A quick overview of the contenders for the 2011 Tour de France.
Why he wins Contador has only ridden four Tours de France, winning three (2007, 2009 and 2010) and finishing 31st on debut in 2005. In 2008 Contador didn’t ride the Tour but did ride the Giro and the Vuelta - winning both. Few of his contemporaries could imagine pulling off such a feat and many pundits gave him little chance at the time. But when you are the greatest Grand Tour rider of a generation such a prospect holds few fears. Now in 2011, having won the Giro in May, Contador is once again striving to win a second Grand Tour in the same year. The Giro-Vuelta double is one thing but everyone agrees that the Giro-Tour double is a whole other kettle of fish.
Make no mistake - the 2011 Giro was a beast. The final week so brutal that it may even cost race director Angelo Zomegnan his job. Contador definitely had to dig deep to win - most riders had to dig just as deep to finish - but he was never seriously threatened on GC. There has been a lot of speculation as to whether he will have recovered enough to take out the Tour. And even more speculation as to how well his key lieutenants Navarro, Hernandez and to a lesser extent Porte will have recovered.
The thing that makes Contador such a brilliant Grand Tour rider is not just his climbing and his time trialling but his unmatched recuperative powers day-to-day. If any rider has the physiology to recover well enough to be competitive in a second GT it is surely El Pistolero. Equally, Porte was instructed to keep an eye on his watts and never truly exerted himself until the final time-trial. And while Navarro and Hernandez did plenty of work in the mountains in support of their captain, they were never put in a position where they had to bury themselves day-in, day-out. Why? There was no need. Contador was so dominant in this year’s Giro that both Hernandez and Navarro were able to keep much of their powder dry - leaving them with plenty left to burn in July.
Andy Schleck has been dismissive of the strength of the Saxo Bank team - once again demonstrating that tactically he is a goose. He has underestimated just how fresh the Saxo mountain men will be. He has raised the ire of two proud Danes in Sørensen and Sörensen. And he has underestimated the burgeoning brilliance of Richie Porte. For mine, the likely revelation in this year’s Tour will be Porte and the way Riis motivates him to ride out of his skin on behalf of Contador. Porte is that good, that it could well be his efforts that are telling in the end on behalf of his team leader.
Will Contador win? Of course he will. He’s a freak. A once in a generation Grand Tour rider. The rest of the field will be battling for second.
Why he doesn’t Only two things can beat Alberto Contador this year - fatigue and the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). If Contador really did burn too many matches at the Giro the final week of this year’s Tour may just find him out. It’s not as brutal as the last week of the Giro but in Tour terms it is very tough. The competition at the Tour will be faster and fitter than anyone he faced at the Giro and if he were to falter, there are several riders with the form and strong enough teams to make him pay. Likewise, if the result at the CAS post Tour goes against him - even if he wins, he loses.
Why he wins The precocious younger of the two Schlecks is a supremely talented climber and has at his disposal an absolute juggernaut of a team. His brother Fränk plus Cancellara, Posthuma, Gerdemann, Monfort, Fuglsang and the two old hard-heads Jens Voigt and Stuey O’Grady. If he can’t win with these guys at his disposal he never will - especially given the question mark over Contador’s fitness post-Giro.
Schleck has twice finished second in the Tour, last year missing the top spot on the podium by only 39 seconds. This year he has bet everything on the Tour and in the process has kept any semblance of form well and truly hidden. Other than his 3rd place in Liège–Bastogne–Liège where he was steamrollered by the brilliant Gilbert, his form has been somewhat bewildering. He was appalling at the Tour of California and not much better at the Tour de Suisse but given the massive investment made in him by Team Leopard Trek, surely he and Brian Nygaard must have some secret plan that will have him on form come the Grand Depart.
Schleck’s job is pretty simple really. Stay out of trouble during the early stages and concentrate on finding his rhythm ahead of Stage 12 when the fireworks begin with the stage to Luz-Ardiden. I expect to see the Leopard Trek big boys have a crack on Stages 3, 5 and 6 when there is some chance of the crosswinds blowing and potentially putting the allegedly under-gunned Saxo Bank team of Contador under pressure. If the echelons form it will be the likes of Leopard, Sky and Rabobank who are best credentialed to make some hay.
Just like last year, Schleck must take time out of Contador in the mountains if he is to prevail - and that is no easy task. He must attack early and attack often. If he leaves it all until Alp d’Huez on Stage 19 he will have left it too late. And if he arrives at Stage 20 less than a minute ahead of Contador, El Pistolero will absolutely smoke him in the Time Trial. Game over. Déjà vu all over again.
Why he doesn’t Brian Nygaard is no Bjarne Riis; and Andy Schleck is no Alberto Contador. Riis knows Schleck better than anyone and he will be more than a little motivated to see Schleck brought undone. Riis will relish the opportunity for payback after the carnage wrought upon his Team by the deserters to Leopard Trek and he will not hesitate to turn the screws when he sees his former charge under pressure.
The other big problem for Schleck is his lack of tactical smarts. The way he and brother Frank were completely outthought and out ridden by Gilbert at Liège–Bastogne–Liège was just plain embarrassing. And Leopard Trek got it wrong in a bunch of other races including Paris-Roubaix. If Contador is El Pistolero, then Andy Schleck is Captain Feathersword. He tried to tickle Philippe Gilbert into submission in the Spring and failed miserably. Contador in July will be equally unmoved.
Why he wins The evergreen Australian has been in sensational form all year and has been without a doubt the best performed of all the genuine Tour contenders in 2011. His win in the overall at Tirreno–Adriatico was made even more special by his aggressive, bustling, brilliant win on Stage 6. Equally, the measured, mature, commanding way he went about wrapping up the overall win in the Tour de Romandie was exactly the kind of performance all of his fans will be hoping for in July.
Evans has at his disposal for the first time in 2011 three key ingredients that should make all the difference to his chances. Firstly, he has not just a decent team but a really well balanced team of genuine quality. Some excellent climbers, some big diesels for the flat and the TTT and a captain on the road who is riding his 16th Tour. Secondly, he has a maturity and a confidence born out of his time as World Champion that has finally allowed him to become the team leader he was always capable of being. Finally, he has had exactly the kind of preparation that he wanted - limited, quality racing with no Giro and no undue pressure from his team.
