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David L. Stanley

2018 Tour de France: A Preview & Handicap

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David L StanleyDavid 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. And there is his masterful telling of his bout with skin cancer, "Melanoma: It Started With a Freckle".

 

Damn those rat-bastards at the UCI. Damn their eyes. Thanks to their spineless dillydallying since December 13, 2017, I’ve had to write and re-write the lede to this preview three times in the last 48 hours.

  1. He’s riding, but under a cloud of suspicion.
  2. He’s not riding. Good riddance, say many. Horse hockey, it’s an allowable asthma medication. He took a couple of extra puffs.
  3. He’s riding but it’s a froominating maelstrom of distrust and disbelief.

Here’s what I know. Froome has a long history of asthma and has a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) for salbutamol. It’s also known as albuterol and Ventolin. Lots of asthmatics use it. In my racing days, I could not race without it.

After a drug test at the 2017 Vuelta, Froome was found have what was originally released as a figure near 2,000 ng/mL. Kind reader Miren Brinkman provided us with this explanation and clarification: "The effects of dehydration have also been examined and, under new WADA regulations that take this and urine concentration into account, Froome’s levels have been revised to 1,429 ng/ml, according to The Times. Though much lower than the original 2,000 ng/ml, this revised level would still constitute an adverse analytical finding (AAF)".

Regardless, Froome was still over the limit and the raises the question, why was Froome treated so differently than Petacchi and Ulissi. As always, apply Rule #1- follow the money.

Chris Froome

Chris Froome keeps his 2018 Giro pink jersey and 2017 Vuelta red jersey. Sirotti photo

Moving on.

With a wave of the UCI’s magic wand, EXPECTORUM VENTOLIN! Froomey is innocent of wrong-doing.

In the 2007 Giro, Alessandro Petacchi had a similar TUE, yet he was fired by his team. Suspended nine months by the UCI, and stripped of his wins, all at a dosage of 1320 ng/mL. Diego Ulissi also possessed a TUE, tested at 1800 ng/mL in the 2014 Giro, and likewise received a 9 month suspension. I don’t know much about the legal standing required to bring suit, but if I’m Ale-jet, I’m getting lawyered up to get my wins back in the record book.

We shall speak of this no more. Moving on.

When the Tour’s route is announced, pundits in every language are quick to break it down:

This is a climber’s race. C'est une course de grimpeurs.

This is a TT specialist’s race. Questa è la gara di un esperto di cronometro.

ASO wants to make sure that (pick one) Indurain, Coppi, Merckx, LeMond will win.

ASO wants to make sure that (pick one) Indurain, Coppi, Merckx, LeMond will not win.

Here’s what I know about pre-race Tour breakdowns: Tales told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Being such an idiot, I am obligated to say that the Tour de France is indeed a traveling carnival, and with this year’s course, something wicked this way comes. The first week may well decide the green jersey holder, provided he can make it over the mountains. That same first week may also give a sharp and lucky yellow jersey holder a near-insurmountable lead. Should the winds howl in across the Channel and the Atlantic, we will see big gaps open up in the line of riders huddled in the gutters of Brittany. We’ll see crashes as tired, wind-beaten riders lose the wheel ahead. Crosswinds; the hills that only go up.

When the Tour hits the cobbles for the 154 km stage 9 from Arras to Roubaix, we again might see the Tour decided. The Tour has visited the cobbles before, but never in such quantity: 15 sectors of 22 km in total. We’ve never seen such quality: they’ll bounce over the legends- Mons-en-Pevele, Pont Thibaut, Templeuve, Cysoing, and Camphin-en-Pevele.

There will be crashes on the cobbles. Big time gaps will form. The riders will take a pounding whose fatigue might not show up until a day or two later when the race hits the Alps. Whosoever can keep their GC guy upright and within the first three minutes of the day’s breakaway can claim a general victory.

Let’s go to the race.

Sprinters.

Bouhanni, Cavendish, Colbrelli, Coquard, Degenkolb, Demare, Ewan, Gaviria, Greipel, Groenewegen, Kittel, Kristoff, Mathews, Sagan.

This race is full of fast men. A few of the fast men who won’t be at the start at Vendee Pays-de-la-Loire are victims of the limits on team size. I suspect they won’t be watching on TV.

There are two sprinters’ races within the race. One, for the stage wins. Mark Cavendish sits at 30 stage wins, four behind Merckx, whose visage glares down from his throne at the head of the table. Fast as the Missile is, it’s unlikely that he’ll take over the top spot in 2018, yet no one reads a race better than Cav. With his Dimension Data team, which includes ace lead-out man Mark Renshaw, and the always keen Edvald Boassen-Hagen, all in for him, you’d be foolish to bet against him winning 2 stages. Who might have something to say about that? Why, that’d be Peter Sagan, but you already knew that, didn’t you?

Peter Sagan

Peter Sagan will certainly be in the hunt for stage wins. Sirotti photo.

The race for the green jersey proper is race of a different color. In a more typical Tour, you’d choose the fastest man with a team that will help him pick up the points at the intermediate sprints. This year, you also need to factor in the mountains. If a rider can’t hang on during the climbs of weeks two and three with the grupetto, much like Who’s Line is It Anyway? the points won’t matter.

