Tis the night before the Tour and I'm finally ready to declare my picks for the Overall, Points and Mountains Classifications of the 2008 event. And of course, I will also pick the Lantern Rouge to complete the spectrum. This is setting up to be a pretty interesting Tour and none of these choices was easy.
1) Ricardo Ricco
The Cobra won't be looking at the GC so he will probably be given some extra leash. I anticipate a lot of great quotes and some post-Giro aggression from the fiery Italian. Not to mention a polka-dot jersey to go with those heinous "widows peak" shorts.
1) Erik Zabel
This is a bit of a sentimental pick but for some reason I think the Flat Top will finish in Green for the 7th time. Without Boonen in the mix I see the German veteran being able to make enough of the smaller group finishes to gather a 13th stage win and enough points to distance himself from the likes of McEwen, Hushovd and Cavendish. I see all of these guys getting stages though, in addition to Friere - who could win the Green if he wanted to, but who will focus on stages and then prepare for the Olympics.
Ciolek may make it interesting if he can manage to keep his head still when he sprints. Seriously, keep an eye on that. It's pretty crazy.
1) Denis Menchov
What can I say? I don't really WANT to pick the Russian but I think he has the best resume and will be the most consistent rider over the next three weeks. He knows what it takes to win a Grand Tour (even though he only knew about one of the two Vuelta wins at the time) and his performance in Spain last year was more impressive than anything I have seen Cadel Evans do. I always thought Menchov was the scariest rider in 2006 when Floyd won and I see 2008 shaping up similarly.
2) Cadel Evans
He's got all the tools and has been perhaps exceedingly vocal about his total dedication to improving on last year's 2nd place. But I just don't see it happening. I envision a very close race between Evans and Menchov but the Australian's lack of experience when truly fighting for the lead (he was out of it last year until the final time trial after Rasmussen got canned) will cause him to lose more time in the mountains than he can get back in the time trials.
I just don't see Cadel in yellow when they finish in Paris.
3) Carlos Sastre
The little Spanish climber knows that he is running out of time and will be uncontrollable in the final mountain stages. With the Schleck Brothers waiting to pounce, CSC will likely have some serious cards to play when the groups start to thin out. Somehow I don't see Bjarne letting his new Sexy Back sponsors down and expect to see the red and black off the front a lot over the next three weeks. Jens Voigt presented by Chuck Norris will be getting much camera time.
4) Kim Kirchen
He claimed that he wanted to win the Tour de Suisse but I think his failure to do so may indicate that he will be peaking for the Tour de France. I'm sure Bob Stapleton and the Columbia people hope this is the case. I am also certain the former High Roaders will take their fair share of stages and General Hincapie will be savvy enough to help get Kirchen to Paris among the leaders.
5) Stijn Devolder
This may sound silly but Lance said Devolder could do well - and I think Kate Hudson's current boyfriend may know a thing or two about the Tour de France. Additionally, the Belgian's performances in Flanders, Roubaix and Switzerland were enough to get me on the Stijn bandwagon. I think he will fly under the radar for much of the race and have good enough time trials to jump over the better climbers. I'm bummed that he won't be rocking the Belgian National Champ kit anymore though. That has to be one of the coolest jerseys ever.
- You may have noticed that there are some prominent names left off this list. Without getting too much like the little weird lady in Poltergeist...I see some problems for Valverde which prevent his arrival in Paris (he can't hang for three weeks and bad things will take place), Cunego will crack at least once (and really regret that stupid tattoo eventually), Zubeldia will finish Top 10 (and be invisible) and Christophe Moreau will continue to annoy me (although I could see him challenging for the Mountains Classification...and losing).
The last place finisher of the 2008 Tour de France will be a battle between Wim Vansevenant and Jimmy Casper, both of whom have been manning the caboose on two previous editions into Paris. I see Vansevenant winning/losing this battle, primarily because I don't like the name Casper and I can't really think of much else to guage them on.
Well, those are the picks. If I am right, I will take all the glory. If I am wrong, somebody else messed things up.
FYI - Stay tuned here and at MissingSaddle.com for upcoming interviews and updates with Will Frischkorn of the Garmin-Chipotle squad from the finish of Stage 1 and various other points throughout the Tour de France. I hope I can think of some good questions. Should be interesting.