As the Tour de France approaches, Cyclingnews takes a look at 10 riders who need a result to save their season.
Dental issues, illness, crashes and accusations have left some of the sport’s biggest names in the shadows and out of the results. It could be because some of their careers are nearing an end or simply because they’ve said they’d do better but failed to deliver. One way or another, these guys will be looking for a strong performance in France.
Heinrich Haussler (Cervélo TestTeam)
Haussler’s season has been the opposite of what he expected with a number of retirements and crashes.
Much of Haussler’s troubled season to date relates to a knee issue that plagued him early on. Haussler left the Middle East with the issue after a string of near misses at the Tour of Qatar, and the injury almost completely wiped out his Spring Classics campaign – with second at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad the only exception.
Haussler’s season hit a new low when he withdrew from the Amgen Tour of California with the same complaint. He returned to Europe to seek treatment, where he had a car accident while over the legal blood alcohol limit. The Tour de France stage winner admitted his knee troubles had played a role in his irresponsible actions.
Fortunately for Haussler, he has shown signs of improvement since his public apology, winning a stage at the Tour de Suisse and recovering well from a potential Tour-threatening crash when he tangled with Mark Cavendish. Now he needs to refocus and step-up at the Tour de France and salvage what he can from his season. Perhaps winning a stage like he did in Colmar last year or even better by challenging for the green points jersey.
Denis Menchov (Rabobank)
Despite being dropped on Alpe d'Huez at the Critérium du Dauphiné a little over a week ago, Menchov’s team manager said the Russian could leave the race relaxed and confident for the Tour de France. Just how much truth is behind that statement we’re not sure of, with his Tour form still a mystery.
The decision for Menchov to skip the Giro d’Italia, which he won in 2009, was made during the winter, with the rider wanting to focus on his Tour ambitions. A battle with bronchitis after he finished second at Vuelta Ciclista a Murcia, ninth at Vuelta Castilla y Leon and third at Tour de Romandie kept him sidelined for a lengthy period in the spring.
However some good did come from the Critérium du Dauphiné for Menchov, as he registered a strong finish in the long final time trial. That could bode well for the Tour’s Stage 19 – a 52 kilometre stretch from Bordeaux to Pauillac. But by then we will know if he still is a real Tour de France contender.
Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia)
Major dental pain and subsequent major dental work delayed Mark Cavendish’s start to the season. And the form that took him to all those Tour de France stage victories last season was absent on his return.
It’s not just Cavendish’s results that have suffered this season, his image has taking a hit too. While the Manxman isn’t one to worry about what others think, flipping a two fingered victory salute at the Tour de Romandie wasn’t considered an endearing gesture by fans or team management – who pulled him from the event as a result. A very public spat with teammate André Greipel, that will likely see the successful German leave HTC-Columbia at the end of the season, might have been good for headline writers but was another problem Cavendish could have done without.
Cavendish’s desire to win gained him few friends at Tour de Suisse last week, with his move to the left resulting in a massive pile-up.
While Cavendish took victories at Volta Ciclista a Catalunya, Romandie and California, much more important wins are expected from him at the Tour de France, especially after his six stage victories last year. With his lead-out man Mark Renshaw back at full speed, it’s up to Cavendish to capitalise on the HTC-Columbia train again and save what has so far been a disappointing season.
HTC-Columbia's Mark Cavendish sent a clear message at Romandie, as did his team when it pulled him from the race.
Luis León Sánchez (Caisse d’Epargne)
Luis León Sánchez is in a different boat to most riders on our list, as he’s being given the opportunity to step into the limelight and it is now up to the Spaniard to capitalize on that position. His chance comes thanks to the suspension of teammate Alejandro Valverde, whom he would have likely supported once again if it weren’t for the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) finally catching up with the rider for his involvement in Operacion Puerto.
It’s by no means an ideal situation for Sánchez. His season probably would have started later had he been expecting the top role in France. Instead he got off to a successful start at Tour Down Under where he claimed a stage victory en route to second overall, a situation he duplicated at Volta ao Algarve.
Sánchez was amongst the top riders overall at Paris-Nice and Volta Ciclista a Catalunya, before returning to France for a stage victory and overall win at Circuit Cycliste de la Sarthe. It’s been pretty quiet for Sánchez since then, with a top five stage result at the Tour de Suisse, the only thing close to a top result. It’s time to shine Sánchez!
