First, let’s address what seems like a given—a podium finish for last year’s victor. As for that podium’s top step, the fact that this year’s race will feature more time-trial stages than recent Tours bodes well for our old friend Cadel. Climbing specialists be damned, the addition of 36 more kilometers of time trialing means victory will likely favor a strong overall rider like Evans. Expect 2011’s surprise Australian champion to do well.
Cadel Evans has already declared Wiggins his biggest threat this year, and it’s obvious why: The Team Sky racer is on fire. Despite consistently good finishes, Wiggins’ previous attempts at the Tour de France have been pretty “meh” overall, but 2012 is set to be a breakout year for the British racer. Wiggins has already won Paris-Nice, the Tour de Romandie and the Critérium du Dauphiné this year—and he could pull through to become Britain’s first ever winner of the Tour de France.
The Team Sky track cyclist—affectionately known as the “Manx Missile"—is the fastest sprinter out there right now. He’ll be looking to add more TdF stage wins to his already formidable collection (a combined total of 20), and because the general classification isn’t the only contest out there, he has a good chance of defending the green jersey (the points classification) at the end of the race.
The Slovakian racer for Liquigas-Cannondale will likely be Cavendish’s main competition for the green jersey. After winning nearly half the stages in both the Tour of California and the Tour de Suisse, Sagan is riding super strong. He’s a wild card that could seriously animate the race.
The Italian racer has had a few great finishes early this season and can climb and descend like nobody’s business. It remains to be seen whether he’s on the same level of Wiggins and Evans.
One man, fighting alone without his brother. No one’s quite sure what Frank is capable of as a single rider, but it will certainly be interesting to watch.
Hesjedal just won the Giro d’Italia and claims to be unfazed by pressure to perform this week. As the first Canadian to take a Grand Tour victory, the Garmin-Sharp Team racer hopes to take the Tour by surprise.
The Dutch racer won this year’s Tour of California and has been increasingly crushing it in time trials. This year’s TT emphasis could elevate his game to the Evans and Wiggins level. After all—it’s a three-week bike race. Anything could happen.