Who to watch? Michael Mathews, certainly, is a favorite. He can climb a bit and we know he’s fast. Check out Dylan Groenewegen, too. He’s the real deal. My pick? Fernando Gaviria. Incredibly quick, and as a Colombian, a man who knows how to get over the steepest of climbs.

The GC.

AG2R – Romain Bardet, age 27. Bardet can win this race. He has a third from 2016, a second place last year, and it would be no surprise to see him stand on the top step this year as the first Frenchman to do so since Le Blaireau in 1985. Bardet will receive all the aid required from Alexis Vuillermoz, Alexandre Geniez, and the aptly named Pierre LaTour. Should Bardet win, he’ll never again need pay for un pastis at any bar in France. And if my reading of newsgroup comments from around the world is any indication, it’d be any bar/pub/bistro/watering hole in the cycling universe, as well.

Astana – Jakob Fuglsang, 33, is a fine rider. His second place behind Richie Porte at Tour de Suisse is proof that his form is in line. But Fuglsang has so little help. In this modern era, every winner needs a teammate beside him of near-equal quality; a man who might well podium himself if things don’t go well for the captain. Luis Leon Sanchez is a fine rider, but he is not that guy.

Bahrain-Merida – Vincenzo Nibali, age 33. Lo Squalo de Messina might have one more Grand Tour win deep inside. A truly great rider, capable on every terrain, with GC wins in every Tour, he’ll have all the help necessary from Pozzovivo and the brothers Izagirre. Plus, he might be the single best cobblestone rider among the true contenders. Let’s just hope he doesn’t decide to hitch a ride on a team car again.

BMC – Richie Porte, age 33. In the right circumstances, Richie could podium. He has several of the world’s finest cobbled riders with him in Haussler, Greg van Avermaet, and Simon Gerrans. Porte should be well-placed when he hits the mountains. Stefan Kung has been crushing it as a lieutenant. Sadly, Porte has always, much like his climbing partner Tejay van Garderen, suffered un jour sans in the Tour. If he does not, he is another who could podium.

Ricie Porte

Can Richie Porte go the distance? Here he is at the end of the 2018 Tour of Switzerland. Sirotti photo

Movistar – Nairo Quintana, age 28, and Mikel Landa, age 28. The official Team Movistar line is that the race will determine who is the team leader. Show of hands, please, among those who believe that a) this will happen and b) this is a good plan? Both are among the world’s finest climbers. While not a strength, neither is a weak time trialist. The team is loaded with fine climbers in support. The big question, how will they fare in the winds and cobbles of Week 1? With Valverde to direct traffic, they should enter the mountains with minimal damage. But should the crosswinds howl across the Atlantic, all bets are off. That said, the long range weather forecast for Brittany for July 7-12 is temps in the mid-70s, sunny, and winds 5-15 mph.

Scott-Mitchelton – Adam Yates, age 25. How all in are Scott-Mitchelton for Adam Yates? They left one of the fastest men in the world, Caleb Ewan, off the team for 2018. With Mikel Nieve at his side in the mountains, and a cast of beasts like Durbridge and Bauer to shepherd him across the flats and cobbles and TTT, Yates could certainly improve on last year’s 4th place. While his twin suffered a gut-wrenching breakdown in the Giro, there’s every reason to believe that a lesson has been learned that could put Yatesy on the podium.

Sunweb – Tom Dumoulin, age 27. At the peak of his powers, another man with a solid chance to stand on the top step. However, as I re-write this (again), I’ve learned that his right hand man, Wilco Kelderman, has a damaged shoulder from Sunday’s Dutch championships and will not ride the Tour. His replacement, Laurens ten Dam, a gutty performer, is not on the level that we saw from Kelderman. This could change Tom’s role from an animator to a reactor. Should Tom stay within a minute or two of the top climbers, the 31 km of rolling hills from St. Pee-sur-Nivelle to Espellette in the Basque country might launch him onto the top step

Team Sky - Chris Froome, age 33. Concurrent holder of all three Grand Tour titles. One of the world’s best TT riders, especially in a three week race. One of the world’s finest climbers. A huge heart for victory. A team utterly dedicated to the cause and stacked with massive talent. Geraint Thomas. Woet Poels. Michel Kwiatkowski. 21-year-old superstar-to-be in Egan Bernal. The no-longer racist Gianni Moscon.

Look, I get it, I really do. Even with the Jiffy-bag sized clouds of Ventolin floating over their organically grown, humanely slaughtered, and hand-plucked goose-down pillows, this would still be the team we love to hate. The New York Yankees. Manchester United. On any other team, we’d be talking that Woet Poels could win this. Or Geraint Thomas. If Froome crashes out, Poels or Thomas might win this for SKY, anyway. They’re that good. And there’s an 85% chance that you hate that.

My picks.

Green Jersey.
1. Fernando Gaviria (did you know his elder sister Juliana is a world class track cyclist?)
2. Michael Matthews.
3. Peter Sagan

Fernando Gaviria

Fernando Gaviria is David Stanley's pick for the Green Jersey. Sirotti photo

Yellow Jersey.
1. Chris Froome
2. Romain Bardet
3. Nairo Quintana. Or maybe Yates. Could be Dumoulin. Yeah, I really don’t know. Sound and fury, remember?

Remember, these picks are for entertainment purposes only. No wagering.
Vive le France! Vive le Tour!

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