Thomas Löfkvist (Team Sky)
Sweden’s Thomas Löfkvist was head hunted by the British ProTour squad as it sought to compile a roster that lived up to the hype surrounding its debut season. The classy rider confirmed he is ‘one for the future’ while riding for HTC-Columbia last year, but it hasn’t progressed further and done better this season.
His best result this was second place at Strade Bianche, the one-day dirt road Italian classic he won last year. Löfkvist has done little racing since the spring ended, but Team Sky assures that he’s been training hard to prepare for the Tour like team-mate Simon Gerrans.
The 26-year-old wants to develop into a general classification hopeful and the Tour de France will be a test of how far he’s come. After winning Circuit de la Sarthe and Tour de l'Avenir early in his career, his potential is unquestionable and he’ll likely be a useful asset to Bradley Wiggins at this year’s race.
Lance Armstrong (Team RadioShack)
Armstrong set the bar high when he came out of retirement: an eighth Tour de France victory the goal. He is a global cancer campaigner and role model for millions of cancer suffers but he is also measured by his sporting accomplishments in France, and to date has under performed.
Like any sportsperson who’s had such previous dominance in their field, Armstrong is held to the highest standards and expectations. Armstrong has been there and won on seven previous occasions, so he knows what it takes to be the Tour champion. He now needs to take it to Alberto Contador on the roads of France.
Despite some mixed results throughout the season, recent form suggests the Texan has prepared well for next month’s race. That suggests Armstrong is on track for another top result in France, but will it be the top result?
George Hincapie (BMC Racing Team)
George Hincapie is knocking on the door of retirement and it’s likely he’ll step across the line at season’s end. With that in mind we’d love to see the American, in his stars and stripes jersey as the US national champion, make the most of what’s probably his last participation at the Tour de France and at least win a stage.
However there are a few problems with such a fairytale scenario: He is a key member of the team supporting perennial Tour de France hopeful and current world champion Cadel Evans. As the Swiss-backed squad lacks the depth of Radioshack or Saxo Bank, it’s difficult to see Hincapie being given free reign unless Evans’ title hopes are destroyed early on.
Perhaps it’s fitting that Hincapie’s final appearance at the Tour will again see him lay it all down for the hopes of another rider, as he did but it would be good to see him get one last moment in the spotlight as a reward for his near 20-years as a professional cyclist.
Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank)
An increase in the Amgen Tour of California’s television reach was fantastic news for the race organiser, but less than ideal for Andy Schleck. For the lanky Luxembourger it meant that many more people watched as he was dropped from the key breakaway on Stage 6 to Big Bear Lake.
It would have been a surprise had it not been for Schleck’s lack of form and results all spring. Being hit by a car while training in December hampered his early season, as did repeated treatment for the resulting knee injury.
He cut the Trofeo Mallorca and Ruta del Sol from his schedule, then didn’t finish Milan-Sanremo. A cold saw him withdraw from Volta a Catalunya and there’s been little in the way of solid success since for Schleck.
Yet despite the disastrous start to 2010, Schleck told Cyclingnews during the Tour de Suisse he’s ahead of where he was one year earlier. It seems like a generous claim on the evidence on hand, but he could prove us wrong as he seeks to go one better than his second place at last year’s Tour.
Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) says he's in better form than last year...time will tell.
Dave Zabriskie (Garmin-Transitions)
The comic-loving Zabriskie has been successful in the general classification at races on home shores in America, but in Europe his sparse results have only been Grand Tour stage successes. At 31, it’s now or never if Zabriskie wants to become an overall stage race contender in Europe.
That opportunity could present itself if teammate Christian Vande Velde struggles. Zabriskie held his own at the Amgen Tour of California last month, where he fought a close battle with HTC-Columbia’s Michael Rogers to finish second.
The Tour is a different ballpark to California however, and on the two previous occasions he’s finished the race well down the results. With limited racing in Europe this season and his likely roll supporting Vande Velde, even a top 20 overall, could be too great a task for Zabriskie.
Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky)
Wiggins is perhaps under more pressure than any rider starting this year’s Tour. The Brit has broad shoulders but the general classification hopes of David Brailsford’s Team Sky project and Rupert Murdoch’s media empire are a lot for any man to bear.
It’s not just those with a vested interest in the squad that expect Wiggins to perform. After the circus surrounding his transfer from Garmin last year, the public is expecting him to prove he was worth all the fuss.
Wiggins started the Giro d’Italia in the maglia rosa of race leader after winning the opening stage, but he proceeded to yo-yo in and out of contention before eventually finishing 40th, nearly an hour and a half behind Ivan Basso. Wiggins needs to do much better than that at the Tour de France to live up to expectations.