I had a long, detailed post full of snazzy pics typed out last night, and then some glitch happened and it all went away. I also broke my wrist at work today, so this little post is taking me a long time to mash out. But I want to make my picks.
Pick: Alberto Contador. The defending champ will ride with a chip on his shoulder, like he has something to prove.
Contenders: Fabian Cancellara, Bradley Wiggins, about anyone from the Shack (Armstrong, Kloden, Leipheimer, Horner, and Popovych ought to all finish in the top 20, and if at least two aren't in the top 10 I'll be shocked)
Darkhorses: David Millar, David Zabriskie, Thor Hushovd, George Hincapie, Alexander Vinokourov
Pick: Robbie McEwen. There's a little bump in the road in the final few km of the stage that should get rid of Cavendish. Recalling the crash-fests that began the 2009 Vuelta and the 2010 Giro, both in the Netherlands like this Tour, it's going to take a smart and maybe lucky rider to win this one.
Contenders: Thor Hushovd, Tyler Farrar, Mark Cavendish (if he makes the splits, he's a cinch)
Darkhorses: Oscar Freire, Matti Breschel, Alessandro Petacchi, Gerald Ciolek, Samuel Dumoulin
Pick: Marcus Burghardt. The German showed great form at the Tour de Suisse, and this stage is going to be a definite test, a teaser for the mayhem that will follow in stage 3.
Contenders: Jakob Fuglsang, Ryder Hesjedal, Pierrick Fedrigo
Shots in the dark: Chris Anker Sorensen, Michael Barry, Benoit Vaugrenard, Sebastian Lang, Thomas Rohregger
Pick: George Hincapie. This is more than likely Hincapie's last Tour, and I predict he'll go out with a bang in a stage that suits his strengths as a rider. Certainly he'll be one of the classics men gunning for victory ahead of the overall favorites who will be doing everything just to stay upright.
Contenders: Thor Hushovd, Sylvain Chavanel, Johan Vansummeren
Darkhorses: Juan Antonio Flecha, Bernhard Eisel, Alexandr Kolobnev, Simon Gerrans, Martijn Maaskant
Pick: Yukiya Arashiro. The stage is clearly potentially breakaway-friendly, so why not the first European win for the scrappy Japanese rider, who's really been turning heads this year.
Contenders: Jerome Pineau, Vasil Kiryienka, Niki Terpstra
Darkhorses: Stephane Auge, Koos Moerenhout, Fabio Felline, Remy Di Gregorio, Amets Txurruka
Pick: Mark Cavendish in a straightforward sprint stage.
Contenders: Tyler Farrar, Robbie McEwen, Thor Hushovd
Darkhorses: Alessandro Petacchi, Gerald Ciolek, Samuel Dumoulin, Wesley Sulzberger, Roger Kluge
Pick: This stage looks even tastier for Mark Cavendish than the previous one. Same cast of characters behind him.
Pick: Samuel Sanchez can climb with the aces and then slip away in the final kilometers for a stage hunt.
Contenders: Luis Leon Sanchez, Janez Brajkovic, Carlos Sastre (might be in a stage-hunting frame of mind after his disastrous Giro)
Darkhorses: Alessandro Ballan, Carlos Barredo, Robert Gesink, Damiano Cunego, Tony Martin (I doubt any of the true elite will show themselves on this stage)
Pick: Frank Schleck. The race's elite will show themselves on this stage, but I think the truest favorites (Andy, Lance, Contador, Basso) will hold just a tiny bit back while Frank, who isn't really a podium threat, can fly away.
Contenders: Uh....Andy, Lance, Contador, Basso
Darkhorses: Levi Leipheimer, Bradley Wiggins, Christian Vandevelde, John Gadret, Carlos Sastre
Pick: Jens Voigt This one feels like it will go to a late breakaway coming from a depleted yellow jersey group that completes the first parts of the stage together. Too much descending for Basso. The Maddeleine is too far from the finish for Contador to froth at the mouth for this one. I'm willing to wager time gaps among the Tour elite will actually be pretty small.
