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David L. Stanley

2015 Tour de France: July 4
Pre Race Thoughts: My Podium in Paris

David Stanley is an experienced cycling writer. His work has appeared in Velo, Velo-news.com, Road, Peloton, and the late, lamented Bicycle Guide (my favorite all-time cycling magazine). He blogs regularly for Dads Roundtable. Here's his Facebook page. He is also a highly regarded voice artist with many audiobooks to his credit, including McGann Publishing's The Olympics' 50 Craziest Stories and Cycling Heroes.

Every sport likes to tout its Big Four. Wimbledon, moving into its second week, boasts of Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Andy Murray, and Rafael Nadal. In soccer, you can’t bring up Messi unless you are ready to hear about Suarez, Ronaldo, and Ibrahimovich. But as much as I love tennis and soccer, during this July of 2015, there is only one Big Four that has my complete attention.

Weighing in at a combined Tour weight of 542 lbs, or roughly the size of me plus an NFL lineman, these are Les Grande Quatre of the Grand Tours.

Who is the likely candidate to stand on the top step in Paris? That depends on which sections of the race you deem to be most telling. In contradistinction to years past, in which Week I was for the sprinters and long distance breakaway specialists, Week I of Tour 2015 has been described as “a week of north Belgian and Ardennes classics, back to back to back.”

Nibali showed his class last year over the cobbles, Contador has ridden well in the spring classics, Quintana is relatively untested, and Froome has yet to grasp the nettle over the mix of pavè and macadam. Even if Froome and Quintana survive the first week without significant time damage, it’s hard to tell what toll the cobbled pounding will take on the climbers’ legs.

Vioncenzo Nibali

Vincenzo Nibali at the 2015 Tour de France teams presentation

Week II features a team time trial. Les Grande Quatre all ride for strong teams. Tinkoff-Saxo, Team Sky, Astana, and Movistar are all well-trained in this discipline and capable of delivering their captains to the line, post-haste. I look forward to this as one of the most competitive team time trials since the 1980s era of Peter Post’s Dutch Panasonic-Raleigh teams featuring men like Bert Oosterbosch and Henk Lubberding.

Following the TTT, the race enters the Pyrenees. Once in the high mountains, the race begins in earnest. The man who races more with his head and less with his heart in the Pyrenees will be the winner in Paris. This year’s field is stocked with so many fine specialist climbers—Kelderman, Majka, Pinot, Bardet, de Marchi among them—that the true podium hopes will have to use their troops sparingly. None of the Big Four can afford to let the polka dot jersey candidates open large gaps in the Pyrenees, yet the teams of the Big Four will need to save plenty of joules, for it is in the Alps that the Tour will be won.

Once into Week III, it will be stages 19 and 20 that decide the Tour. Stage 19 to La Toussuire is rugged. The contenders cannot expend all their energy on 19, yet they must ride aggressively enough to put their competition in trouble. Much like the Pyrenean stages, Stage 19 will be one of calculation, rather than outright panache.

Stage 20 will be Inigo Montoya and Rugen going at it. My name is Alberto Contador. You killed my father. Prepare to die. Thrust, parry, thrust, riposte—a four man fencing match up the Alpe d’Huez. Who will be the last man standing on the Alpe?

Alberto Contador

Alberto Contador at the 2015 Tour teams presentation

Impossible to predict.
Four strong men. Four strong teams. Nineteen days of brutal, hectic racing.

My podium in Paris:

4) Froome: The first week will drain him. Froome is an exceptional time trialist, yet this Tour has little time trialing. He is also an exceptional climber. However, I believe that by the time Week III rolls around, he will be worn down by Week I.

3) Quintana: A young man with every tool. The will, the head, the skills. He will win this race in 2016. But this year, the battle will be between:

2) Contador: Alberto is the finest all-round stage racer of this era. I would love to see him claim the Giro-Tour double. AC has no weak spots, except for the 800 lbs (363.636363 kgs) of crazy that is Oleg Tinkov.

1) Nibali: Nibbles is the strongest of the strong; mentally and physically. However, Lars Boom’s absence from Astana might push Contador onto the top step. As this is written, it appears that Boom might not be in the Astana team due to an adverse finding for the stress hormone cortisol, a violation of the MPCC drug code. Boom is an extraordinary classics rider. If no substitute is allowed, Boom’s absence during Week I will cost Nibali a great deal during Week III. Sans Boom, I pick Contador for the top step.

The Tour de France—a World Cup final every day for the next 23 days.