The cycling world seems to have settled on Bradley Wiggins and Cadel Evans as the major favourites for this year’s Tour de France, but in this week's issue of our digital magazine for iPads - Cyclingnews HD - Peter Cossins is looking elsewhere this week for any surprise contenders.
On the one hand the 2012 Tour de France looks as open as any in recent memory, with a parcours that has shifted the balance away from the climbers. On the other hand most people are finding it hard to look beyond Wiggins and Evans. But the truth is that there are a lot of riders who could be harbouring ambitions for this race, and we’re going to take a look at a few of the less celebrated ones here.
Denis Menchov (Katusha)
It is surprising to see that the 34-year-old Russian is being so widely overlooked as a potential Tour winner. An impressive winner of his national time trial championship last weekend against a strong field, the unassuming Katusha team leader will be more than happy that he’s slipping under the radar. Winner of the Vuelta and Giro and twice a Tour podium finisher, Menchov tends to perform better in the Pyrenees than the Alps, so this route should suit him. As usual, he’ll follow his rivals and hope to make a difference in the time trials.
Pierre Rolland (Europcar)
After a fast start to the season, France’s latest hope has been largely anonymous, mostly due to a knee injury that forced him to sit out Paris-Nice in March. He’s steadily eased his way back into form, but poor TT performances at the Dauphiné and French championships suggest he will struggle to contend with the best at the Tour. However, that will not matter so much if he rediscovers the climbing form that made him such a sensation last year. Indeed, in the absence of Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador, the 25-year-old Frenchman may emerge as the best climber in the field. He’s also got tremendous endurance. Watch for him the Pyrenees in the final week.
Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel)
The Olympic champion looks like Spain’s leading prospect in the absence of Contador and with Alejandro Valverde still searching for his best form. After a strong spring showing that included victory at the Tour of the Basque Country, the 34-year-old iconic leader of the Euskaltel team crashed heavily early on at the Dauphiné and didn’t get the competitive work-out he had been hoping for there. On the up side, he suffered no broken bones and believes he got back on track during a 10-day high-altitude training camp in mid-June. Sánchez doesn’t appear to have an outstanding weapon in his armoury that will threaten the likes of Wiggins and Evans, but is strong in all areas and very resilient. He’s a definite podium contender.
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