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Tour de France preview

The first post-exposure of Lance Tour de France should be an interesting one. Are riders all clean? Will Brits be as interested now that a) Wiggins has won the race and b) withdrawn due to illness? Is it the dawn of a new era? Taking to the keyboard in the first of a few Tour de France previews I'll have over the next few weeks is Kieran Kenneally, @kierankenneally, who turns out to have been a bit of a lycra addict himself...


Tour de France

I once had a friend follow me in his car while I cycled an old racer bicycle. It was a flat road about half a mile long. I told him I would increase speed gradually "in the saddle" up to slightly over 30mph. At this point I would sprint out of the saddle flat out for as long as I could ( approximately 200yrds) and could he tell me what speed I hit? I know, it's not exactly the most accurate method of doing it but at the time I had no other. The answer I got was 43mph!

It's the late 80s, I'm in my early twenties and we're coming to the end of the golden era of Irish cycling. I'm testing myself! I cycle 25 miles distance in less than an hour just to prove to myself that I can average 25mph for longer distances. I cycle up Patrick's Hill ( steepest in Cork ) just to prove to myself I can, and because it's there. I work in a pub that's about six miles from where I live. I sometimes make the trip four times a day ( split shifts ). It's nothing to me because I'm the fittest I will ever be in my entire life!

So let's go back ten years to where it all began. I cycle to school, cycle to town, cycle to the betting office to do my football coupon and every Friday my Mom gets me to cycle to the chipper for burgers and chips for the family. The bag hangs from the handlebars as I tear home. The food is never cold!

As a young teenager I have heroes in many different sports but Sean Kelly and Stephan Roche are Irish and the Tour de France is a massive event in world sport. I watch it every year and follow the results in other events like the Giro d'Italia, Roche 87. Paris-Roubaix Kelly 84 and 86, the Tour of Spain, Kelly 88 and Paris-Nice, Roche 81, Kelly 82-88. When you go through the winners of Paris-Nice it's a list of the most famous names the sport has produced: Jacques Anquetil (5), Eddy Merck (3), Miguel Indurain (2), Alberto Contador (2) and as recently as 2012, Bradley Wiggins. A race of huge standing in the sport so let me say it again in case you missed it, Sean Kelly won it seven years in a row!

These were amazing times for me as a kid, if I could get over to France for the race I'd be one of those nut cases who run up the mountains after their favourites and write their names on the roads in paint. I'm a fan and Kelly and Roche are my Gods!

The similarities between that era and the one Britain is experiencing today are fascinating. Where we had Kelly, they have Cavendish. Where we had Roche they have Wiggins and Chris Froome. In truth Kelly, early on in his career thought of as a sprinter was actually more of an all-rounder.

Mark Cavendish is already the finished article. At time of writing he has already won five stages of this year's Giro d'italia and also the points leader's Red jersey. When his career ends he will quite rightly (in my opinion) be regarded as the greatest sprinter of all time!

Wiggins and Froome are different. These are men who can compete for top honours in GC (general classification). In other words they can win big races. There are certain qualities needed to win major Tours and sprinting is not one of them. Climbing, time trialling, descending and an obvious level of fitness to last weeks of gruelling racing are what are required. Some of you looking at this will be thinking, descending? Surely they are all going the same speed going down the mountain, flat out! Well there is something that enters the equation going downhill off a mountain that not every rider can cope with, fear! Sean Kelly's highest recorded descending speed was 124kmh!

In the 1987 Tour de France on the stage to La Plagne, Roche was attacked by Pedro Delgado on the final climb. At one point near the summit he was as much as 1min 30sec behind. That descent and the commentary by Phil Liggett is the stuff of legend in the Tour and in one poll was voted the 3rd best stage in Tour history! You can watch that famous clip here.

Roche knew at the top of the mountain the Tour was slipping away from him and it was a now or never situation. He descended like a madman, so fast that he lost the motorcycle cameraman. That combined with a misty day meant that he was lost to commentary for a brief period.