One of the best things going for Evans in this year’s Tour is that once again the Schlecks will underestimate the Australian. Andy’s ego is so large and he has been so constantly dismissive of Cadel’s chances that this may just present an opportunity or two for Cadel to exploit. Yes - another tactical mis-step by Captain Feathersword. In previous Tours, his opponents could count on Evans losing chunks of time in the TTT or being isolated in the mountains - that will not happen this year. Evans will be able to preserve precious energy in the same way his opponents have been able to in previous years and when the opportunity presents itself he’ll attack with the same panache he showed in Mendrisio - then seal the deal in the final time trial.
Why he doesn’t It’s a cruel thing for an athlete to have to recognise that as good as he is, as good as he will ever be, there is another athlete that is better. In the case of Cadel, that other athlete is Alberto Contador. Just like Poulidor was the eternal second and was always denied by Anquetil, Evans is once again likely to be denied by the best Grand Tour rider in a generation.
Why he wins At the start of the year it appeared that Ivan Basso was the man most likely. He was a rider redeemed with an excellently taken win at the 2010 Giro and despite a disappointing 32nd at the Tour, his plan to focus solely on the Tour de France in 2011 was well received by fans. Basso’s early season form was tidy enough - 1st at the GP di Lugano, 4th Overall at Tirreno–Adriatico, and 7th Overall at the Volta a Catalunya - and everything seemed on track for him to be a dominant force in July. Here was a rider with the pedigree to be the first real threat to Contador in a Grand Tour and cycling fans were licking their lips at the prospect.
So can he win? Yes. But a crash in training has cast a shadow over both his preparation and his chances after he fell heavily during a training camp at Mount Etna in May. He resumed racing at the Critérium du Dauphiné where he lost chunks of time to the other Tour de France contenders on nearly every stage. The bookies seem less convinced of his chances now than they did pre-crash but they would be making a big mistake to discount his chances entirely. Why? Because you can’t discount class. Basso is a rider that has finished 2nd to Armstrong in a Tour and ahead of Ullrich. Basso is a rider that can crush rivals on a climb. Not dance away from them like a Contador or a Schleck; but actually grind them into the road through riding at an infernal, uncompromising pace kilometre after kilometre.
Also in Basso’s favour is the strength of his team. Liquigas are always one of the best performers in the TTT and there is a chance that the Italian may take some time on some of his rivals. Equally in his favour is that there is just the one individual time trial in the 2011 edition (not his strongest suit) and this comes after the best part of a week of some truly epic climbing. Basso may be underdone. His preparation may not have been ideal. But in a bike race tough as the Tour, class will always out. And Basso has class in spades.
Why he doesn’t If Basso had the same team at his disposal as he did at last year’s Giro he would be a massive threat. Unfortunately for him, he doesn’t. Nibali is not riding and Kreuziger is now a rival at Astana. Liquigas are light on in the climbing department at this year’s Tour and Sylvester Szmyd is really Basso’s only true mountain lieutenant. In a climber’s Tour like this edition, that is a major disadvantage. Then there is the big question mark over his condition. His preparation has been far from ideal - the only thing in his favour is that he is a notorious slow starter who always grows stronger as the race grows longer. Under normal circumstances his physiology is ideally suited to the tough, climbing final week of this year’s Tour. Unfortunately for Basso, his misadventure on Mt Etna in May could ultimately be the thing that cruels his chances.
Robert Gesink This super climbing talent from the Netherlands is just about every pundit’s smokey for this year’s Tour. A real podium chance and a genuine outside chance for the win, Gesink has an excellent team at his disposal. The 2011 Tour is ideally suited to a rider of Gesink’s capabilities. And with Alp d’Huez included in this year’s parcours, expect a brazillion orange clad Dutchys to be on hand to cheer him to victory atop the fabled finish to Stage 19. Gesink is a rider for the future and maybe, just maybe, the future starts this July.
Brad Wiggins Wiggins has had a text book preparation for this year’s Tour. 3rd Overall at Paris–Nice, 1st Overall at the Critérium du Dauphiné, and then 1st at the British National Champs. The Brit is a brilliant rider when everything goes right. In 2009, everything went right at the Tour and he finished 4th. Last year, lots went wrong and he finished 24th. Wiggins’ plan for 2011 will be to use his finely tuned engine to measure out the climbs of the final week and to time trial his way up the slopes and onto the podium. The big risk is if he tries to attack on the climbs himself or gets suckered into trying to respond to the attacks of the likes of Contador or Schleck. If he does, in all likelihood he blows up and loses time. No podium for Wiggo and he’ll be lucky to finish top 10. If on the other hand he sticks to his game plan and only marks the moves of riders like Van Den Broeck, Danielson or Vino, he stands a chance of finishing in the top 5. His team are good enough to get him into contention. The big question is whether Wiggins is good enough to pay a dividend on all their hard work.
Jurgen Van Den Broeck Fifth place last year, Van Den Broeck looks unlikely to do better than that this year. As in previous years, Omega Pharma-Lotto are far from looking like a team capable of supporting a GC contender all the way to the top step of the podium - something Cadel Evans knows only too well. The Lotto squad are a real mixed bag this year - with the brilliance of Gilbert (who should all but dominate the first week), the ambitions of Greipel (who finally gets his cherished start at the Tour after years playing second banana to Cav) and the usual collection of Belgians who won’t be much use at all to Van Den Broeck in the mountains. Then there is the TTT. Oh dear.
Samuel Sánchez Sammy Sánchez was somewhat of a surprise with his 4th place last year. Make no mistake, he’s a super talent. And he’s more than capable of winning on all kinds of terrain. He’ll have super support in the mountains but there are two significant chinks in the armour of the likeable Spaniard this year. The TTT will do him no favours. And there is every chance he and his slightly built Basque brothers may fall foul of the echelons that could form along the coast in the first week. He’ll make up time in the final week through his climbing and even more with his daredevil descending. Top 5 a distinct possibility once again. Top step of the podium unlikely.
Horner, Kloden and Leipheimer The veteran trio may just surprise us all at this year’s Tour. Horner was sensational at the Tour of California and Leipheimer wasn’t far behind. Excitingly for Chris Horner, he’ll be given the opportunity to have a real crack at the overall - an entirely appropriate reward for his excellent 10th at last year’s race. Kloden has been in his best form for years. 1st Overall at the Tour of the Basque Country, 2nd Overall at Paris–Nice and with a couple of ITT victories as well, Kloden is in the kind of form that could see him on the podium at the Tour for the third time. Leipheimer has promised much at the Tour but has never really delivered - his best result was 3rd behind Contador and Evans in 2007. With Brajkovic also one of Radioshack’s four-pronged assault on this year’s Tour, I get the sense that Levi may end up cast in a more tactical role by Bruyneel, especially in the final week. What does that mean for Levi? Top 10 if he’s lucky.
