At the end of the 98th Tour de France in three weeks’ time, we will all look back and say, “Well, it was obvious that so-and-so would win, and that what’s-his-name would podium, and we knew that guy would flame out.” Then again, who will they be, these riders whose performances are so predictable?
There’s a feeling in the air this month — was it the crowd’s hostile reception to Contador in the Gallo-Roman arena Thursday that set the tone? — that this could be the Tour of upsets. What’s exciting about the race is that we can’t predict upsets but we can rejoice in them when they happen. This Tour very well might be one that is unpredictable.
Over the past 20 years we’ve been too conditioned by the multiple Tour victories of first Miguel Induráin and then Lance Armstrong and (now?) Alberto Contador to believe that an outsider has a chance of winning. But just consider these words spoken Friday by former Dutch racer Steven Rooks to Radio Netherlands Worldwide:
“The Tour goes on for three weeks (and) you’ve got to stay alert the whole time, even during the flat stages … not getting involved in pileups, dealing with nerves, continuous concentration, eating and drinking well, not getting sick. There are lots of deciding factors which show whether you’re ready or not.”
Rooks should know. He was really a classics rider but, 23 years ago, he finished second in the Tour, the last Dutchman to stand on the podium in Paris. He would like to think his compatriot Robert Gesink could be the next one to follow him, maybe this year.
So who will those mystery men be? The ones who win the Tour, step on the podium or flame out? None of us really knows, so here’s a detailed look at the top 20 contenders (from five-star to one-star ranking) for the 2011 Tour’s maillot jaune.