Phil Liggett: " just who is that rider coming up behind? Because that looks like Stephen Roche! It's Stephen Roche who's coming over the line! He almost caught Pedro Delgado! I don't believe it! What a finish by Stephen Roche! Stephen Roche has risen to the occasion so, so well! He almost caught Pedro Delgado on the line! Surely now Stephen Roche is going to win this Tour de France!" The deficit on the line was 3 seconds. This remains to this day for me the greatest televised sporting drama I have ever seen!

As a teenager I didn't quite understand the intricacies of the Tour and how it all worked. I always wanted Kelly to win but it's a bit like wanting Cavendish to win today. He's a sprinter and it's not going to happen. The Green jersey is the best he can hope for and understanding that is understanding why they have the different categories of Yellow jersey (overall winner), Green (points or sprinting) and Polkadot (climbing). The rivalry and tension in Team Sky between Wiggins and Froome is nothing new. You always get competition within teams because at the end of the day it's not a team sport! Some of that can be put down to the media's need to "create a story!" You even have a situation at the moment where the wives of those men are been quoted from Twitter which I haven't seen before. The most high profile spat between teammates that I can remember in recent years was Bernard Hinoult and Greg Le Mond in 1986. That really was compulsive viewing!

Bradley Wiggins is rightly lauded as the first British winner of the Tour de France but he should also recognise the set of circumstances that allowed that to happen. The Tour was set up last year in a way that suited his strengths and he also had the help of a very powerful, well-run team behind him as Team Leader! Chris Froome was a major contributor to his success and instead of making statements along the lines of wanting to defend his title, which can only cause division in the team, he should have been thanking Froome and got behind the new team leader for this year's Tour! There are experts out there with more knowledge than me will tell you that Froome could have dropped Wiggins on more than one climb in last year's Tour but instead did his job for his team leader. Not that it really matters for this year with Wiggins now out of the Tour after a poor performance early in the Giro and subsequent withdrawal due to illness.

With Froome given his head this year, I didn't expect Wiggins to be able to stay with him in the mountains anyway and without the massive team support he received in 2012 he would have struggled for a decent placing on GC!

Froome is the much younger of the two and if he can win this year could be the type to run up a sequence of wins. I would be surprised if Wiggins were to win another Tour de France. He has since said that he may not compete in the race again.

From a betting perspective Chris Froome is the obvious winner but is now trading at a shade of odds-on! This doesn't offer great value but he might drift closer to the race start as bookies take on the strong favourite. He is still very much the likely winner, so if you can afford to get involved at small prices I wouldn't put you off.

Alberto Contador at 11/4 would be a danger to all if performing to the standard shown as a previous multiple winner. He would also be a very controversial winner for a rider whose career has been marked by doping allegations. For me he carries too much baggage and with a bunch of new doping-related arrests in Spain recently, too risky!

Andy Schleck at 25/1 has struggled to recover from injury problems and again makes no appeal.

I can honestly say I haven't looked forward to a Tour de France this much in a very long time, not only because of the drama that has unfolded at Team Sky and to see Cavendish sprinting but also for the emergence of Irishman Dan Martin.

Martin from the Garmin-Sharp team turned professional in 2008, was an excellent U23 rider and has progressed to become an outstanding all-rounder. Always thought of as a rider of enormous potential 2013 has been a breakthrough year for him winning Volta a Catalunya and then becoming the first Irish winner of a Classic in 21 years when winning Liège-Bastogne-Liège! In an open year with questions to be answered by many of the main contenders Martin at 200/1 offers quite a bit of value. Other markets like King of the Mountain 33/1 for this rider are also worth exploring and he is currently available at 9/4 with for a top 10. If you shop around I would be surprised if that price is the best available. For those of you thinking this is simply a patriotic wager, you may be right but Martin is the world ranked No 3 on current UCI rankings. At 200/1+ you don't need a big investment.

It's almost impossible to write anything on professional cycling these days without mention of doping but I would like this instead to be more of a story about kids having heroes growing up. It's a new generation now with a new set of heroes and my hope would be when people from Britain look back in twenty years, the discussion won't be about doping. Instead it will be about the achievements of a special group of riders and who knows, maybe Daniel Martin will be one of them.


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