Guest blogger and Eurosport commentator David Harmon’s preview of the 99th Tour de France
Richard Allchin is a bit of a rough diamond. A rock & roll manager turned mentor to cyclists he rediscovered his schoolboy passion for the bicycle when he realised that the hedonistic life of rock was killing him slowly but surely.
Even so, despite the hazy days on the road, something stuck. As well as giving him a taste for good red wine, fags and a dicky ticker all those years gigging gave Richard one other habit, the knack of spotting God given talent when he saw it and so it was with Bradley Wiggins. The Londoner spent much of his youth with the burly and affable former rock manager at his side until he waved goodbye to set of on his professional adventure in cycling.
I spoke to Richard this morning, shooting the breeze about another of his boys, Steve Cummings of BMC who has made the Tour squad after a torrid first half of the season blighted by injury but inevitably the conversation turned to Brad.
“It’s like he’s been marking time,” said Richard “but then again that’s Brad. He knows what he wants and he does what he knows is right for him. He spent all those years in French teams not really racing to be honest. Back then he always told me that all he wanted was gold at the Olympics and as much as I told him he had the engine to win the Tour, it just wasn’t in his sights. Looking back on it I guess all that marking time has been a good thing.”
We will know whether it was good or not in three weeks time as he leads his super strong Sky Procycling team in trying to capture the Tour de France. Meanwhile Wiggins has the whole of Britain’s cycling public holding its breath. This year he has raced far less than many other Tour de France favourites before him, but when he has, he has won. Something is clearly working as Wiggins has taken the Paris-Nice, Tour of Romandy and Criterium du Dauphine stage races on his long, lanky walk toward July and the Tour de France. He may have made it look a bit like a stroll in the park on the TV screen but anyone with any sense of the history of cycling will know that no-one, not even the great Eddy Merckx has managed that in one season.
Wiggins goes to the start line in Liege as the bookies favourite. He is oozing maturity and confidence these days. The brashness and sometime abrasive bravado of the Brad I came across when I started commentating has mellowed and rounded into a deep calm it seems. Not that he will be complacent, far from it, he has Cadel Evans to deal with.
Evans, once voted only his home town’s third most famous sportsmen after a couple of Aussie Rules Footballers despite having made the Tour de France podium for a second time, has many characteristics that the Briton displays as a rider; total focus, quiet dedication and more than a spike or two of prickliness when confronted with a daft question at a daft time. But the one overarching, shared characteristic that Wiggins will feel instinctively most is that Evans is a tough little scrapper on a bike.
Cadel’s confidence too has blossomed in the wake of his world championship title win in Mendrisio and no-one can deny that on last year’s ride into Paris and the Champs Elysses the Austrailian was a popular and worthy winner.
Both can cling on brilliantly in the climbs, both are fearless in the descent, both are mentally like granite, both excel against the clock and both have the ability to ride above and beyond with power for kilometre after kilometre. So what will separate the muscular and knotted Evans from the tall, super smooth pedalling Wiggins?
I can only see two possible weaknesses and both lie with defending yellow jersey.
Wiggins has looked unbeatable in time trials this year, defeating world champion Tony Martin comprehensively in the Dauphine and almost catching Evans on the road in the process. With 90km of time trailing in addition to the prologue in this year’s route, Wiggins may just hold the edge against the clock.
However, possibly the biggest factor in who will be in a better position to win this year’s Tour will be who has the stronger team. I am not sure that BMC have displayed quite the strength and coherence that Sky have demonstrated on the run up to the biggest race of the year and the biggest of Wiggins’ life. In the end it may be the strength of those around the two men that swings the odds, not that Richard is placing any bets yet.
“I’m not putting any money on until after the first week,” he confided in me, “it’s that close. Brad has been so good! Mind you Dave….”
With that we chatted idly about several old friends and left the predictions well alone. He’s right, it’s that close.