It is easy for a Tour de France build-up to become dominated by a singular theme: it's what unites the press room contingency before the racing starts. This year the term "two horse race" has clouded almost all of the pre-race press conferences - save for Europcar - with Bradley Wiggins (Sky) and Cadel Evans (BMC) favourably tipped as the only true contenders.
However, as both Wiggins and many of his actual rivals have been keen to stress, over the next three weeks conjecture and pre-race hype will be put to one side, with the road, the conditions, luck and bravery the true determining factors in this year's race.
At BMC's press conference on the outskirts of Liege, Jim Ochowicz underlined that while Evans and Wiggins are in form, there will be a number of other riders sensing their Tour chance. With Alberto Contador banned, Andy Schleck injured and Joaquim Rodriguez resting, the race has been deprived of the strongest three climbers in the world, therefore, while Evans and Wiggins have less proven challengers, Robert Gesink, Samuel Sanchez, Denis Menchov, Levi Leipheimer and Ryder Hesjedal will sense their own opportunities.
"I don't want to speak for Wiggins, but if I were him, I would be considering the fact that Cadel has been here and won, and that's a big challenge for Wiggins. But there are other contenders who have been there in Grand Tours as well and competed. Look at Hesjedal, he just won the Giro but not many people are talking about him, he's under the radar. The double, that can still happen. You have plenty of others as well," Ochowicz told Cyclingnews.
The Sky versus BMC battle came into view during the Dauphine when the two teams went head-to-head. Sky came out on top, demonstrating its collective strength with a measured but commanding performance on the stage to Morzine. That day BMC played its hand with a move containing Evans and several teammates. Sky, with Wiggins leading the race, held the Tour de France winner at under a minute before reeling in the Australian's move.
"I was a little bit surprised by their strength that day, but a little bit not. They've been good all year, so it wasn't a surprise that they were good in the Dauphine, it was more of a surprise that they were so many of them at the front after doing so much work but for them it was the first they had that group together, their tour group, so in that light you're not surprised to see so many talented people like Michael Rogers an Richie Porte, who have all proved themselves in the past."
"But I don't think you're going to see anything like that here. Our two teams were pretty strong in the Dauphine, but here you've got a lot more contenders and the quality of the teams is there. The race isn't going to be like that every day. Yes, Sky is probably on paper the best team here but we've got a good team, we'll contend and there are other good teams as well."
Despite Wiggins's win in the Dauphine, Ochowicz believes that his riders hold a key advantage in knowing how to close out a three week-race. The Tour de France is like no other competition with the pressure and conditions all considerations and Ochowicz points to Evans' Tour win as a crucial element.
"I think we've got more experience than they have. By far. And I also think we've got a good team spirit, that's motivated and healthy. I don't know if that's better or worse than what they have, but I know what we have. We've got a lot of variety in the team. I think the biggest chink in Wiggins' armour is that he's not raced a three-week race against Cadel, and he's never won the Tour."
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Daniel Benson is the Editor in Chief at both Cyclingnews.com and BikePerfect.com. Based in the UK, he has worked within cycling for almost 15 years, and he joined the Cyclingnews team in 2008 as the site's first UK-based Managing Editor. In that time, he has reported on over a dozen editions of the Tour de France, several World Championships, the Tour Down Under, Spring Classics, and the London 2012 Olympic Games. With the help of the excellent editorial team, he runs the coverage on Cyclingnews and has interviewed leading figures in the sport including UCI Presidents and Tour de France winners.
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