A quick overview of the contenders for the 2011 La Doyenne
Why he wins Has there been a hotter favourite for La Doyenne since the days of Merckx or even Moreno Argentin? Gilbert hasn’t simply ground his rivals into the road this past week with his stunning victories in Amstel Gold and La Flèche Wallonne, he’s absolutely smashed them to smithereens. Everyone thought he was capable of winning Amstel in the way he did but no one thought he was capable of doing what he did on the Mur de Huy at La Flèche. Wow!
There are only two ways you can win a bike race - with your legs or with your head. The thing everyone loves about Philippe Gilbert is that he consistently uses both. Compare Gilbert’s wins this week with that of Cancellara in the cobbled classics. Cancellara was the strongest rider and the hottest of favourites, yet showed he didn’t have the smarts to find the top step of the podium. God knows what Spartacus was thinking at E3 Prijs Vlaanderen - Harelbeke when he showed up and blew everyone’s doors off. Surely the smarter play was to fake a cough on the start line, complain of a cold and roll over the finish line in 8th. Pressure off and you get to roll out the heroics at Flanders and Roubaix. Equally, you didn’t see Gilbert remonstrate with the Rabobank team car when they refused to ride in the closing kilometres of Amstel, instead he put himself on the front and worked to bring back the dangerous move by Andy Schleck. Smarts? Gilbert has got them in spades. And that’s why regardless of what the other teams throw at him on Sunday, he’ll combine them with his awesome form and the support of a more than handy team and win the ‘monument’ he desires the most - La Doyenne.
Why he doesn’t Gilbert can’t follow every move and just like last year when Vino and Kolobnev got away, there’s a real danger that he might miss out again when the other favourites look at each and don’t help him chase down the counter attacks when they come. The other teams will be keen to isolate Gilbert so expect there to be a flurry of attacks in the closing 50km with Côte de la Redoute at 223km the likely scene of much of the animation as usual. The teams most likely to be active are those with more than one card to play like Leopard-Trek (Schlecks x 2), Team Sky (Gerrans and Löfkvist) Katusha (Rodriguez, Kolobnev and Di Luca) and Rabobank (Gesink and Sanchez Gil). Likewise, Liège-Bastogne-Liège has always been a much more tactical race than either of Amstel and La Flèche, so there’s a strong likelihood of a pretty decent sized break getting away. And just as Cancellera was brought undone by similar tactics in Paris-Roubaix, there is some chance that one of the smokeys in the break steals the main prize, denying Gilbert his trifecta of wins.
Why he wins Defending champ Vino was a real surprise packet at La Flèche on Wednesday - finishing a very impressive 4th behind Gilbert on the Mur de Huy, a climb that you wouldn’t think would usually suit his characteristics. One thing we know about Vino is that he won’t die wondering when it comes to a monument like La Doyenne. And just as he did last year when he launched his winning attack with 17 kilometres to go on the descent of the Côte de la Roche aux Faucons, he is likely to be in the thick of things inside the final 20km. Vino knows that he’ll never beat Gilbert in the uphill finishing sprint so he’ll have to attack and counter attack in order to get away. Working in his favour is that there are a bunch of other riders with exactly the same plan in mind. If the likes of Gerrans, Kolobnev, Di Luca, Tony Martin and the Schlecks all have a crack, Vino will be poised to pounce on the counter at precisely the moment the rest of the field is on the rivet. Can he win Liège a third time? Yes. Yes he can.
Why he doesn’t The one thing Vino doesn’t have at his disposal this year is a team mate of the calibre of Alberto Contador to pull the focus from his own aspirations. Last year, Vino had flown well and truly under the radar, with Contador garnering all the attention after his 3rd behind Evans at La Flèche. In fact it was only after Contador had duped his rivals by launching an attack on the climb of Côte de la Roche aux Faucons that Vino was able to counter on the descent. This year Vino will only be able to make hay on the backs of the other favourites and that is where he is likely to be undone. If he can’t get away and he’s still in the company of Gilbert in the final kilometre, Gilbert smokes him in the sprint.
Why he wins Twice denied by Gilbert this week, the Spanish powerhouse from Katusha is definitely the man most likely to overthrow the King. On paper his team are probably the strongest in this year’s race and given that Liège is much more tactical than either Amstel or La Flèche, having a kick-ass team is why Rodriguez will finally over come his biggest rival. With Omega Pharma-Lotto having to burn matches to hold the break within spitting distance and then to cover the moves in the final 50kms, Rodriguez is the rider likely to have team mates at his side come crunch time. Don’t be surprised to see Rodriguez coming of the wheel of his team mate Di Luca when he finally bests Gilbert on the line.
Why he doesn’t Sure, Rodriguez is good but unfortunately for him Gilbert is great and destined to become one of the greats. There is not a one day race that Gilbert cannot win when he sets his mind to it. I fully expect him to add the likes of Flanders and Roubaix to his palmares before he’s done. Before then, he’ll finally nab La Doyenne. What that means for Rodriguez is another 2nd, his third behind Gilbert for the week.
The Schlecks Frank (3rd twice) and Andy (2009 winner) definitely have the characteristics to upset Gilbert on Sunday. Both have been on pretty good form during the Ardennes classics, though Frank raced without luck at Amstel (crashing behind Spartacus) as things were starting to hot up. As a double act and with the help of in form Fuglsang, Montfort and the irrepressible Voigt, the Leopard-Trek dream team have the firepower to take the race by the scruff of the neck. The only thing missing from the equation this year is having Bjarne Riis at the wheel of the team car. The same guys racing as Saxo-Bank won races by the truck load, yet in their new colours they seem to be lacking the tactical smarts at the decisive point in the race. Andy’s attack in Amstel was a cracker and more like what we’re accustomed to see from him. If Frank stays upright and they have both cards to play at Côte de la Redoute, there’s every chance one of them walks away a winner.
