Robert Gesink (Nl), 25, Rabobank
By finishing sixth in the Tour last year, this Dutch climber began to fulfill the expectations placed in him by a bike-crazy nation that’s looking for its first Tour podium finisher since Steven Rooks in 1988. But Gesink still doesn’t look ready for that despite improving his time-trialing ability this year and having a team entirely devoted to helping him.
Levi Leipheimer (USA), 37, Team RadioShack
As a podium finisher at the Tour and Vuelta, and a winner of the world’s most important weeklong stage races — including the recent Tour de Suisse — Leipheimer is perhaps the one dark horse who can upset the top favorites in this Tour. His RadioShack team should be superb in the TTT and will be outstanding in the mountains, just the ingredients he’ll need to keep in range of the yellow jersey going into the final time trial, his specialty.
Fränk Schleck (Lux), 31, Leopard-Trek
Older brother to Andy, Schleck placed sixth and fifth at the 2008 and ’09 Tours before crashing out on the early cobbles stage last year. He won the 2011 Critérium International two-day in March, including a summit finish, and he should prove an invaluable teammate (and roommate) and advisor for his brother.
Brad Wiggins (GB), 31, Sky
He’ll get a great start with his Sky colleagues in the team time trial, and he can look forward to a top performance in the only individual TT, but Wiggins will need to be consistent on every mountaintop finish if he’s going to improve on his fourth-place finish of two years ago. Winning the Dauphiné has boosted his confidence and if he continues in the right mental state this three-time Olympic pursuit champ could be on the podium in Paris.