The final three riders for kolo t.c.-EpicEinstein are selected, and they’re the big ones. What riders will lead the team for the yellow jersey?
After making some tough choices to select domestiques and sprinters, the big decisions are here. What rider is capable of winning the Tour de France this year? With no Alberto Contador and no Andy Schleck, the 2012 Tour de France is as wide open as ever. Even defending champion Cadel Evans is flying somewhat under the radar with so much focus on riders like Bradley Wiggins, Frank Schleck, Jurgen Vandenbroeck, Ivan Basso and a host of others. Even the short list of GC contenders reads at least a dozen long. Gone, it would seem, are the days where one rider was the favorite and one or two riders seemed to stand a chance. It makes for much more exciting racing with events creating consequences in the early weeks that nearly upset the overall after Bastille Day.
For our GC riders, we’re selecting one go-to guy to win the whole darn thing. One leader. The idea of sending two men with a chance rarely works out. In recent memory, perhaps only Astana’s success with Contador winning and Armstrong taking third can be seen as a success, and that literally ripped the team apart, with Armstrong forming RadioShack the next season. The Schleck 2-3 podium of last year might be impressive, but winning is the goal. While not to take away from a second and third place in the biggest race on the planet, but the top step must be the only goal, not throwing riders up high on the GC and looking for a pat on the back.
With Andre Griepel going for the green jersey and stage wins armed with Tom Boonen and Edvald Boasson-Hagan, the team has to rely on some serious help in the mountains from the GC helpers. We’ve also got Ted King and Jens Voight for the early slopes, with Ian Stannard manning the valley roads. To win this thing, kolo t.c.-EpicEinstein needs some lightweights to soar in the mountains to keep our man protected. Here are the climbing lieutenant selections:
Samuel Sanchez, Euskatel-Euskadi. The Olympic road race champion from 2008 is about the fight to keep all his gold colored decals later this year, but at the Tour, he’s a solid climber and a decent GC man himself. While he’s never ridden consistently enough to win the Tour, especially in the time trial discipline, having him as a teammate would be huge. Sanchez is an extremely smart climber and knows exactly what wheels to mark late into ascents and which to let go. Employed as protective rider capable of chasing breaks and keeping the pace high, he’s a valuable weapon that can serve as second choice should the GC man crash out of contention.
Janez Brajkovic, Astana. The Tour of Slovenia was a low-key win ahead of Janez’s biggest Tour yet. After making his debut in 2010 and spending most of the race sheparding a beaten Lance Armstrong around France, he crashed out in 2011 with the weight of team leader on his shoulders for the first time. RadioShack’s rash of bad luck kicked out not only Janez, but Levi Leipheimer and Andreas Kloden as well. When the Leopard-Trek merger went down, Brajkovic’s name fell on the floor. The Slovenian went back to his old Astana tea to join Roman Kreuziger as the biggest names destined to replace Alexander Vinokourov whenever the man finally retires. He’ll ride as the sole leader in France for Astana this year, but he’s our trusted man in the mountains. With Sanchez serving as chaser, Janez will be the last line of defense for the team leader, with a cautious nod to watch his own positioning for the first two weeks. It’s always good to have two men up high heading into the last week as an extra attacking option to keep the pressure on other teams.
Finally, we pick our Fearless Leader. Evans, Wiggins, Gesink…Who would you pick? The selection criteria was very simple: what have you done lately? No rider has been as dominant as Bradley Wiggins. The Sky rider has won everything he’s entered except for a race he helped a teammate win. That’s a great track record. Frank Schleck, too, was under consideration, but it’s his attitude and not his form keeping him from the team. No rider has as negative a mindset going into this Tour, and it will come back to haunt RadioShack-Nissan.
Bradley Wiggins, Team Sky. The Fifth Beatle will continue to improve at the Tour. He’s won just about everything this spring, including the Paris-Nice and Criterium du Dauphine, plus Tour of Romandie. Nobody has looked as cool, doing it either. He’s on great form, but just as important is his ability to effectively use him teammates to maintain a race lead, but also take the race on his shoulders to give them a break. The long, long time trial miles make him a big favorite, but his climbing as been even more impressive than Evans, Basso or Gesink so far this year. He’s the guy to beat, and we’ll give him the squad to win.