Revenge Is a Dish Best Served Over 21 Stages: look, it's clear who's really in contention here. But, as we know from last year's kit-shredding femur-snappin' carnage, *anything* can happen at the Tour. So who's who, and what're their chances? Let's preview!
Vincenzo Nibali (Astana): yes, he goes first (though not necessarily in rank), he's the !@#damn reigning Tour de France champion! And yes, he was roundly humiliated last year at the widespread suggestion that, but for Chris Froome and Alberto Contador's unfortunate crash-outs, he'd'a been bringing up the rear on the podium. But the slow-n-steady Squalo has won all three Grand Tours, which is more than Chris Froome and 99% of the other guys in the peloton can say, and he's got the wiliest s.o.b. of a team boss in the field, the brilliant, if vicious and unpredictable, Alexander Vinokourov. Strengths: mountain superdomestique Michele Scarponi, who technically won one of Contador's Giros when it got stripped. Weaknesses: is this lineup *really* a squad that can win Nibs the Tour?
Chris Froome (Sky): Sure, he flails around like a drunken windmill, but against all aerodynamic odds, this guy's got game: he's a former winner of the Tour de France, and, even more usefully, knows who and how to throw under the bus to get there. Strengths: his team's been riding um, almost supernaturally well, and with a personal net weight of approximately 6 ounces, the man can *climb*. Weakness: psych-out. What the hell is this princess gonna do to protect his delicate wraith-like skin-sack from the harsh conditions of a 4-star hotel-room mattress now that UCI's put his mobile one-man palace off limits? HOLY !@#$, WHAT IF HE HAS TO SHARE HIS ICE-BUCKET (hell, the *hallway*) WITH SOME LOWLY SLOB DOMESTIQUE? And was Froomey *trying* to lie down for a nice nap in the middle of the roadway 5 times a day last year? Forget setting the pace--the boy needs someone to keep him *upright*!
Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo): Can Alberto Contador be the first man since the legendary Pantani to score the Giro-Tour double? Well, as the Greatest Grand Tour Rider of His Generation, and the good sense to keep his form to himself, he's got a better chance than anyone else would. Strength: he's willing to risk everything on descents that leave the rest of his rivals carefully hugging the roadside, and surprise-attack his rivals at the unlikeliest, yet paradoxically most successful, points on the course. Weakness: no offense Oleg--mostly because you could have me frozen like Han Solo and shipped off to !@#$hole camp in Siberia--but one, wasting a calorie of your other riders' efforts on Sagan could cost you the race, and two even though 'Berto bagged the Giro this year, it sure didn't seem to be because of his team. Nice if you can press Sky into domestique duties again--but since that ain't gonna happen twice in a row, even nicer if your guys bring their *own* A-game!
Nairo Quintana (Movistar): humble, thoughtful, and already a Grand Tour champion at the tender age of what, 25?, Nairo is the purest climber of the lot--a handy characteristic on a course laden with fabled mountains. Even more bitchin', he's a major women's rights promoter in his home country. Strengths: just peerless--peerless I say--in the steepest grades in the world. Weakness: the Tour's a lot more balanced than the Giro. Another wrench: Alejandro Valverde's there to "support" Quintana, which means, so far as I can tell, he's gonna toss 'im to the gutter like a used musette on at least 3 of 5 summit finishes and kneecap 'im entirely for at least 1 stage win. Yeah, he's gonna "help" you like Froome on Wiggins, honey--keep yer eye on that sneaky little bastid, Nairo, you *know* he wants to one-up his 4th place from last year!
Other Guys: Yes, the French rode well last year, scoring 2 podium spots for the first time in well--heck, I wasn't a math major, *you* see if you can count that high. But even the best of 'em was like 8 minutes back last year, so if Nibs even just stays even, and especially if Froome Contador and Quintana don't meet with any major misfortune, they're screwed. And go to hell, Purito's gonna be up there too! I do expect Talansky and Tejay to put up a show, and since Tejay is bringing we love former King of the Mountains Samuel Sanchez, he won't lack for help in the heights. While we're at it, allez allez Rigoberto Uran--after that Giro, you're gonna *need* to do well!
Well, let's hope that between the cobbles, the crosswinds, and just plain breathin' in and out, that all these guys manage to stay outta trouble so we've got a fight worth watching. Me, much as I love king-o'-the-future Quintana and admire the tranquillo Nibs, I'm kinda hoping for Alberto this year--if only so Oleg Tinkov leaves him in one piece at the end of the race in Paris!