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While Sky's Christopher Froome is the top favourite for the overall win in the 2013 Tour de France for most followers, Lucien Van Impe believes that nerves will ruin Froome's quest for glory. The legendary climber also questioned the absence of Bradley Wiggins while predicting Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank) as eventual winner this year.
Van Impe is the last Belgian rider to win la Grand Boucle. He said that if he had been part of the right team, he could have one five total Tours instead of the one he won in 1976.
Every year, French former pro riders like Bernard Hinault, Richard Virenque, Raymond Poulidor are commonly spotted at the Tour de France start of finish area. Poulidor is actually taking part in his 51st Tour de France, but the presence of Lucien Van Impe was a surprise for many.
Van Impe was invited by the Sporza TV channel to feature in the panel of its evening show. The Belgian travelled to Porto Vecchio, Corsica together with Flanders Classics podium hostess Lien Crapoen, and Cyclingnews was also present. While awaiting a transfer flight in Marseille, the six-time winner of the mountains classification of the Tour de France predicted the outcome of this year's edition.
According to Van Impe, top favorite Contador will struggle in the first two weeks, but then he'll hit peak form. "Nevertheless, I don't think he'll lose a lot of time in those first two weeks. In the first mountain stages, most riders will wait for the last climb. It's not easy to switch from the big to the small ring. Andy Schleck isn't afraid to try from far out. He's a great climber, too, and a rider I like. He can surprise this year," Van Impe told Cyclingnews.
"Froome? Right now he's getting nervous. He'll struggle with the pressure," Van Impe said. "It's too bad Wiggins isn't here. That would've been a race within the race. Wiggins wouldn't have worked for Froome. I can't understand why he isn't here. I hear that he isn't able to reload himself for this race, not being able to make the sacrifices. What is the rest of the peloton here doing? What did he do more than them? Maybe it's the money. If I would've been a billionaire after my Tour de France victory, I probably wouldn't have come back too," Van Impe said.
Van Impe was one of cycling's top climbers along with Federico Bahamontes and Marco Pantani. He didn't become a billionaire despite his Tour de France victory, six mountain classifications and four more podium finishes.
"I think I got the most out of it. In hindsight, if I would've been part of the team of [Peter] Post, then I could've won the Tour de France five times. In each Tour de France, I lost eight to nine minutes in the team time trial, doing most of the work. In the other stages, I only saw my teammates in the hotel, when I was done with my dinner and they arrived. I can't remember any of my teammates from the 1981 edition. Maybe Jan Nevens could have been a good help in the mountains, but two days before the Tour, he told me that he would ride for himself. When I heard he pulled out of the race when passing his house after only a couple of days I wasn't sad," Van Impe said.
The Belgian made a statement about the riders in this year's peloton. "I have the idea that about 50 riders think that they're a climber. They'll know what a climber is when the new Pantani-like climber stands up. Maybe it'll be one of the Colombian riders? For now, only Contador comes close to being the pure climber. He has the acceleration in his legs. The rest is riding tempo up the hills," Van Impe said.
At the start in Porto Vecchio on Saturday morning, the now 66-year-old Belgian was keeping an eye on what happened at the Omega Pharma-Quickstep bus. "Things have changed a lot. It has all gotten 10 times bigger. I used to know everybody, but now there's only a few people I know," Van Impe said.
People did know who the Belgian was as he was often asked to pose for a photo or sign an autograph, which he did with a big smile.
Van Impe indicated that he doesn't like the attitude of this generation's riders. "They don't bother to look back when you shout their name. They hide in their team bus. I can't understand that," Van Impe said.