Contenders: Roman Kreuziger, Ryder Hesjedal, Vladimir Karpets
Darkhorses: John Gadret, Tony Martin, Carlos Barredo, Thomas Voeckler, Luis Leon Sanchez
Pick: Much the same skill set will be favored in this stage, though it's not quite as descent-heavy. Since this is the Bastille Day stage, I'll give the nod to Gadret for his first major win, out of the group of names mentioned above.
Pick: Thor Hushovd. Though the only climb on this stage occurs early on, most of the course is on a downhill. I like Hushovd in a near 80km long descent down from the Col de la Cabre much more than I do Cavendish. The same fast men will likely make up the top ten in this stage as in the flatlands prior.
Pick: This one's a veritable cinch to go the breakaway. A rider like Rein Taaramae could be dangerous if he makes the morning escape.
Contenders: Serge Pauwels, Amets Txurruka, Pierrick Fedrigo
Shots in the dark: Francesco Bellotti, Jeremy Roy, Dimitri Champion, Matthew Lloyd, Kanstantsin Siutsou
Pick: Gerald Ciolek. The (still quite) young German will be hungry for a win, to try to help secure a new sponsor for Team Milram. This is a good stage for him, and the finish is as likely as any flat stage to lack Cavendish.
Contenders: Thor Hushovd (good profile for him, too), Robbie McEwen, Alessandro Petacchi
Pick: Alberto Contador. This has Verbier redux written all over it, though the Port de Pailheres is certainly going to take a few lives before the cat-1 summit finish.
Contenders: Lance Armstrong, Andy Schleck, Frank Schleck
Darkhorses: Carlos Sastre, Christian Vandevelde, Bradley Wiggins, Denis Menchov, Ivan Basso
Pick: Joaquim Rodriguez I like Katusha's GC longshot to solo in the descent from the Port de Bales to stage victory.
Contenders: Egoi Martinez, Jurgen Van Den Broeck, Robert Gesink
Darkhorses: If any of the GC men get feisty, they could all finish ahead of the firebrands, with the stage a simple matter of a depleted sprint
Pick: Denis Menchov. The Tourmalet and the Aubisque. That's just mean.
Contenders: Levi, Lance, Contador, the Schlecks...the descent from the Aubisque and the flat racing that follows it may actually be more nerve-racking than the climbing, meaning they may ride conservatively as far as the stage is concerned.
Pick: Carlos Sastre. This is a wonderful stage for Sastre, with the long, steep Tourmalet at the end for a summit arrival. He should be at or near his best by this point in the race.
Contenders: Ivan Basso (also likes the long, grinding climbs), Alberto Contador and the other usual suspects
Pick: Mark Cavendish will hit this stage with everything he's got after suffering through the brutal Pyreneean stages.
Pick: There's every possibility that this chrono won't matter for the overall standings. But I'll take Levi Leipheimer to possibly move into the top five or maybe even the podium with the win.
Contenders: Fabian Cancellara, Alberto Contador, Denis Menchov
Darkhorses: Bradley Wiggins, Bert Grabsch, David Zabriskie, Chris Horner, Lance Armstrong
Pick: A few riders have won on the Champs twice, but no one ever has two years in a row. Until this year. Mark Cavendish is a veritable cinch.
Pick: Amazingly, Andy Schleck is still eligible. He'll have to crash -- really hard -- to not bring home the maillot blanc one last time.
Contenders: Robert Gesink, Kevin Seeldraeyers, Roman Kreuziger
Pick: Hard to get past the Manxman as the heavy favorite. He'd probably have won it last year if not for the stage 14 penalty.
Contenders: Tyler Farrar, Thor Hushovd, Robbie McEwen
Pick: Egoi Martinez to finish the job he started last year.
Contenders: John Gadret (could be a strong favorite if he chooses to gun for the maillot a pois), Tony Martin, Juan Manuel Garate
Pick: It won't be as easy as last year, but until Alberto Contador enters a Grand Tour and doesn't win it, he has to be the prohibitive favorite.
Contenders: Andy Schleck (this may well be his year), Lance Armstrong, Carlos Sastre