6 Reasons to Watch the 2012 Tour De France

Michael Hatamoto@MhatamotoContributor IIIJune 19, 2012

6 Reasons to Watch the 2012 Tour De France

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    The Tour de France is the pinnacle of the cycling season: the three-week grand tour draws the most international attention, and simply winning one day can make a rider’s career. 

    The 2012 Tour de France will be the 99th edition of the famed race, and runs from June 30 to July 22.  Starting in Liege, Belgium and ending on the Champs-Élysées in Paris on the final day, riders will battle hot, flat stages, over 100 kilometers of time trials, and a showdown in the high mountains will take place.

    There will be “25 mountain level two, level one or highest level mountain passes or summit finishes” in this year’s race. 

    The 2012 Tour will feature the following:

    1 prologue
    2 rest days
    2 ITTs
    4 medium mountain stages (one summit finish)
    5 mountain stages (two summit finishes)
    9 flat stages

    Let's take a look at six reasons you'll want to tune in.

Don't Forget About the Other Jerseys!

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    In addition to the yellow jersey awarded to the general classification leader, there are three other jerseys that riders can compete for over three weeks.

    The maillot vert (green jersey) is for the points classification, with points awarded to the top-ranked riders at the finish of flat stages.  Not as many points are available in the mountain stages, and there are intermediate sprint points out on the course.

    The maillot à pois rouges (King of the Mountains) polka dot jersey is available for the first handful of riders to reach the summit of climbs, and tends to be a hotly contested jersey.  Expect a solid climber that is allowed up the road in a breakaway to try and earn the jersey.

    The final jersey is the le maillot blanc (white jersey) for the highest-placed rider under the age of 26 riding the Tour.  Andy Schleck has won the white jersey on three separate occasions, as the RadioShack-Nissan-Trek rider hopes to switch to yellow next year.

    There is so much to watch during the Tour de France, even casual viewers should be able to find a storylinee—and a hero or villain—to cheer for throughout July.

Is This the Final Time We See Team RadioShack-Nissan-Trek in Le Tour?

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    Team RadioShack-Nissan-Trek expected to work for GC contender Andy Schleck, but the climber suffered an injury and won’t be able to participate.

    To make matters worse, the USADA’s investigation into Lance Armstrong could spell the end of RadioShack-Nissan-Trek boss Johan Bruyneel's career. Tensions between Bruyneel and both Schleck brothers may lead to the brothers abandoning the team at the end of the year, according to sources.

    Also, Jakob Fuglsang is not happy with being overlooked for a spot on the Tour team, even though he’s a solid climber and would be a great aid to the highest placed RadioShack-Nissan-Trek rider. 

Peter Sagan Gives Us a Glimpse of the Future

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    Watching the 2012 Tour de France may help viewers observe young rider Peter Sagan from Team Liquigas come full-circle, as the 22-year-old looks to add to his already impressive pro career. 

    The young rider has more than 30 pro wins, including five wins and the points classification of the 2012 Tour of California, along with four stage wins and the points classification at the 2012 Tour de Suisse.

    During the classics season, he finished third during the Amstel Gold race, second during Gent-Wevelgem, fourth at Milan–San Remo and fifth at Tour of Flanders.  At such a young age, he still has a few years before he enters his prime, which must be an absolutely frightening thought for his opponents.

    Sprint rival Andre Greipel said Sagan is the “one guy who can win the points jersey,” awarded to the points classification leader.

    It should be a blast to see how he does during the Tour, because we'll be seeing a lot of him in the future.

Cheer on the Unsung Heroes, Underdogs

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    Riding almost every day for three weeks can help generate unexpected heroes and gives underdogs the chance to fight for glory.

    Case in point:  Team Europcar’s Thomas Voeckler, a French cycling hero, held the Maillot jaune from stage 10 to 19 during the 2011 Tour de France.  Every day he wore the jersey, he fought to defend it to the best of his ability, and earned the praise of French commentators and other riders in the peloton.

    He picked up the yellow jersey by launching an attack and becoming established in a breakaway, and then survived a scary collision with a media support car.  He didn’t get the stage win, finishing in second behind Luis Leon Sanchez, though Voeckler was able to get the yellow jersey.

    Every rider serves a purpose during the Tour, and tend to be important pieces to a complicated puzzle—and occasionally can strike gold.  A single stage win can make a rider’s career, so it’s important to ride well and be prepared for anything.