Simon Gerrans After a terrific 3rd place in Amstel Gold last weekend, Gerro rolled his legs over and stayed out of trouble at La Flèche on Wednesday. Near the pointy end of the race approaching the Mur he was happy to let the other favourites smash up the devastating final climb. Of all the ‘monuments’ this is the one that Gerro has had his eyes on. A quite start to the year has him hitting the excellent form at just the right time. The kind of form he displayed in 2009 when he won a bunch of races including stages at the Giro and the Vuelta. The big favourites will be well advised to keep a sharp eye on the Australian. To win he’ll need to take a leaf out of Vino’s 2010 playbook and with Löfkvist as his foil there’s every chance this might just happen. Gerro outsprinting a Katusha and a Schleck the most likely scenario.
Alexandr Kolobnev Second last year, Kolobnev is a key part of the Katusha triple-threat alongside Rodriguez and Di Luca. Just as he did last year, the Russian will need to take advantage of the tactics falling the right way for him. With a likely team mate up the road in the breakaway, Kolobnev will be able to hide out of the wind for the first 200km before having a sniff during the closing climbs. On the counter attack, the punchy Russian has the strength to stay away in the right selection. This year he’ll be hoping to do one better when it comes down to the final mad dash to the line.
Robert Gesink Off the boil somewhat during La Flèche, more was expected of Gesink and his team on Wednesday. Tactically, Rabobank made a mess of things at Amstel, which was somewhat of a surprise as they’re much better known for getting the most out of the hand they’re dealt. Gesink was absolutely super in the early part of the year, winning the overall at the Tour of Oman and then 2nd behind Evans at Tirreno–Adriatico. La Doyenne is precisely the kind of classic that Gesink can and should win. If he gets his chance on Sunday he’s definitely in with a show.
Tony Martin Martin had an absolutely cracking start to the year, winning the overall at the Volta ao Algarve and then claiming the ITT and overall in a brutal edition of this year’s Paris-Nice. Pegged as the likely heir to the Time-Trial throne of Cancellara, there’s every chance that Martin might start adding ‘monuments’ to his palmares in the same way Spartacus has. The tactics will need to go his way but if he is still in the mix at the top of Côte de la Roche aux Faucons, there is every chance that Martin could power away from the field and time trial the final 17km to victory.
Ben Hermans The young Radioshack rider has been terrific all year. First spotted showing his colours on the climbs of the Tour Down Under this year, he won at the Trofeo Inca and then finished 8th at Amstel and 18th at La Flèche. The parcours of Liège-Bastogne-Liège will suit the 25 year-old Belgian more than the other two Ardennes classics and with all the attention on team leader, Janez Brajkovic, Hermans might slip away. A smokey to be sure. But with Nuyens and Van Summeren already flying the flag, smokeys are having an awesome spring in 2011.
A quick overview of the contenders for the 2011 Queen of the Classics.
Why he wins The world’s strongest rider and two-time winner of Paris-Roubaix will be even more motivated this year having been pipped on the line twice this Spring - first by Goss in Milan-San Remo; and then by Nyuens and Chavanel in Flanders. No surprise then that Cancellara dropped his guard ever so slightly in a post-Flanders press conference this week to voice his displeasure: “I lost by trying to win, the others rode only to make me lose. And in the end the one who was always in the wheels won. Congratulations to Nuyens, but for me [winning] like that has no value.” Ouch.
Watching Cancellara ride over the pave is one of modern cycling’s great pleasures. There is something quite mesmeric about the seemingly effortless rhythm of his cadence and how it is capable of producing such brutal power. Changes to the parcours this year are more likely to suit the teams with a powerful rider able to fend for themselves more so than those relying on the tactical advantage of having the strongest team. The addition of the Millonfosse (1.4 km), a new sector of pave just 4km after the critical Trouée d’Arenberg (Forest of Arenberg), means that the team mates of the favourites shelled during the Forest of Arenberg won’t enjoy the luxury of a flat, sealed 10km in order to chase back on. What this means is that Cancellara is likely to find himself out in front one-on-one with the other big names, which is exactly the place he wants to be. All he needs to do is bide his time until Sector 10, the Mons-en-Pévèle (3km) where he rides them off his wheel in exactly the same way he did as last year. Game over. Victory number three in the bag.
Why he doesn’t The ABC Club, ‘Anyone But Cancellara’ are still backslapping themselves after their great victory over Spartacus last week at the Ronde. They’ll fancy themselves again this week but the tactics will need to be different - they won’t be able to rely on Team BMC to do all the work to pull the field back together like it did last Sunday. Once the race hits the Forest of Arenberg and the field splits up, there’ll be no way for the likes of the strong teams to pull it back together which means that the early break will be the only way riders like Chavanel, Cooke, Hincapie, Thomas and Goss can expect to have team mates to help them in the closing stages.
The break(s) will have to go early and I expect them to be large in size with many of the top teams hoping to have at least two riders up the road in order to put them at the service of their team leaders in the closing 70km or so when the big names finally reel the remnants of the breakaway in. If they succeed they can set themselves up for the attack and counter attack and look to grind Cancellara down. They can also be safe in the knowledge that if any of them make it in to the velodrome with Spartacus, they’ll dust him in the sprint.
The other possible factor for consideration is just how much Cancellara will be affected by the heat with the forecast predicting a high of 25°C. He struggled to eat and drink enough during Flanders on a warmish day and complained of cramp in the closing kilometres. It’s also worth remembering that the last time Roubaix was run on a hot day, Spartacus struggled, opening the door for O’Grady to take his famous victory.
Why he wins Perennial favourite and three-time winner already, the one thing Boonen won’t be doing in this year’s race is heading down to the back of the lead group to enjoy a snack at exactly the moment the group hits the Mons-en-Pévèle. For this is precisely what happened last year when Cancellara caught Tommeke napping and rode off in to the sunset to the sound track of Bjarne Riis cackling away in the team car.
And Boonen won’t make the same mistake as last week where his bizarre attack with his team mate up the road was the catalyst for Cancellara to blow the race to bits. His is the most simple of propositions - sit on Cancellara’s wheel all the way to the velodrome and then smash him in the sprint. OK, Tom? Keep it simple and victory is yours.
Why he doesn’t Boonen was super strong last year and he looks in similar nick this year. Unfortunately, he seems to be in the grip of the most severe case of tactical ineptitude seen by a top rider in quite some time. I’m not sure what kind of mind-bogglingly stupid thing Boonen has planned for this year’s race but I’m sure he won’t disappoint - maybe he’ll even try to out-Spartacus Spartacus. Result? Fail. The other problem Boonen has is that previously he was usually the fastest sprinter left at the end but this year he may well be troubled by the likes of Hushovd, Goss, Thomas and Cooke who are all capable of outsprinting the Belgian on their day. If the race unfolds with some of them still in contention, Boonen will not have it all his own way.
