In the 98-year history of the Tour de France, no British rider has ever won the coveted maillot jaune (yellow jersey), last year Cadel Evans became the first Australian to win the race. Could 2012 be the year that Britain finally ends its wait for a Tour de France winner?
All eyes are on Bradley Wiggins, the three times Olympic gold medal winner to be the man to get to Paris in yellow. It’s been a remarkable transformation for Wiggins, back in 2008, when he was predominately seen as a track cyclist, he predicted that a British rider would win the tour in the next 10 years. It is remarkable that four years later, he is the rider that is carrying our strongest hopes ever.
It’s rare that a British rider has been so well fancied, previous form doesn’t suggest that we as a nation have what it takes to win the race, in truth there have only been two genuine British contenders for the top prize in that time; Tommy Simpson was the first, he finished sixth in 1962 and Robert Millar, who finished fourth in 1984.
Everywhere you look the cycling pundits and experts are tipping British success and based on the successes so far in 2012.
Wiggins, is a veteran of the Tour, his previous best finish was fourth in 2009, the year that he decided to concentrate on road cycling instead of using the Tour as a training run for his track events. In 2010, the Tour didn’t go too well for him or his team, as the methods at the newly formed Team Sky didn’t really gel and prevented the rider making an impact on the general classifications. Though he has expertise of finishing third in a Grand Tour, after last year’s Vuelta a España, which was remarkable given the fact that this was not long after returning to cycling after his broken collarbone.
Everywhere you look the cycling pundits and experts are tipping British success and based on the successes so far in 2012. Wiggins goes into the event as the odds-on favourite to create history. The Team Sky rider has an almost perfect record in 2012 having already won, Paris-Nice, the Tour of Romandy and the Criterium du Dauphine (the latter covers similar terrain to the Tour, so he’ll be well versed in what to expect). It has been suggested by Andy Schelck, a would-be rival, had he not succumbed to injury, that he may have peaked too early but Team Sky have said that this is all part of the plan that will see Wiggins peak during the three weeks of the Tour de France. Others suggest that what Wiggins hopes to achieve is impossible given that Tour greats such as Eddy Merckx and Lance Armstrong didn’t succeed in winning that many events in a year.
Though the omens may be against Wiggins, the route does look to favour the Brit this year. The Prologue stage that could see him in yellow jersey from the outset; added to that there are two long time trials and mountain stages that are tough but offer opportunities for the versatile Brit.
Wiggins could easily be going into this year's race as the holder of the yellow jersey but for an unfortunate slip on stage seven.
It all seems too good to be true, as the majority of pundits predict British success but he will be wary of taking things for granted last year’s experiences will prevent that from happening. Wiggins could easily be going into this year's race as the holder of the yellow jersey but for an unfortunate slip on stage seven. It was a fall that resulted in a broken collarbone and put an end to his participation in the race. In fact he could have easily have bowed out at stage five – a stage that put paid to a number of riders and was described at the time as utter carnage. Memories of this experience will see some conservative riding initially from Wiggins, in the hope that he avoids the inevitable crashes that occur in the first week
Instead he will have to challenge the title away from the dogged Australian Cadel Evans who converted many years of consistent podium finishes into the overall yellow jersey winner. Though the BMC rider has not shown much in the way of form this year due to illness but he is still the one to beat, now that Andy Schleck has withdrawn. There will also be no Alberto Contador a consistent Tour rider and former winner (though that has been expunged due to doping offences) who will not be racing due to the fact that he’s currently serving a doping ban.
Given all the talk of Wiggins, it is easy to overlook Britain’s first ever jersey winner and the current Cycling World Champion, Mark Cavendish. He also stands a good chance of success in the Tour. This year though he may opt for working as a domestique for Wiggins as he continues his build up for the Olympics.
A dream like scenario could see Britain collect another jersey, this time the King of the Mountains polka dot jersey. Team Sky rider Chris Froome is a good outside bet for the KOM jersey
He may though have to be content with a couple of stage wins as he has sights on the overall stage win record, Cavendish is currently on 20 stage wins, 14 behind Merckx’s record of 34. Whatever way he tackles the sprints competition, he does face a strong challenge for the green jersey from a young pretender in the form of Slovakian, Peter Segan, though this will not be without a fight if Cavendish has any say in the matter.
A dream like scenario could see Britain collect another jersey, this time the King of the Mountains polka dot jersey. Team Sky rider Chris Froome is a good outside bet for the KOM jersey, as well as a general classification place. Though his 2012 has been blighted by injury and he is untested in the Tour de France. Though you could point to his second place in last year’s Vuelta, which equalled Robert Millar’s second in the same race in 1987, as an indication that he has it within him to make a name for himself in this race - maybe though at present his probably one for future
Whatever happens in the Tour it has already been another remarkable year for British cycling and Team Sky in particular. A long overdue win in the Grandest of tours will cement Britain’s place as the best in the world when it comes to cycling.
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