I’m terrible at picking the winners of bike races.
It’s around this time of the year that we cycling bloggers are expected to produce a witty, insightful, and exquisitely crafted 750 words of Tour de France predictions. We tell you who this year’s route favours, we delve into past history for context and texture, and we give a balanced and considered view on who will go home wearing yellow.
Well, some of us do.
Others, meanwhile, get lost in a patchwork of grey areas and permutations, before plucking a plausible winner out at random and working backwards from there to come up with a workable theory. Bike racing, you see, is difficult to predict. As usual this year, there is a small pool of possible overall Tour de France winners to work from: seven, perhaps.
Contador, Froome, Nibali, Quintana, Aru, Bardet, Pinot.
And three of those are serious long-shots. Which leaves four. And two of those, for a variety of reasons, aren’t actually going to win it. Which leaves two. And one of those could easily fall off, or fall ill, or down tools for some other as yet unknown reason.
For the overall win, it’s basically the flip of the coin.
Each day during the Tour de France, along with a small handful at my workplace who allegedly know about these things, I attempt to pick the stage winner. I often spoil it by picking Sagan, which is predictable, so with an ‘anyone but Sagan’ policy now in force I’m back to flailing uncertainty.
If it’s a lumpy, rolling kind of a stage my knee jerk reaction is Philippe Gilbert, because I live in the past. Then someone reminds me he’s not riding the Tour this year so I panic and settle on Julian Alaphilippe because he’s new, and fresh, and his name rolls pleasingly off the tongue
For a mountain stage I’ll just pick one of the overall contenders at random; if Froome hasn’t had his one, single, dominant day yet, then him. Otherwise, someone a bit more wild and reckless like Fabio Aru.
As for the sprint stages, I assume I’m not alone in failing to predict the glorious return to form of Mark Cavendish this year. I was sticking with the Germans; Marcel Kittel for anything that finishes wide and flat like a drag race, and Andre Greipel for the sprints with a few more lumps here and there.
I have a friend who has been rattling on for weeks about Cavendish, and his prospects for this year’s Tour.
“He’s hungry for it this year”, he’s been saying, “and he’s got Eisel and Renshaw…the band is back together…” he would witter. And I would smile sympathetically, and humour him.
And then one day I gave it to him straight.
“Cav’s best days are gone” I pronounced, arrogantly, from my position of failing to predict the winner of every bike race ever. “Not only have his legs gone, but so have Eisel and Renshaw’s…the band might be back together but they’ve forgotten all the old songs. It’s never gonna happen, mate!”
And there we were, half an hour later, watching Cav win stage one at Utah Beach; leaping around, screaming at the telly, and high-fiving. “The band’s back together”, I was shouting gleefully, “look at Cav, he’s super-happy!”
As I said, I’m terrible at picking winners. But since I’ve set myself up as a cycling blogger I suppose I should…
Quintana to win the Tour de France.
By a whisker.