Why he wins From the very moment Hushovd pulled on the Rainbow Jersey for the first time in Geelong he has been dreaming about winning Paris-Roubaix clad in the colours of the World Champion. 3rd in 2009 and 2nd last year, Hushovd is primed to climb to the top of the podium on the back of his killer finishing sprint and plenty of ground work undertaken by his team to get him in the right position. The 30km before the Forest of Arenberg will be even more insane than usual given the changes to the parcours this year and Garmin will be able to rely on the speed and sprinting smarts of Haussler and Farrar to ensure Hushovd is well placed. From here on his tactics are similar to Boonen’s. Follow the wheels and then smoke them in the sprint. And let’s not forget that Big Thor doesn’t mind the warmer weather (unlike Cancellara) having claimed his World Championship on a very warm day at Geelong.
My only advice to Garmin would be to ensure that they have hard man Peter Van Petegem at the wheel of the team car and they drop Vaughters off at a nice cafe somewhere. There is history to be made here and you don’t make history at Paris-Roubaix by sprinting for 3rd.
Why he doesn’t If Garmin are slack and inattentive like they were in Milan-San Remo then Thor is in danger of being out of position when they hit the Forest of Arenberg. If you’re in the wrong spot here and get caught up behind a crash then there is every chance that your race is as good as over. Equally, if the Professor is more intent managing risks tactically rather than nailing the argyle to the mast, Garmin will get out foxed and out muscled by teams willing to bet the lot.
Juan Antonio Flecha
Why he wins Mr Consistency when it comes to Paris-Roubaix (3rd in 2005, 4th in 2006, 2nd in 2007, 6th in 2009, 3rd in 2010), Flecha has looked terrific all year. What makes him look even more threatening this year is the quality, experience and depth of his team. Imagine having Arvesen, Barry, Hayman, Hunt, Stannard, Thomas and Wiggins at your service - half of them are more than capable of winning the race themselves given the right conditions.
Sky will be one of the most active teams in the early stages of the race, looking to get the likes of Hayman, Hunt and Stannard in the early break. Hard man Arvesen and powerhouse Wiggins will ensure that both Flecha and Thomas are well positioned as they approach Arenberg. With a little luck, Flecha and GT are in the mix in the closing kilometres with possibly Hayman there to help keep them there. The pair should be able to attack and counter attack to soften-up their rivals, especially Cancellara who they will be hoping is isolated and forced to chase everything. Flecha’s biggest chance will be on the counter attack in the final 20km where he will be hoping that the rest of the front group are looking at each other and hesitate. If he gets 30 or 40 seconds he’s a big chance to stay away and take a victory that has always seemed just out of reach.
Why he doesn’t If he arrives with two or three others at the finish, in all likelihood it will be one of the sprinters like Boonen, Hushovd, Goss or Thomas who dust him up in the velodrome. The other scenario is that Spartacus does what he does best and he’ll have to be content with another top 5 finish a minute or so back.
Sylvain Chavanel For mine, Chavanel’s was the best ride at the Ronde last weekend. Out in front early, he was then the only rider able to stay with Cancellara, before getting checked in the sprint and having to settle for a magnificent 2nd place. He’s been prominent all Spring and there is a lot to like about his chances again this Sunday. His best Roubaix finish was 8th in 2009 but after a brilliant 2010 with two stage wins at the Tour, he has raced with the kind of panache this year that might just net him his first monument.
Fillipo Pozzato After Hushovd, Pozzato seems to be the rider under the most pressure to produce a result in Paris-Roubaix. His Russian paymasters are growing restless. They’re tiring of the negative press around Pozzato as being the great follower; and they must also be somewhat concerned that his negative tactics seem to have rubbed off on the previously furious attacking riding of his Russian team mates. Pippo used to win a lot of races, lately he seems to be settling for 2nds, 4ths and 5ths. It’s amazing what a good rider is capable of when his very livelihood is under threat - this may just be the motivator that Pozzato was looking for and the Italian might just surprise us all.
Matt Goss The number one ranked rider in the world was under the weather at Flanders but with his cold now shaken off and some racing kilometres in his legs in the past week, the super quick, super fast, young Aussie will have a second monument in his sights. Goss isn’t just fast he’s also incredibly tactically astute, capable of keeping himself out of the wind in the early stages of a race and then able to follow the right wheels when the race is opening up and selections are being made. If Goss is still with the big guns 20km from the finish he will be all but unbeatable. This is no 50/1 outsider, the bookies have seriously miscalculated here.
Geraint Thomas Thomas has been flying under the radar somewhat this Spring. He’s been stringing together some tidy performances in support of bigger names this year and his 10th at Flanders was a terrific ride. The young Brit knows how to take a win when he gets his chance and he’ll have some free rein along with Flecha on Sunday as well as the support of a very, very good team. The British National Champ can sprint and if he’s there at the end he is more than capable of pulling off a massive upset.
George Hincapie The old man has looked fantastic all year. He rode his guts out for Evans at Tirreno-Adriatico and has been building and building his form throughout the northern classics. Big George was still there in the thick of it at the end of Flanders last week and ended up finishing a very respectable 6th. Hincapie forms a potent double pronged attack with Ballan and once again they have a stellar squad in support. In fact, this is probably the best team Hincapie has ever had at his disposal for any edition of Paris-Roubaix. And it’s for this very reason that I fancy him as my smokey.
No longer one of the top-line favourites as he has been in previous years, Hincapie’s desire for victory in Paris-Roubaix is unmatched by anyone, Hushovd included. Team BMC is full of smarts, and some very hard men in excellent form. Lelangue will have left no stone unturned in preparation for the race and a victory for Hincapie in this year’s race will be his way of saying thankyou to Hincapie for joining the Team BMC experiment back at the end of 2009.
Baden Cooke This is my double extra smokey with special sauce. Cookie has now spent a couple of years at Saxo Bank under the tutelage of Bjarne Riis as he seeks to turn himself into a genuine one day classics rider. He was great last week at Flanders in support of Nyuens and will be full of confidence after the success of his team mate. Riis will be extremely motivated once again to spoil the party of Spartacus the deserter. If anyone can gee-up a rider to deliver the ride of their life, it’s Riis. And if the bookies were silly enough to frame a price on a Cooke victory I’d be keen to have the smallest of dabbles.
