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Giro finale
Photo ©: Bettini

Tales from the peloton, March 2, 2009

The Tour de France ladder

By Susan Westemeyer

Who is going to win the 2009 Tour de France? We'll be the first to admit we haven't the slightest idea. But there are certainly a number of favourites, and by keeping track on how they are doing in the races leading up to the Tour, we ought to at least be able to see who is climbing up the ladder of success. At the very least, we'll give you something to talk about on your next club ride.

After expert consultation (reading tea leaves in the CN office and throwing darts at a ProTour roster), we came up with a list of 12 candidates for this year's Tour. Happily for us, all of them have put in their first racing kilometers, so let's see where they stand at this early part of the year.


Levi Leipheimer

With the finish line reflected in his glasses, Levi Leiphiemer signals three wins
Photo ©: Wil Matthews
(Click for larger image)

Was victory ever in doubt for the now three-time winner of the Tour of California? With one attack, one strong time trial and no one able to inflict enough damage on his Astana team, Levi has already ticked off his first major objective of the year.

Does it mean he will be Astana's leader in the Tour de France? Probably not, but right now he's number one, or number three depending on how many fingers he keeps waving at us.


Alberto Contador

Alberto Contador in the Volta ao Algarve leader's jersey.
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

Cycling is all about what have you done for me lately and while his teammates have been hogging the limelight in the US, Contador has been going about his business quietly but effectively at the Volta ao Algarve.

Okay, it's not the Tour of California but the Astana Spaniard showed his versatility coming in a close second on the mountaintop finish and then the next day easily winning the time trial to take the leader's jersey. Surely he's the rider to beat this year.



Michael Rogers

Michael Rogers on the final Tour of California podium
Photo ©: Mitch Clinton
(Click for larger image)

Rogers took one of the first wins of the season, with the Aussie national time trial title.

He didn't have any top ten finishes in the Tour Down Under but finished sixth overall - now that's a nice trick.

And in California he used fourth place finishes in both the prologue and the time trial to finish third overall. An under the radar performance, but one that merits a pat on the back when you remember where the Team Columbia rider was this time last year.


Lance Armstrong

Can Armstrong win his 8th Tour in July?
Photo ©: Jon Devich
(Click for larger image)

Come on, let's be honest, weren't you expecting just a little bit more from him? At least just a flash of that old magic, a bit of a twinkle in the eye to say, I could take this thing if I wanted to?

It's not like he did anything poorly, it's just that he didn't do anything particularly outstanding. Sure, what can you expect of someone who's been away for three and a half years - well, we expected maybe a bit more.

We're certainly not going to count him out, though, and he and Contador may have a bit of fun in France this summer.


Fränk Schleck

Fränk Schleck won the final stage of the Tour of California.
Photo ©: Mitch Clinton
(Click for larger image)

The older of the two brothers riding for Team Saxo Bank started the ToC rather quietly, but got into the breakaway on the next-to-last stage, and then topped it off by winning the final stage for an impressive early-season win.

Unfortunately for him he lost over five minutes on the first stage and finished 12th overall.

He's still got more to do before we start talking about him as a serious contender for yellow.


Denis Menchov

Denis Menchov had a quiet Ruta del Sol.
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

His Rabobank team may have been in California, but the Russian opted for the more tranquil Andalucia instead. He finished 17th in the Ruta del Sol, where, he said, he, "never had a particularly good day".

But he viewed the whole thing simply as training, which is actually not at all a bad idea for a Tour contender so early in the season.

It usually takes Menchov a few months and one Grand Tour to get going, so don't expect too much too soon.


Damiano Cunego

Damiano Cunego time trials at the Volta ao Algarve.
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

The Little Prince from Lampre opened his year at the GP Costa degli Etruschi before moving on to the Volta ao Algarve. He showed little at either race, but that simply means he was neither good nor bad - another one just training away.

But is he looking to the Giro or the Tour as his main goal this year? We're not even sure he knows, but his most interesting development was his spat with Basso over transparency.


Cadel Evans

Cadel Evans had a roller coaster Ruta del Sol.
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

The Silence-Lotto rider hopes (like Michael Rogers) to become the first Australian to win the Tour de France.

He was another one who chose to ride the Ruta del Sol instead of California and started out quietly, but showed his mettle in the first tough stage, finishing third. He then promptly lost over eight minutes in the fourth and final stage.

Inconsistency, thy name is Cadel.....but with two runners-up placings at the Tour, it's too early to write him off.


Christian Vande Velde

Christian Vande Velde out-time trialed Lance in California.
Photo ©: Jon Devich
(Click for larger image)

The Garmin-Slipstream rider never really got going in the Tour of California.

He lost five minutes in the first stage and eight minutes in the last stage.

He finished ahead of Armstrong in the time trial, which is never a bad thing and he's openly admitted that he's happy to work for others, but if he's got Tour aspirations that won't be a habit he'll want to continue for too long.


Carlos Sastre

Sickness sidelined Sastre at the Tour of California.
Photo ©: Wil Matthews
(Click for larger image)

The Cervelo TestTeam captain would love to repeat his Tour victory. He came into the Tour of California while still recovering from a bout of the flu and them promptly crashed in the first stage, coming in 13 minutes down, and then losing another 17 minutes on the second stage.

He bravely soldiered on, though, before throwing in the towel, becoming one of many to not ride the final stage to the end.

New team, new set - the 2008 Tour winner needs a little more time to settle.


Andy Schleck

Andy Schleck's Tour of California hopes were dashed on stage two.
Photo ©: Emory Ball
(Click for larger image)

Schleck the Younger, or the "Schlecklet", is considered a future Tour de France winner, and perhaps the key word there is "future".

The Saxo Bank rider lost 16 minutes on California's second stage, and his biggest accomplishment was getting in the early break in the last stage.

He's got time on his side but he needs to start ridding himself of these one-off bad days if he's to be taken seriously as a Grand Tour winner. Yes, he was impressive in the final week last year, but that was after a dreadful day in the first ten days.


Alejandro Valverde

Alejandro Valverde's Tour start may be determined in a courtroom.
Photo ©: Christophe Mury
(Click for larger image)

Racing-wise, the Caisse d'Epargne rider looked okay in the two-stage Tour du Haut Var. He helped teammate Luis Leon Sanchez win the first stage by out-foxing the other riders, and lost only about a minute in the second stage to finish 43rd overall.

But - and there's going to be but with him for the next few months - his problems may lay more in the courtroom than on the bike.

The decision from CONI about his connection with Dr. Eufamiano Fuentes may well have more of an impact on his Tour de France than his condition will.

That's our first look at who-is-who this year. How will they do in their next races? Who will climb up the ladder of success or slide down into the pits? Heck, how should we know that? But we'll be back with another look soon.


For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

Images by Christophe Mury

Images by Emory Ball/www.emoryball.com

Images by Jonathan Devich/

Images by Mitch Clinton/www.clintonphoto.com

Images by Roberto Bettini/www.bettiniphoto.net

Images by Wil Matthews

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