Every so often, we get an extremely strong riders who dominates Grand Tours. At the moment, the obvious one is Alberto Contador, who has won five, and that’s after having two stripped. Andy Schleck is the next best (lets not go into Menchov) with his one win (…) and assorted second places. But who will take over the mantle of these men once they retire? And I don’t mean the guys already snapping at the heels: the Froomes, the Nibalis, the Van den Broecks of the world who have all been so close (2nd-4th in this years Tour, no less), but once you get past these names and toss aside Gesink and co, who are the young guns who will be winning the Tour in 5 years time?
Of course, Contador and Schleck will still only be in their early 30s, supposedly the prime of an athletes career, at this point, but if the GC isn’t going to get predictable, and assuming Sky havent marched in and won every competition 5 years in a row, then new names will be competing for the malliot jaune. I’ve pieced together 10 names that could, but most probably wont, be competing for that prize, but predicting Tour winners young is a risky business – Thomas Lovkvist can attain to that, and riders like Robert Gesink are hyped to the stars, then always disappoint as a result when 5th-6th turns out to be their niche. Rein Taarame, the Estonian, learnt the true meaning of 15 minutes of fame when he kept with the leaders up the ferociously steep Planche des bell Filles, losing just 19 seconds to Chris Froome and taking 4th overall to be talked up as a potential challenger, only to fall acrimoniously down the standings the next day: predicting winners is a fickle buisness. Maybe I should have gone for people who could get on a podium, or even top 10 to further save my pride, but here are the 10 names beside the obvious who should be looking to win the Tour:
Tejay Van Garderen
Even I’ll admit this one is cheating a bit: he’s already come 5th, and that was after waiting for Cadel Evans. The ‘what if’ scenario where he was allowed to go free off the front of the bunch in the latter stages of the tour and hauled himself a great deal of time back is worth day dreaming over, but then his performance in the final time trial, catching his leader and the defending champion for three minutes, demonstrates his talent. Pressure will be the problem though – with the last American age wiped out with confessions, Van Garderen shoulders a heavy burden, along with Taylor Phinney, to show the US can compete clean and win. The best bet for glory.
The 25 year old Colombian has had a quiet year, expect it’s only been quiet because his team leader, Bradley Wiggins, was busy winning everything and taking away his glory. Previously famed for overshooting a bend and slamming into a rock face, as YouTube will attest, Uran was in the position to take the white jersey in 2011 until he got ill. Uran has now got 5th in Liege, 7th and best young rider at the Giro, 3rd at Lombardy and an Olympic road race silver on his palmares, and he still has the time to get better. The Colombians will be talked up as ‘returning’ withing the next couple of years, and Uran will probably be the leader of that charge.
The scarily youthful Frenchman, who was the youngest rider in this years Tour, is a climbing sensation, as he showed by staying with the most explosive climber at the race, Chris Froome, and indeed beating him in the sprint. Impressively, once he got his stage win, he kept with the leaders, and 10th overall in his debut Tour at just 22 is remarkable. Given his time for improvement, as well as his strong time trialing, he looks more likely then fellow frenchman Pierre Rolland to land the big prize of ‘French Hope’ , but the difficulty will be in avoiding the pitfalls of French cycling – namely giving into the pressure followed by years of going around every French team like it’s an obligation to try one out before settling for the King of the Mountains.
I mean this in the nicest possible way, but Kelderman is one of those people I hate. Wilco was a former darts player who was, shall we say, not of the traditional cycling build (fat in other words) and decided to take up cycling, and turned out to be annoyingly good at it. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all be so talented? Still, the 21 year old Dutchman looks a better bet then Gesink, Kruijswick and Mollema, all who appear to have stalled at various positions in the GC table, with 8th and best young rider at the Dauphine a good indication of his talent. With a new structure behind Rabobank as well, he should be pushed to fulfill his full potential instead of falling into lazy ways like other Dutchman are alleged to have.
Another American, this one on the team I always have to laugh at when they claim to be clean (yes, I know, yet another dig at Garmin, I’m a terrible person), Talansky is, like Van Garderen, a strong time trialist who can climb well enough to get into top 10s, as he showed with 7th at the Vuelta, albeit 13 minutes behind (although only 3 off the ailing Froome). 2nd at the Tour of Romandie, he gave Wiggins a run for his money in the TT, and at just 23, he has the room to develop.
Ah yes, what to do about Sagan. His inclusion on this list is admittedly weak, but like many others before him, the powerhouse has been lauded as a possible Tour winner thanks to his ferocious power and seeming ease at winning. I remember when Tom Boonen was World Champion and there was talk his power output was capable of winning Tours – Sagan is probably the same, but I always think a question should be asked – which is better, sacrificing the clear talent to win every monument and various stages of any race as Sagan clearly can for a few years of riding into 12th place at the Tour, of concentrating on what you’re good at and becoming a legend? Of course, the way Sagan’s going, he could be the new Merckx and just destroy everyone, but personally I’d prefer he goes for the monument clean sweep before thinking about going for GC. Mind, he’ll probably have won all by 2014, if Deglenkob doesnt have his way.
Rolland is the oldest in this gang, but I really believe he has the capability of winning a Grand Tour, if not least podiuming in one. His time trialling is developing, and his climbing is impressive, but this up coming year will be hugely important – after 10th, 8th and now with a favorable route, Rolland simply has to get in the top 5 to get the self belief that he can win the race the French so desperately want to win. Europcar are the best equipped French team given the pressure can be lessened by Voeckler’s exploits, so with Alpe d’Huez already emblazoned with his name, the next step is the history books.
The second part of Sky’s Colombian tandem, Henao isn’t as impressive as his compatriot Uran, but could still prove to be a good GC contender after 14th in the Vuelta whilst working for Froome. Unfortunately, this may be his problem – he needs to be employed as a leader rather then a domestique to realise his potential.
This isn’t as absurd as you might thing – Thomas himself claims he sees Wiggins as an inspiration and dreams of winning the Tour, and we’ve learnt our lesson that just because an Olympic track rider thinks they can win the Tour doesn’t make them loopy. Sky have shown that they can transform the men with the constant power outputs on the track into all conquering machines on the road, and whilst Thomas should probably stick with the classics now that Flecha is gone and he can build on his 2012 10th in Flanders, it’s worth watching this space to see how far he can go at the Tour.
A la Sagan, Moser is a youthful Liquigas powerhouse who can ride people off his wheel for fun. A la Thomas, he to dreams of winning the Tour, although unlike his Dad, he probably wont get the help of helicopters and iffy weathermen to prevent Laurent Fignon triumphing. To be honest, Moser will probably become a rider in the Gilbert mode, but again, at just 22, he’s worth watching for the future. He, Sagan and Deglenkob will be winning all the classics anyway