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By Thomas Ough
With just six days separating the end of the Tour de France on the Champs-Élysées on July 22nd and the Olympic Men’s Road Race in London on July 28th, one would be forgiven for thinking that the world’s elite cyclists, particularly those with a real chance of winning one or the other, would be forced to pick between the two. Thankfully for cycling, the vast majority of the big names have found time in their schedules to put up with three weeks of gruelling cycling up and down the Alps and the Pyrenees, and then go to London at the end of it all and add another day’s high speed racing through the streets on top of it all.
The decision of many of the top riders to compete in both events means that we will see one of the most competitive Tours in years. In the absence of two-time winner Alberto Contador, suspended after testing positive for Clenbuterol, last year’s winner Cadel Evans will start the race as favourite. Although not quite as brilliant a climber as some of his rivals, this year’s race sees 63 miles of racing done via time-trial, which promises to benefit the Australian. The time-trial heavy schedule will be received with less enthusiasm by the likes of Andy and Franck Schleck, the brothers from Luxembourg who have challenged hard for the yellow jersey in recent years. Andy is technically the 2010 champion, having come second to Contador, who was subsequently stripped of his title. What is clear however, is that Andy Schleck is desperate to win the Tour properly this time round.
This large amount of time-trial distance will also favour British hopeful Bradley Wiggins. Wiggins finished fourth in the Tour three years ago, and has competed at a high level since then, finishing third in last year’s Vuelta d’Espana, and then winning the tough Paris-Nice race earlier in the year. Wiggins has announced that he will focus on the Tour and the Olympic Time Trial, meaning that he will compete in none of the velodrome events which have netted him three Olympic Gold medals thus far in his career. He will however, be amongst the favourites for a medal in the Individual Time Trial on August 1st.
Away from the battle for the yellow jersey, all eyes will be on the Manx Missile, Britain’s world champion sprinter Mark Cavendish. Cavendish is in the form of his life; having won the green jersey for best sprinter at last year’s Tour, he won the World Championships in Copenhagen in November, and added the sprint title at last month’s Giro d’Italia. He will be hoping to add to the twenty Tour stages he has already won, a British record, and the formbook suggests that he will be the favourite to do so, donning the green jersey for the second year in a row. From there, he will move on to the Road Race in London, where the British team will be amongst the front runners on the road as they attempt to deliver Cavendish his first Olympic Gold Medal.
Another British name to watch out for this summer is Chris Froome, who came second in last year’s Vuelta d’Espana, and could be a major part of Team Sky’s plans to help Wiggins challenge for the yellow jersey. The Sky team, loaded with British talent, is run by Dave Brailsford, also British Cycling’s Olympic performance director, and he will have his work cut out this summer keeping an eye on both prizes. Geraint Thomas is another big name to watch out for; he has sacrificed the Tour de France as he seeks not only to help Cavendish win Gold in the road race, but also to capture one of his own in the Team Pursuit. Finally, keep an eye on David Millar, at the centre of the controversial overturning of the ban to bar athletes formerly banned for doping offences from competing at the Olympics. Although Dwain Chambers was the poster boy for the controversy, only the most die-hard British fan would suggest he has a chance to make a major impact on this summer’s Games. Millar on the other hand, as well as performing strongly in the Tour’s time-trials, will, if selected, be Great Britain’s team leader in the Road Race, and will bring a wealth of experience to Cavendish’s pursuit of the Gold.
These are the names to watch. Let’s hope that this summer, the Red, White and Blue can bring home the Yellow, Green and Gold.