By Paul Verkuylen
With just three days remaining before the start of the Tour de France in Brest, Australia's Simon Gerrans is looking forward to his fourth start at the French Grand Tour. Gerrans is just one of an impressive nine Australians taking part in this year's event, with compatriots including team-mate Mark Renshaw and overall favourite Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto).
"I am really looking forward to the start," Gerrans told Cyclingnews. "Each year, I feel stronger."
After a somewhat disappointing Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré, the 28 year-old went to the Route du Sud with the aim of posting some strong results to justify his place on the Crédit Agricole Tour team. A win in the first stage show Gerrans' form was coming into bloom at the right time.
"I was hoping to do better at the Dauphiné, but in the end I needed it to improve my condition," said Gerrans. "It set me up well for Sud where I won the first stage and rode solidly in the mountains, eventually finishing fourth.
"The pressure was on for results, but it might actually work out in my favour," he added. "My form may be better during the Tour."
Crédit Agricole will be placing its hopes on Norwegian sprinter Thor Hushovd, who will be aiming for his second green jersey. While Gerrans will ride for Hushovd, he is hoping that an opportunity will present itself for a stage win of his own.
"The first week will be all about Thor, after that there may be an opportunity for a break during the transfer stages," he said. "I hope to land in the right break-away. I haven't studied the route in too much depth yet, as it wouldn't really change my preparation anyway. It just needs to all come together on the day."
Always the team player, Gerrans is willing to sacrifice his own chances of a stage should Hushovd be in a position to win the green jersey. "The real objective is to have Thor in green," said Gerrans. "But there are not many situations where it's not a good idea to have a rider in a break, even if it is just to take points away from the other sprinter."
With Hushovd aiming for the green jersey and the rest of the team more opportunist rather than general classification riders, Gerrans' pick for the overall is Evans. The Silence-Lotto rider finished runner-up at last year's Tour and is widely touted as the man to beat in this year's three-week race.
"I think Cadel will win," he said. "I have ridden in each Tour that Cadel has ridden and each year he has stepped up. His progression has been gradual and this year he will hopefully be standing on the top step.
"His main challengers will come from Denis Menchov," he added. "Rabobank show time and time again that they are a force to be reckoned with. Also [Alejandro] Valverde, if he is going as well as recently, he will be very hard to beat."