A brilliant weekend of sport ahead with Novak Djokovic going strong for us at Wimbledon, the Eclipse at Sandown and Wladimir Klitschko (8/13 with Sky Bet) against David Haye (11/8) live on Sky Box Office - and in 3D!
However, my highlight is the start of the Tour de France; marred by drug scandal after drug scandal, yet still one of my favourite sporting events.
This year's race, which starts on Saturday, has a drug story and dark cloud hanging over it before it's even started. However, I find the racing, tactics, spectacle and scenery utterly compelling and it's also an excellent betting medium with Sky Bet pricing up all sorts of markets over the three weeks on the road from the Vendée region to Paris.
We've had some decent bets on this blog this year, including our run of 15 winners from 21 Premier League bets, but one rider in the Tour is my strongest fancy for a long time.
For the last two years, I have said the same thing about Alberto Contador - this year's 4/7 favourite with Sky Bet - and he has won for us, but I'm keen to oppose him this time around.
It's a dream Tour for the out-and-out climbers like Schleck, made even better by the lack of time-trialling.
Quotes of the week
Firstly, because he is the rider with a drug scandal hanging over him, has pressure from the media and public not to even race, and is sure to be given a hard time on the road from French fans.
This is all because of Contador's positive test for Clenbuterol during last year's race, which he blamed on contaminated meat
That explanation was eventually accepted by the Spanish Cycling Federation in February but both the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the International Cycling Union (UCI) have appealed the verdict to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
A verdict was expected before the Tour but the hearing has been delayed until August due to the complexities of the case. It's a crazy situation but Contador insists that the lack of a final verdict in his doping case won't affect him - I am not so sure.
Second, I think the Giro d'Italia-Tour de France double is virtually impossible to pull off these days. The last rider to win cycling's biggest two grand tours was Marco Pantani in 1998. The Giro was a brutal race this year with Contador a brilliant winner, but he may be regretting taking on the double now as he's admitted his legs are still tired and his preparation has not been ideal.
This time last year Ivan Basso was fancied to complete the double but disappeared without trace in France to eventually finish 32nd, nearly an hour behind Contador. The Spaniard is a far superior rider to Basso and probably has the best chance of pulling it off since 'The Pirate'.
Pantani's career was beset by doping allegations and I remain sceptical about the plausibility of the double in the modern era. The excursions in Italy will surely have taken their toll on Contador's legs and his Saxo-Bank team may suffer, too.
Just like last year, the Tour is an out and out two-horse race. Alberto Contador (4/7) versus Andy Schleck (7/4). In horse racing terms, Schleck has been laid out for the race. The Tour has been his sole focus this year and he arrives fresh and in decent enough form, after glimpses of brilliance when he decided to stretch his legs on the Tour of Switzerland two weeks ago.
Schleck lost to Contador by just 39 seconds last year but really should have won the race having suffered two bits of bad luck. First losing his brother and right hand man Frank, who broke his collarbone, and second when he dropped his chain soon after he had Contador in trouble on the climb to Port de Bales on stage 15.
Frank is back and will have plenty of opportunity to cause chaos with his brother in the mountains. The 2011 Tour de France route is right up the Schlecks' street as it celebrates the centenary of the first time the race climbed the Alps. A really testing third week sees the Tour return to the Galibier and Alpe d'Huez, two of its most legendary climbs. The Pyrenees also has two mountain-top finishes.
It's a dream Tour for the out-and-out climbers like Schleck, made even better by the lack of time-trialling. There's not even a prologue, which arguably lost him last year's race as he conceded 42 seconds to Contador. In fact, there are only 64 time trial kilometres of which 23 are a team time trial, in which Leopard Trek will thrive under the mercurial Fabian Cancellara.
The route suits Schleck more than Contador but is definitely bad news for Team Sky's leader Bradley Wiggins. Bradley's style, so successful in the Dauphine, is to blitz the time trials and then hang tough in the mountains. He's going to have little chance to blitz and have to do an awful lot of hanging on.
'Wiggo" is incredibly tough and appears to be in the shape of his life, but I think he'll do brilliantly to finish in the top six. He is 5/4 to do so with Sky Bet (4/1 to finish on the podium). Whatever happens with their team leader, I'm confident Team Sky will make a major impact on this year's Tour.
Sky Bet also have a number of specials on Mark Cavendish, who is only 4/6 to win four stages or more, but I'm going for just one bet at this stage: Andy Schleck to win the Tour de France. I first advised him at 9/4 two weeks ago and am pleased to see him trading now at 7/4. I'm confident he'll get his tactics right this time and win.
- Page 1 of 1
Lewis Williams says...
Ive got a funny feeling about Andy and Leopard-Trek this year and for no reason imparticular, I reckon Andy will crash or have more mechanical issues and finish outside the podiums. Contador's "tired legs" claim seems a bluff and he will dominate just as he did in the 2009 tour with Robert Gesink in second place. Wiggo will finish 3rd after an emphatic time trial win with Cavendish winning 4 stages. It has to be said though, when it comes to Wiggins, i am extremely biased.
Posted 12:50 1st July 2011
Seb King says...
Sorry but I fail to see how this course suits Schleck rather than Contador. Last year Contador wasn't in the best form, this much was obvious yet if he was doped up then what the hell was Schleck on? Additionally assuming the Giro is out his legs and based on the form he displayed in said race nobody, not even Schleck will be able to live with Contador when he decides to go. Schleck isn't as explosive and isn't faster uphill at what you might call a 'maintenance' speed. I predict contador comfortably this year, at least by 2 minutes.
Posted 14:02 30th June 2011
- Page 1 of 1