the same basket as Cervelo's Carlos Sastre and Astana's Levi Leipheimer, three big guns all with their sights now set on La Grande Boucle. These guys – 31, 34 and 35 years of age, respectively – are what you call diesels, or for the motor-heads out there, turbo diesels; they're seasoned Grand Tour riders, and as they mature, they've grown stronger, but it just takes them a while to get going.

Throughout the Giro, Menchov kept saying he was feeling better each day (at the end, and after almost 90 hours' racing, he even said he felt fresh!); so too Sastre, but the day he lost time on Blockhaus, the stage was just 83 kilometres short and the Spaniard's body doesn't agree with that sort of thing.

The defending Tour champ won't need to worry about that at the Tour: the shortest en ligne (road) stage is 160 kilometres of which there are three – but for goodness sake, Carlos, make sure you warm up for at least a few hours on the home trainer before you ride the two individual time trials (Stages 1 and 18) and the Montpellier team time trial (Stage 4) to avoid a repeat disappointment.

As for our own Michael Rogers, eighth overall at the Centenary Giro and 10 minutes off Menchov's winning pace, there are some questions marks surrounding Columbia-High Road's GC captain, as Mike Tomalaris wrote in his May 22nd blog. After a super first week and a half, the Canberran didn't have the spark we expected of him in the Cinque Terre time trial where he was a favourite to take the stage, then faltered in the third week.

Following his sub-par TT performance, I think Mick actually re-evaluated his Giro objectives (previously a podium finish in Rome) and decided to save his biscuits for July, where, by the time the race concludes on Paris' Champs-Élysées, there will be nothing saved and everything spent.

Also remember that the less steep though longer climbs in France's Alps and Pyrénées suit a rider like Rogers better than the shorter, steeper ascents we associate Italy with, though having said that, the mountains in this year's Giro were not overly savage in their gradient, so I'm still left wondering as to how the 29-year-old from Barham will fare in cycling's Super Bowl. For himself, his team, and his fans, he really needs to show if he can crack the Tour's top five or three in the next year or two.

Many said – myself included – that last year was Evans' best shot at winning the Tour de France.

I based that statement not knowing: Armstrong was making a comeback and to Astana of all places, where they already had two would-be winners in Contador and Leipheimer, immediately creating a potential rift; Sastre would jump the CSC (now Saxo Bank) ship to a talented though fledging team in Cervelo; and Ivan Basso was unlikely to be invited at the Tour, and Alejandro Valverde, a likely winner of the Dauphiné Libéré, is sure to be not.

So 2009 could actually be Cadel's year. But once again, I see his number one threat as Saxo Bank, with the wily Dane Bjarne Riis at the helm. It seems brothers Fränk and Andy Schleck have been lying low for a reason, though when they have come to the fore, they've done so in a big way, such as Andy's fantastic Liège-Bastogne-Liège triumph or Fränk's recent overall win at the Tour of Luxembourg, where the bro's hail from. At the upcoming Tour de Suisse, they'll no doubt fine-tune their form before an all-out assault at the Tour.

And still, Evans doesn't quite have the support he'll need in the high mountains. Neither do Sastre or Menchov, but compared to the Victorian, they're cooler under fire.

But I can just imagine the smile on my face as I think of a headline to write in Paris on July 26: 'Evans first Australian Tour de France champion' sounds pretty darn good…