A quick overview of the contenders for the 2011 Tour of Flanders.
Why he wins Cancellara was responsible for ‘the moment’ of 2010 - accelerating up and over the Kapelmuur in last year’s Flanders, blowing the doors off Tom Boonen to take the most impressive of victories. Given the form he displayed in winning E3 Prijs Vlaanderen last weekend, Spartacus has given every indication that he’s primed to dish out exactly the same kind of treatment to the rest of the field this year. When he’s on form he is unstoppable, indeed, even punctures and equipment failures couldn’t bring him undone last weekend. The strength and smarts of his team shouldn’t be underestimated either, typified by the likes of Stuey O’Grady, a tough nut on great form himself who reads a race as well as anyone in the peloton. Cancellara’s team mates will protect him all the way to the Molenberg before the big Swiss barges his way towards the front and grinds the opposition into the cobbles. Another ‘monument’ in the bag for Spartacus.
Why he doesn’t The ABC Club. ‘Anyone But Cancellara’ will be the motto of the other 24 teams on the start line. Tactically, the only way anyone other than Cancellara wins is for all the other teams to be constantly on the attack and ensuring that it is his team, Leopard-Trek, that has to close down all the moves. If the other contenders mark each other out of the contest, Cancellara smashes them in the last 20 kilometres or so - I’m looking at you Pozzato. It is imperative that Cancellara and his team be forced to spend more petrol than they would prefer to in the first 200kms. Breakaways, more breakaways, counter attacks and even the kitchen sink - throw the lot at him. And there are plenty of teams with multiple cards to play that will be more than willing: BMC, Garmin, HTC, Omega Pharma-Lotto, Sky and Katusha the teams most likely.
Why he wins His brilliance in one day races over all kinds of parcours is unmatched in today’s peloton. Gilbert wins big races - not just because he has the legs but also because he has the smarts. Even more importantly, he has the panache to combine the two to deadly effect. Third in the last two editions of the Ronde, it is inevitable that that this brilliant Belgian cyclist will one day claim this most famous of Flandrian classics. And if any cyclist is to prosper from the efforts of the ‘ABC Club’ it in all likelihood will be Gilbert. He can get himself into breakaways but it will be on the counter attack where he stakes his claim - powering away from the front of the field while Cancellara watches on in frustration as the ‘ABC Club’ refuse to chase down one of their own.
Why he doesn’t There will be others seeking to benefit from the counter attack: Ballan, Flecha, Nuyens, Chainel and the Russians of Katusha especially. Gilbert is too classy to chase them down and tow Cancellara back into the race Pozzato style. That’s why he’ll finish 3rd for the 3rd straight year.
Why he wins I love the way this guy rides his bike and the way he looks when he’s doing it. A former winner of the Ronde in 2007, the 2008 World Champ is bristling with the kind of form that brought him those kinds of victories. Ballan is a wonderful team man, brilliant on behalf of Evans in Tirreno–Adriatico this year, he has a hugely experienced team who will bury themselves for the likeable Italian this weekend. Five of his team mates have finished in the top ten at Flanders previously and Team BMC will look to play all of these cards at some stage in their efforts to soften up Cancellara. Ballan has been one of the great animators this spring with his only consolation a 2nd behind Gilbert at Montepaschi Strade Bianche and a 4th at Milan-San Remo. When the action hots up inside the final 60km expect to see Alessandro in the thick of it again. The reward for his efforts this time will be the sweet, sweet taste of victory.
Why he doesn’t Cancellara has his day and the sprinters snag the minor placings in the bunch sprint a minute back. Alessandro finishes top five behind Boonen, a Garmin and Matty Goss.
Why he wins Up until last year, if you were assembling a rider to win the Ronde out of spare parts laying around it would look uncannily like Tom Boonen. Boonen is a two time winner at Flanders - a cobblestone classics star with the power to get over climbs like the Kwaremont, Molenberg and the Muur-Kapelmuur and then unleash a finishing sprint to dust all his rivals at the end of 260km. Then along came Cancellara. If you were assembling a rider to win the Ronde these days, he now looks exactly like Spartacus. Boonen won’t be dismissed that easily this year, though. Tommeke was the other rider to win big last weekend, taking out Gent-Wevelgem and a swag of World Tour points for his Quickstep team in exactly the kind of way we’ve become used to at this time of year. Quickstep have more cards to play tactically this year compared to 2010 and they’ll have someone in the break early and on the counter later. Their number one plan will be to have Boonen out kick Gilbert and Cancellara in a small group and hope the Garmin three don’t spoil the party. Boonen is in just the right kind of form to do it too.
Why he doesn’t If either of Hushovd, Haussler, Farrar or Goss are still there for the sprint finish, Boonen misses out. If the counter attack in the last 40km gets away, Boonen misses out. If Cancellara has his way again, Boonen misses out.
Matt Goss The march towards greatness of Matt Goss may well take another massive step forward this weekend. His brilliant win at Milan-San Remo this year stamped him as one of the brightest new stars in the cycling firmament. This guy can sprint; he can climb and then sprint; and he can climb, ride 300km and then outsprint some of the biggest names in cycling. If you can do that, you can win the Ronde. Unfortunately for Goss he’s been struggling with a cold for the past week or so and that may leave him a little underdone. On the plus side, the pressure is off him and his team after his victory at Milan-San Remo; and there will be lots of other teams expected to rough-up Team Leopard-Trek, meaning Goss and HTC-Highroad can follow the wheels, stay out of the wind and aim to dust them in the bunch kick.
Juan Antonio Flecha If the break or the counter attack is the tactic that succeeds in loosening Cancellara’s grasp on this year’s race, it’s hard to discount Flecha who is a dab hand at both. There’s a lot to like about Flecha’s form this year. Slowly building in intensity since Qatar and Oman, the Spaniard is usually in the right place at the right time come April. Team Sky look very strong on paper and much like BMC and Ballan, Flecha and his team mates will be knee deep in the tactical battle to upset Leopard-Trek. With a little luck, this card carrying member of the ‘ABC Club’ may just have the last laugh, just as long as Pozzato doesn’t breach the trust.
