To get things started, this year I've created an initial rider ranking system to open up some discussions! In short, I weighed past results, athlete strengths, team support, and team goals. I've followed closely this year the results of the traditional build up races towards the Tour de France - the Giro, Dauphine, Suisse, and National Championships - and I've reminded myself of last year's Tour results. In the end, results don't lie, and they are the primary indicator of upcoming performance. Without real results, all we've got is a bunch of speculation.
Check out my PREDICTION SPREADSHEET. Each rider is rated on each category on a scale of one to five with 5 being the strongest score.
2. Time Trialing: Again, pretty straight forward but I have weighed more heavily time trial performance during stage races. Again, ranking is against each of the contenders.
3. Peak, Progress and Goal: Who set out to peak for the Tour back in the beginning of the year and who is progressing or "peaking" according to plan? You may lose a half point if you were flying back in May - an indication of poor seasonal planning.
4. Team: Ranking of the strength of each rider's complete team. Climbers, team time trialists, roulleurs (able to sit on front of group and set tempo for 100km's), directors with strategic experience, etc.
5. Recovery: This ranking is a little more subjective than the rest. (Pun intended) I judged riders by their "bad days" in the Grand Tours, their results through the final days of stage races, results on back to back to back mountain stages, results the day after time trials, etc. I also look at rider technique and skill - how do they generate their power, how does their technique change in different performances? Ultimately, this category influences the race leaders more than anything else!
6. Past Life: Pretty simple, show me a resume! Who has done it in the past in the big ones!
7. X-Factor : See individual comments in my PREDICTION SPREADSHEET
It will be a nontraditional road race start this year and Tour Director Christian Prudhomme has made the first week eventful. The riders start by going over the Passage du Gois, an epic roadway that disappears under high tide! Stage Two is a 23km team time trial, followed by more stages through the heavy, punchy roads of Brittany. The Tour will not be won in the first week but it could be lost! Stay out of trouble and conserve as best you can is the goal for overall contenders through the first week. Look for Columbia to win the TTT over Garmin, and Cavendish to be in yellow early followed closely by the always-classy Gilbert. And for anyone who thinks that Contador will easily cruise to victory, keep in mind that the last time anyone pulled off the "double" (win the Giro and Tour in the same calendar year) was in 1998 by the late, great Marco Pantani. The deck is stacked against him.
Enjoy the race and my forthcoming commentary, and feel free to chime in with your own take, too!