My buddy JB emailed me this afternoon asking me how I’ve resisted posting about “The Cobra” Riccardo Ricco for 10 stages of this year’s Tour de France. Since he’s prompted me, I’ll go ahead and issue my bold predictions for this year’s final podium finishes in Paris.
Before I give you my 08 predictions here were my predictions for the final 2007 podium.
1. Andreas Kloden – Kloden is a stud time trialist and he can climb. A rejuvenated Vino will help Kloden through the Pyrenees.
2. Levi Leipheimer – Levi is an improved time trialist and is a climbing machine. He and Kloden might actually race into Paris for this year’s title.
3. Alberto Contador – The young Contador will likely sacrifice his own glory this year for his team leader Leipheimer. If something goes wrong for Levi, Contador can challenge for the title.
So, it’s obvious I didn’t see the storm coming with Vino testing positive and pulling the entire Astana team, including Kloden, down with him. At least I had two of the three podium finishers in my top 3 though (final placings in 07: Contador, Cadel Evans, Leipheimer).
Here’s how I see it shaking out this year:
1. Cadel Evans – Evans has steadily improved in his TDF appearances year after year. The Aussie is a top rate climber and top rate time trialist (4th place in stage 4’s time trial)…you can’t beat that combo (unless you’re a freakish climber like Alberto Contador).
2. Carlos Sastre – Sastre and CSC haven’t played their hand yet. Frank and Andy Schleck are awesome climbers and have thus far served to divert attention away from their very dangerous teammate Sastre. Sastre will come to the forefront in the Alps and will hang onto second by a thread in the final individual time trial (he was 28th in the stage 4 time trial). The Spaniard has had consecutive 4th place finishes at the TDF. With so many names missing this year, and with teammates like the Schleck brothers, Jens Voight, and Fabian Cancellara around him, it’s his turn to step onto the podium.
3. Denis Menchov – After watching stage 10 I’m now a believer in Menchov for an overall podium spot. No one kept their cool and seemed less taxed on the Tourmalet and Hautacam than Menchov. He was down right stoic while everyone, including Evans and Sastre, suffered around him. He’s a good time trialist as well and may push Sastre for the 2nd spot.
Dark horse candidates:
“The Cobra” Riccardo Ricco – The young Italian says he’s not at the Tour to win this year, but to learn. I’d say he’s learning quite a bit so far. The contenders will be wise not to let Ricco fly up the slopes alone too many more times without checking him. Menchov, Kirchen and Sastre could find themselves trying to make up time on him in the final time trial.
Alejandro Valverde – The prerace favorite has had a string of bad luck since stage one, but something tells me he’ll find some strength and make a strong charge in the Alps.
Kim Kirchen isn’t going to blow anyone away in the mountains.He’s a capable climber and will be sitting within striking distance come stage 20. Stage 20 is a long time trial and Kirchen will overtake some of the pure climbers in the race of truth.
Frank Schleck – Watch out in the Alps and especially on Alpe D’Huez. This dude has wings. If they let him get away too often he could end up on the podium in place of Sastre.
Christian Vandevelde – as much as I want an American to make the podium this year I just don’t have that much faith in Vandevelde despite an epic performance on the climb to Hautacam. He’s currently sitting in 3rd place. He’s good enough in the mountains and has improved his time trialing so it’s certainly possible that another American could be a surprise podium finisher.