The Garmin Three Hushovd, Haussler and Farrar are all capable of winning this race. Unfortunately, the one day classics dream team that was spawned out of the merger between Cervelo Test Team and Garmin haven’t had the luck or the success many predicted at the beginning of the year. They’ve got the right kind of team to play different cards throughout the race and I expect them to be in the thick of action early, insisting that at least one or two of their men are in the break. Garmin need to unleash their inner mongrel. No more Mr Nice Guys. They need to smash ‘em and bash ‘em and enforce their will on this race; not sit mid-field and fall victim to crashes and bad luck and poor planning like they have in previous weeks. If only Hushovd, Haussler and Farrar had Matty White in the team car yapping at their heels. If they did, they’d be all but certainties - and for that, Vaughters has only himself to blame. For mine, Farrar is the man most likely - his best bet, outsprinting the likes of Flecha and Ballan from the small group that gets away on the counter attack.
Nick Nuyens In form, this smokey might surprise the big guns with the same kind of guile he used to win Dwars door Vlaanderen in a late breakaway a couple of weeks ago. His team mates are talking him up and he’s the kind of rider with the strength and bunch kick to make some hay if given even the slightest hint of sunshine.
A quick overview of the contenders for the 2011 Milan-San Remo.
Why he wins Haussler has looked very impressive since the start of the year - his back-to-back stage wins in the Tour of Qatar are testament to that. Even more impressive was the ease with which he won the Paris-Nice Stage 4 bunch kick for 5th on the Day Voeckler and his cohorts stayed away. For mine, just about the best taken bunch sprint of the year in a season which has already thrown up some super wins for all of the top line sprinters starting way back at the Tour Down Under Cancer Council Classic. Haussler’s frustration at not actually taking the stage win that day as well as having to settle for a string of high-placed finishes that should have been victories will have added extra motivation.
HH knows that Milan-San Remo is his one big chance for the Spring - the downside of being a member of arguably the hottest one day classics team in the World Tour alongside Hushovd and Farrar. In fact, Garmin are so strong they even have a Plan D in Roger Hammond and Plans E through G with Klier, Van Summeren and Matt Wilson. Impressive. Fortunately for Haussler, Hushovd has eyes for one big prize this Spring - winning Paris-Roubaix whilst wearing the rainbow jersey. Hushovd needs Haussler to ride for him in April and that is why he’ll ride for Haussler in la classica di Primavera. Likewise Farrar will get his crack at the Ronde van Vlaanderen (a race I’m convinced he will win one day) and needs the help of both Hushovd and Haussler there and later in his lead out train for the Tour de France.
Much has been made of Haussler’s narrow loss to Cavendish two years ago. Whilst it certainly serves as an additional motivator to the young Australian, it’s worth remembering that Haussler was actually meant to be riding for Hushovd (3rd) that day. Hushovd was furious at his team mate for costing him what he felt was a certain victory. Ironically, by riding for Haussler in 2011, Hushovd will guarantee the loyalty of his team mate on the cobblestones of Paris-Roubaix. A bargain in every sense of the word as far as Hushovd is concerned.
Why he doesn’t Tactics. Although Garmin will be riding for a Haussler win, during the race they will need to play different cards at different times as the race unfolds. This includes having someone like Wilson or Hammond in the early break which can get out to a lead of 20+ minutes, to having riders like Van Summeren and Klier covering early moves on the three closing climbs and then having Hushovd and Farrar watching for moves by the likes of Gilbert and Pozzato on the Cipressa and the Poggio. Regardless of how the race plays out, I expect that a member of Team Garmin-Cervelo will be the winner - it just might not be Haussler.
Why he wins Former winner, Freire has been flying under the radar in the lead up to the race he has won three times since 2004. This kind of preparation usually means he’s about to pull a big one out of the bag. In the case of Freire this usually means victory at Milan-San Remo or at the World Championships, a race he has also won three times. Also in the Spaniard’s favour, Rabobank have had their most impressive start to the year in a very long time; and with the inclusion of Lars Boom and Michael Mathews and a bunch of Dutch hardmen, Rabobank are one of the few teams that can look to match Garmin tactically. Freire’s fast finish and his strength at the end of 300km of racing are well documented. His secret weapon, however, is his guile - and it is this that he’ll use to win his latest ‘Monument’.
Why he doesn’t The next generation of sprinters and one day stars have been snapping at Freire’s heels for a couple of years now and 2011 is the year they gobble him up. Haussler, Farrar, Goss, Cav, Sagan, EBH and even team mate Boom are the kind of riders that are going to make it difficult for Freire to pad out his already impressive palmares.
Why he wins Cav surprised everyone when he won la classica di Primavera back in 2009 - everyone other than himself that is. Expertly shepherded over the Cipressa and the Poggio by his team, Cav picked Heinrich Haussler’s pocket right on the line. At just 23 years of age, the pundits didn’t think Cav would have the strength to be in contention at the end of the 300km - just as many of them (myself included) are discounting the chances of his team mate Goss and the other young Australian, Michael Mathews.
Whist Cav hasn’t been blessed with sparkling form in the early part of the year, he still has in his possession the two attributes that have made him such a superstar: his steely-eyed determination, and the fastest finishing sprint in the business. Cav loves nothing more than proving people wrong. The more people he proves wrong, the better. Expect him to do it once more with feeling.
Why he doesn’t Something is messing with Cav’s mojo at the moment. There has been much talk about how happy (or unhappy) he may or may not be with his current team. Although he loves and respects his team mates (Renshaw, Eisel and Grabsch in particular) there is quite a bit of speculation about just how little he is being paid by HTC-Columbia given his true market value. Having watched him drag his arse around bike races in Australia, the Middle East and Europe for the past three months, his face permanently in grimace, it’s difficult to see him get himself over the always decisive Cipressa and the Poggio with the main contenders.
Why he wins His brilliance in one day races over all kinds of parcours is unmatched in today’s peloton. As usual, he’s on super form at this time of the year and he’s one of the few riders other than the sprinters who can genuinely fancy themselves to win this year. He will have noted the victory by Pozzato in 2006 and especially that of Cancellara in 2008 to know that it is not mission impossible. He’ll need to attack on either the Cipressa or the Poggio, or knowing him, possibly even both, to win. Who he has for company over the closing kilometres determines his chances. If he has a couple of Katushas, a Rabobank and a Leopard Trek get away with him, they’ll have the firepower to stay away and he’ll outsprint them at the finish. If he arrives at the finish with all the big sprinters, they’ll dust him.
Why he doesn’t It’s rare for a non sprinter to take the spoils at Milan-San Remo and the quality of this year’s field all but assures that a sprinter will win it this year. Gilbert is good, no great. But even his greatness is no guarantee.
