Friday, June 21, 2013

Biding our time while the Tour de France pieces fall into place

No more jousting Tours of France
 for Sir Wiggins?

Just a week from the start of the Tour de France, but it's still too early to write a proper preview of the contenders for the overall title.

We've been too amused with the backpedaling of Team Sky and Sir Bradley Wiggins on his immediate future. A couple days ago, rumors circulated that His Grace was sour about having to ride the Vuelta, the plan proffered when he withdrew from the Giro because of illness and, later, injury. Given the release today from Team Sky, apparently royalty has triumphed in the battle of wills. The team announced on its site that he would race in the tours of Poland and Great Britain before setting his sights on the world time trial championship.

He also took a longer view in an interview with AFP, suggesting that his Tour days were over: "If I'm honest, I don't think I'm prepared to make those sacrifices again that I made last year, with my family and so on."

Cycling media and fans seem quick to pounce whenever adverse news surfaces about Wiggins. They seem to begrudge him his success more than any of those either convicted or suspected of doping. Seems unfair. I make fun of the royalty hoo-ha and his prickly personality, but respect the effort it took to pull off his amazing 2012. Success in such abundance is so rare. It should be enjoyed, not mocked after the fact.

Besides, I'd hate to lose reasons for using that jousting photo.

In addition, we're still waiting for Garmin boss Jonathan Vaughters to name his Tour team. Vaughters told that he planned to tell 10 riders that they were under consideration, then pick his nine following a team training camp this weekend.

Garmin has several decent options for a Top 10 finish. Ryder Hesjedal would have been considered a legitimate podium threat if not for a succession of falls, injuries and illnesses since his victory 13 months ago at the Giro d'Italia. His most recent crash, at the Dauphine, appeared serious when he left on a stretcher and in a neck brace. St. Louis' adopted son-in-law, Hesjedal was released the next day and back on his bike soon thereafter. But his withdrawal from the Giro a month earlier because of illness calls into question just how much quality training Hesjedal has been able to put in.

The team also has former Top 10 finishers in Tom Danielson and Christian Vande Velde, both coming off suspensions for the admissions of PED use in last year's USADA investigation of Lance Armstrong. Dan Martin, who on Liege-Bastogne-Liege, and Andrew Talansky are ascending talents but haven't raced in the Tour before.

None, however, seems ready to rise to the elite level of Chris Froome, nearly everyone's favourite for overall victory. One notable exception: The Great Sean Kelly gave the advantage to Alberto Contador, largely because of a strong supporting case. But, let's not get ahead of ourselves.

If the organizers of the Tour can be patient, so can I. Perhaps that's a hint at the team's ultimate strategy. Without a certified leader, the team hasn't had a rallying point. Maybe the cream won't rise (it hasn't yet), so opportunism could be the order of the Tour for Garmin. Vaughters suggested as much to velonews, saying:
"In the back of my mind, I'm thinking, "How is it possible to pull the whole thing off? Where is that weird tactic that everyone's overlooked. By stage 11, you're going to know whether the gods have shine on you or not, or if you need to start looking at stage wins. We ned to be adaptable, but at the same time, hunting stages ... you get out in a breakaway and nobody's chasing it and your guy who's ninth on GC is up the road and everyone's looking around -- I don't know. We just have to absolute opportunists. If we roll the dice every single day, hopefully one of the days it comes up in our favor."

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