Man what a run up thus far to the 2012 Tour de France. So many interesting wrinkles to consider ahead of the world's biggest bike race. Let's get right into it.
The GC battle increasingly seems to be a two horse race between Brad Wiggins and Cadel Evans. That said though, as usual there are other names that could factor as protagonists despite the many time trialing kilometers at this years Tour.
Speaking of those other names, there are more than a few that could threaten for victory under the right circumstances. Janez Brajkovic of the Astana team could be a dark horse for victory depending on his form. he is largely unproven in grand tours, but he has improved each year and looked strong in 2011 until a crash knocked him out of the race.
Levi Leipheimer had to sacrifice his early season due to injury, but he may be in a prime position to threaten for the Tour podium as he comes into the race with fresh legs and a fresh mind. When on optimal form he can time trial as well as Evans too, so providing he is mentally prepared he could be in with a very strong chance at victory.
Vincenzo Nibali, still young and still hungry, could add to his grand tour tally (2010 Vuelta champion) come July. He has staked his entire season on a good Tour ride, and he brings a very strong and experienced Liquigas team to France for an assault on the GC. Nibali has always been a very strong all-around GC rider, but he'll need an elevated time trial discipline to contend in this year's Tour.
Robert Gesink too will be looking for a top result at the Tour as he tries to build on the success he experienced at this year's Tour of California. Gesink probably is not prepared to battle in the time trials though, so he is an outsider at best.
And then there is Ryder Hesjedal, Garmin's golden boy who won this year's Giro. Ahead of the Italian grand tour few were mentioning Hesjedal as a possible winner, but now that he has proven he can stand up to the rigors of a three week race he heads to France as Garmin's sole leader. The last Giro/Tour winner in the same year was a hopelessly doped Marco Pantani. Surely Hesjedal has no chance, right? Right??
Further down the list of favorites are the Lotto tandem of Jurgen Van Den Broeck and Jelle Vanendert, both capable climbers who with perfect conditioning could be in with a chance. Sammy Sanchez, always within the top 10 at grand tours is looking for a good result. Finally, an ever-aging Denis Menchov heads to France to try to complete the grand tour trifecta with a win at the Tour to go along with his wins at the Vuelta (twice) and giro (once).
As usually there are a slew of names that are entered as pre-race favorites for the overall title at the Tour de France. But once we head into the final week of the Tour, it will likely be two or three riders that still have a legit chance to win. Whop that will be is anyone's guess, but the smart money is on Wiggins and Evans, in that order.