So, it's the high-octane position-jockeying lead-out-chaos adrenaline rush of the last two kilometers of a sprint stage after 6 hours of relentlessly boring nothingness that thrills you, eh? Well, as we discussed in our Tour de France in Preview Part Un, the course has got plenty o' excitement for you this year, so let's take a look at the fast men!
Mark "the Manx Missile" Cavendish (OPQS): Strengths: still, I believe, the fastest man on two wheels in a straight-up sprint. And with his incredible palmares, the Tour--especially the Champs-Elysees--is his particular playground. Plus, should his actual legs fail to do the job, he can latch onto Marcel Kittel's jersey with his giant teeth and fling him single-molar-dly into the barriers. Weaknesses: gets totally put out by any sort of argy-bargy or sadistically twisty corners before the finish line. And Cav does *love* a lead-out, so if they've got a problem, so does he. Anyone want to place bets on the first teammates he publicly rips to the press for screwing him over? You're right, it *could* be all eight of 'em at once!
Marcel "Needs a Cool Nickname" Kittel (Giant-Shimano: Strengths: oh come on, who else can possibly seriously challenge Cav right now? He had a great start to the Giro and has looked smashing all year. Plus, despite his size, on a rolling stage that ends as a sprint, he's somehow not quite so knocked out as Cav when he gets there. And oh, that hair! Weaknesses: uh, his team I guess, compared to Cav? It's not like he really needs anyone the last kilometer anyway though!
Andre "the Gorilla" Greipel (Lotto-Belisol): Strengths: no, he's not the silkiest sprinter, but damn, this boy is a *beast*. And, with the German championship fresh under his big sturdy belt, he's got confidence at just the right time. Weaknesses: none. Absolutely none. I suppose you could tag-team up to squeeze him out by leaving him too little room to get through near the finish line, but then, that's only if you're not afraid of the fact that he's been known to kill other riders with a single glance!
Peter "the Tourminator" Sagan (Cannondale): Strengths: that smile. Those eyes. Them wheelies. And a total youthful lack of self-doubt, insecurity, or fear. Plus, he sure can descend, and is pretty well the best bike-handler around. So *that's* what makes the fanboys-and-girls swoon! Weaknesses: on a perfect flat, he's pretty vulnerable. And at--what is he, 12 years old?--he still tends to get overexcited, so the best tactician he ain't. Best to aim for an uphill run to the line and tire out Cav and Kittel's climbing legs 1st!
Elia Viviani (Cannondale): after an inexplicably tough Giro, he's not here for himself, but as Sagan's support man. Maybe a pure flat finish'll give 'im a shot over Sagan though?
Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ): by contrast, after a truly smashing Giro in which he came completely into his own mentally and physically, he's been rewarded by...being left at home?! Screw you FDJ!
Well, them's mine, but as soon as some asshat zips across someone else's line or a numbnut fan gets a little too enthusiastic clapping some gaudy promotional item over the barriers, that's the top 20 guys down in a swearing bone-bruising pile-up and it's game on for some stunned and lucky domestique. May your collarbones all stay intact, may the fastest man win, and the rest of you--no whining when you're beaten! Here, Cav himself causes the chaos on last year's stage 10:
Next up: yeah, you know it--the Climbing Gods, and Peeps We Love (Or Not) Who Are In (Or Out!)