The Fight for the Green Jersey for Sprinters

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    All eyes tend to be on the fight for the yellow jersey, but the sprinters will have nine flat stages to battle it out—and sprint points along the way throughout the threeweek tour. 

    In past years, the stages seemed somewhat boring, with Mark Cavendish simply winning stage after stage on the flatlands, but this year could be drastically different.

    Before we jump into it, it's worth noting that Garmin-Barracuda's Thor Hushovd is still recovering from illness, while Omega Pharma-Quick Step's Tom Boonen is skipping the Tour to focus on the Olympics and World Championship.

    Team Sky's Mark Cavendish has virtually looked unstoppable in past Tours, collecting 20 Tour stage wins to date.  The Manx Missile also won the sprinter’s green jersey last year, and looks to add to that collection.  It would seem almost foolish to count him out of collecting at least two stage wins.

    Despite being the best sprinter in the peloton, there are still a couple of questions that will be answered on the road.  First, Team Sky will look after GC hopeful Bradley Wiggins, and Cavendish might not have his traditional lead out train to chauffeur him to the finish line.  Can he jump past another sprinter if he's sneaks into another rider's slipstream?

    Secondly, Cavendish is training for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, and has lost almost 10 lbs., which may have a negative influence on his sprint finish.  Has he lost some pure sprint power?  We’ll find out on stage 2, which will be completely flat for the fast men of the peloton.

    Liquigas has Peter Sagan, a 22-year-old Slovakian rider with extremely fast sprint power.  He completely dominated the Tour of California, winning the points jersey and five individual stages.  Following an impressive performance in California, Sagan went to the Tour de Suisse, where he won the points classification and three stages plus the prologue. 

    Lotto Belisol rider Andrei Greipel will finally get a chance to battle former teammate—and now rival—Cavendish in the sprints.  Greipel will be aided with at least four riders dedicated to helping him on the flat stages, so he’ll be able to contend well against Cavendish.

    Team Katusha’s Oscar Freire is on good form and will have the green light to chase after stage wins, and the rider has four stage wins and a green jersey already on his resume.  If his legs are good, he’s able to compete with the best of the best.

The Overall General Classification Battle

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    Alberto Contador is still serving a doping sentence, and Andy Schleck is injured, but that may open up the GC race further.

    Team BMC’s Cadel Evans has to be the heavy favorite to repeat his success last year, though he’ll have to battle it out with several contenders.  The entire BMC squad will be focused on keeping him out of trouble during flat stages, and helping him as much as possible in the mountains.  If rivals want to win the Tour, then they will have to work to drop Evans and open significant time gaps.

    Team Sky’s Bradley Wiggins will certainly be in the mix, especially after an impressive Criterium du Dauphine victory.  I’m still not fully convinced Wiggins can win, but his climbing has drastically improved and his time trial abilities are still top notch.  It should be interesting to see how Team Sky splits duties between Mark Cavendish’s stage win and green jersey ambitions and Wiggins looking to win GC.

    Garmin-Barracuda’s Ryder Hesjedal, impressive winner of the Giro d’Italia, likely won’t be able to win the Tour de France after such a hard effort in May.  However, he’s proven to be a strong climber and solid time trial rider, so who knows what to expect from him starting later this month.

    Frank Schleck, the older brother of Andy Schleck, is the likely GC contender for Team RadioShack-Nissan-Trek, but has been riding at peak form for quite some time, so it’s unlikely he’ll be able to stay at that elite level for three weeks.  If Schleck falters, RadioShack-Nissan-Trek has Andreas Kloeden and Chris Horner available to try and shake things up when looking for stage wins or a high GC ranking.

    Katusha's Denis Menchov will give everything he has to compete for a high GC ranking, and the Russian rider has finished in third place on two occasions.

    Movistar will have Alejandro Valverde, Rui Costa and Juan Jose Cobo able to ride freely, and other teams won't be able to mark all three.

    Rabobank’s Robert Gesink, Lotto-Belisol’s Jurgen Van Den Broeck, and Omera Pharma-Quick Step’s Levi Leipheimer will try to race towards high GC rankings.  Lampre-ISD’s Michele Scarponi had a bad Giro d’Italia, and is seeking a strong performance in July, so look for him to be on the attack any time the roads point uphill.

    It should be an interesting battle with two of the best climbers unfortunately unable to ride the Tour de France this year.