Matt Goss Goss will be a protected rider this year, with HTC-Highroad taking out some insurance on an out of sorts Cav. For mine, I have a big question mark over the still relatively young Goss having the firepower to win the sprint after 300km of racing. Having said that, I’m convinced it is a race he will win one day, and quite possibly more than once. I’m just not sure 2011 is his year.
Fabian Cancellara Spartacus is one of several former winners in the field (Freire, Boonen, Pozzato, Cavendish and Petacchi) who must be considered a genuine chance. Like Gilbert, Cancellara will need to get away as he did in 2008 if he is to have any chance of victory. Unfortunately, his form has been a little patchy this year and I suspect this year’s MSR is more about training for Flanders and Roubaix than it is genuinely pressing for the win. That’s why he’ll ride for Bennati.
Allan Davis Alby has a pretty decent team at his disposal and has been in the mix at MSR on several occasions. There are other riders more fancied but another podium finish and even a win are definitely possible.
Alessandro Petacchi Petacchi is another former winner that needs to be considered. Unfortunately for Ale Jet, a bout of illness this week all but rules him out. You have to be 100 per cent fit to win here, even 95 per cent won’t cut it.
Peter Sagan Another youngster that might struggle with the distance but he’s a classy bike rider in the process of building a formidable palmares. Maybe, just maybe, Milan-San Remo may be its latest addition.
Greg Van Avermaet A bit of a smokey but this guy is tough and has a genuine sprint that could hold up pretty well at the end of 300km in the right conditions. He also has a damn good team riding at his disposal, with Ballan and Burghardt not without a chance as well.
Much is being made of the fact that because Robbie McEwen won the National title in 2005 any sprinter can win on that course. Significantly, what they neglect to also consider is the kind of year Robbie went on to have (his most successful ever) and the manner in which he won that race and who he had riding in support.
In addition to winning the National title in 2005, Robbie won three stages of the Tour, three stages of the Giro (including wearing the Maglia Rosa), Paris-Brussels, three stages of the Tour Down Under, and two stages and the overall in the Bay Classic. Some year, huh? Yep, McEwen was at the absolute peak of his powers.
The start list for the 2005 National race comprised only 98 elite riders (compared to 194 in 2010) and only a smattering of them were riding at the absolute top level of the sport. On the third lap these top 25 or so riders broke away with Mick Rogers the only big name to miss the break.
On the 11th lap Robbie attacked taking with him team mate Cadel Evans, Paul Crake (climber) and Rob McLachlan. In the closing lap Cadel buried himself for Robbie in order to stop Crake and McLachlan attacking. Robbie then dusted them in the sprint. McLachlan 2nd and Crake 3rd. Far from a typical McEwen win.
The notion that a sprinter can win on the current Buningyong course in a field of almost 200 these days is bunkum.
There’s a reason that the Tour de France doesn’t just race up L’Alpe d’Huez every day for 21 days. It’s the same reason that the Giro d’Italia doesn’t race up Monte Zoncolan for three weeks. Why? Because the professional peloton is made up of riders like Mark Cavendish, Fabian Cancellara, Thomas Voekler and Cadel Evans. Riders with different physiological characteristics who are all suited to different disciplines - sprinters, time trialists, rouleurs and grimpeurs. There’s also another reason - the racing would become predictable, one note, and boring after a time.
I love the fact that I can watch Cav, perfectly led out by Mark Renshaw, win on the Champs Elysses; that I can see Cancellara race and win a TT around Monaco; watch Voeckler cut loose in the Massif Central in the third week of a tour when the legs of the sprinters are tiring; and sit up late to see the fireworks as the GC favourites battle it out in the climbs of the Alps and the Pyrenees. Yes, that’s right, I don’t want to see the same type of rider win every stage of the Tour. I want to see all different kinds of racing with all the different kinds of tactics required given a chance to play out - and see the best riders in the world all get a chance to claim a Tour stage win, the most famous of victories.
It’s not just the Grand Tours that recognise the need for races to have different characteristics, the one day classics also ensure there are plenty of high profile, highly sought prizes for different kinds of riders. Cav will never get over the lumps to win the Giro di Lombardia. Alberto Contador is unlikely to ever ride let alone win Milan-San Remo. We’ll never see a Schleck brother in Paris-Roubaix but they’ll always shine in Liège–Bastogne–Liège. Some riders will shine on different kinds of parcours but they’re a rare breed. Philipe Gilbert is one such rider. The recently crowned Australian National Champion Jack Bobridge may be another.
The need for variety is also recognised by the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI). Each year the World Championships rotate from city to city - and the route profile changes as well. Cadel Evans won in Medrisio in 2009; gave it a real crack in Geelong in 2010 but acknowledges that Copenhagen in 2011 does not suit him and the Australian team should be built around our best sprinters. This is exactly as it should be.
The other benefit to cycling more generally of this approach is that it helps grow the sport - something that is part of the UCI’s charter. Cycling fans (and potential fans) from around the world get a chance to see the best cyclists in the world race in and around the streets they ride on themselves. The huge success that was the Geelong World Championships was a massive shot-in-the-arm for cycling in Australia and it’s critical that the cycling hierarchy and promoters within Australia continue to build upon it - especially the high profile events like the Tour Down Under, the Herald Sun Tour and the National Championships.
Unfortunately, when it comes to the Australian National Championships, the organisers see it completely differently. Their continued belief that the National Championships is best served by racing over the same parcours year-after-year seems both short sighted and self-indulgent. They argue that if a sprinter wants to win the National Championship then they should train harder which is patently ridiculous.
I don’t care how hard Mark Cavendish trains, he is never going to win Liège–Bastogne–Liège or La Flèche Wallonne. And for the organisers of the National Championship to insult riders of the calibre of Robbie McEwen (one of Australian cycling’s great servants and one of its most winningest riders) and Mark Renshaw along these lines suggests they appear to have their own interests at heart rather than the interests of all Australian cyclists and the future of Australian cycling more generally.
An Australian National Championship that rotated across two or even three different parcours seems the most logical solution. Keep the current course at Buninyong as it is perfect for the rouleurs and the grimpeurs (though the real climbers might like it even tougher). And there needs to be another course more suited to the sprinters - a discipline that Australia has an abundance of riches in - as I for one think the likes of Matt Goss, Mark Renshaw, Brett Lancaster, Graeme Brown, Jono Cantwell or CJ Sutton would all be worthy champions.