As a fan of Euro cycling, even as a devoted lover of the spring classics, you have to acknowledge the grand daddy of races, Le Tour. Here are some thoughts.
Parcours (Course, for you newbies) - I have paid no attention to the course this year. Don't have a reason, just haven't. It sounds like the mountains are pushed back into the last week, but I don't know for sure. What I do know is that after a couple of days of sprints, I am ready to see some climbs. I think they want to leave the suspense of who will win until later in the race, so they collect the mountain stages late, but they seem to have lost sight of the suspense we all experience now. For instance, we still don't know if Contador won in 2010. How much more suspense can we stand?
Contador - So speaking of Contador . . . First, I admit I don't like him. I did like him when he was an earnest, back from brain surgery, young guy, but then he turned into a prick. Not just from winning, but from clearly expressing the idea that he was wonderful and only occasionally remembering to try to temper this with the most clear forms of false modesty. You would think that I would hate Cavendish for the same reason, but Cav's bravado is so brash it is comical and his humility and appreciation for his team seems genuine. Contador acts as if his team is irrelevant (and it appears to be, frankly) and he spins away from everyone so easily it is almost like he is cheating. What? Anyway, hate him or love him, it is ridiculous that the process to determine his guilt or innocence from the 2010 race won't be concluded until AFTER the 2011 race. I do, however, predict that 2011 will provisionally be his race. And I expect him to dominate it. Again.
Andy Schleck/Franck Schleck - I don't think the Schleck brothers are at the same place they were in 2010. Frank not only didn't win the Tour de Suisse this year, but he wasn't in contention. As for Andy "hiding" his form - I don't know. They didn't look good in the Tour of California and didn't look good in Switzerland. I will be surprised if their form suddenly appears in July well above were they were in June. I get training; I get that you only have a peak or two; but come on - from getting dropped by domestiques to throwing everyone off? I will be suspicious. And I hate that. In either case, I don't think either is showing podium strength.
Speaking of suspicious - Leipheimer and Horner - Horner is a great, blue-collar, tough luck story that has been two decades in the making. I think he suffered for not kissing Armstrong's ass for a long time and he is atypical of Euro-pro Americans in that he doesn't like being in Europe. He likes racing there, but training and living at home. Anyway, I think it is great he is having the best years of his career and hopefully will get some well-deserved recognition in the States for his ability now that the mega-watt lights of Armstrong have dimmed and the media can find another rider or two. Between Horner and Leipheimer, it will be interesting to see who is stronger and comes up with the podium spot, but I predict one of them will.
Vande Velde and Wiggins - I am lumping these two together because they strike me as similar guys - hard working, nice blokes. Very different in other ways and admittedly Wiggo has a much classier palmares, including Olympic gold on the track. They will be similar, however, in that their teams and fans will be doing everything possible to get them on the podium and it won't happen for either. Or Ryder Hesjedal, I'm sorry to say. Or Tejay Van Garderen, I'm also sorry to say, but hopefully someday for Ryder or Tejay, North Americans to remember.
Hushvold - Speaking of team dynamics (I was with Wiggo and Vande Velde), what happened with Thor's big panties getting into such a bunch this year? I guess he is old-school Euro and it hasn't meshed with Vaughters. It's too bad, but I do expect the God of Thunder to roar to a win in a tough, uphill-ish group sprint. And then I will put money on him making a switch to another team next year.
Other sprinters - Cavendish has been slow to form this year, but after hauling himself over the Swiss Alps, I think he will be ready for the Tour and the points competition changes will favor him in Green. Farrar - I think Weylandt's death has slowed Tyler this year - look for him to come roaring back next year. Sagan - Not a sprinter, but winning sprints - look for him to pull out a win or two from a small to medium size group, but it could be flat and fast or it could be uphill - a wunderkind.
Conclusion - So I have predicted Contador to win, Horner or Liephiemer on the podium. Who will join them? Not sure yet, but I can tell you after the prologue. Oh, there isn't one this year? That will make it harder, but I will ponder it and get back to you.