Before the Tour de France started in Monaco last Saturday (July 4), we predicted the ten riders that we thought would end up in the overall top ten in Paris on Sunday, July 26.



Our calculations were based on in-depth study of pre-Tour form, sound statistical principles and completely random guesswork. Mostly the latter. Well, all the latter.



So, how have our ten done so far? After just over a week of racing, things are starting to shape up – although there is still a long way to go, including the obligatory shake-up in the Alps.



The current race leader is Rinaldo Nocentini (Ag2r), who we’re fairly certain will not figure in the final overall top ten. He’s currently in pole position thanks to his result on stage seven, and has successfully defended his lead in the Pyrenees. Not that he was really challenged, the contenders will be happy for someone else to keep the jersey warm until the mountains.

One rider missing from our top ten pick is the surprise package of the Tour so far, our very own Bradley Wiggins (Garmin-Slipstream). If Wiggins retains his position within the top ten, and his first week’s performance suggests he will, we’ll be more than happy to have got it wrong.



1. Alberto Contador (Spain) Astana

Current top ten position: 2nd, at 6 seconds

Why did we pick him? The 2007 Tour winner has always been one of the best climbers, now he’s one of the best time triallists too.

Best moment so far: Attacking on the Arcalis on stage seven. He looked around at team-mate Armstrong, and accelerated away leaving the other contenders standing. The move meant he leap-frogged Armstrong in the overall standings and asserted his power on the climbs.

Worst moment so far: Missing the echelon on stage three that Armstrong managed to find his way into, then losing 41 seconds on a stage that should have been plain sailing. The atmosphere was so thick back at the team bus after the stage that they couldn’t open the door. Probably.

2. Cadel Evans (Australia) Silence-Lotto

Current top ten position: 18th, at 3-07

Why did we pick him? Second last year, Evans has what it takes to wins a grand tour. If only his team realised.

Best moment so far: Things started so well. Fifth in the opening time trial in Monaco was a strong opening salvo, things were looking good.

Worst moment so far: Another one who missed the split on stage 3 and lost 41 seconds. But that’s not as bad at the team time trial result. Silence-Lotto gave away 2-35 to Astana leaving Evans with an impossible task ahead of him. And then Evans tried to get the time back with a poorly conceived escape on stage eight that saw Fabian Cancellara tell him off. The shame.



3. Carlos Sastre (Spain) Cervelo Test Team


Current top ten position: 16th, at 2-52

Why did we pick him? He won last year and had a good Giro

Best moment so far: Sastre has been Mr Anonymous so far – and considering that he’s the defending champion, his name has barely been mentioned as everyone talks up the Armstrong vs Contador spat at Astana. The lack of attention will suit the quiet Spaniard, who will be waiting for his wheels to do the talking in the Alps.

Worst moment so far: Losing over a minute in the opening time trial wasn’t a great start.



4. Andy Schleck (Luxembourg) Saxo Bank


Current top ten position: 9th, at 1-49

Why did we pick him? He’s the next big thing. Bjarne Riis told us.

Best moment so far: Having a dig at the opposition in the Pyrenees on stage eight. They caught him, but it showed he’s not afraid to have a go at the big boys.

Worst moment so far: Although Schleck himself has not had a bad time, his Saxo Bank team have been kept busy in the first week looking after race leader Fabian Cancellara. Schleck himself is biding his time for the big mountains, where he’ll be ably supported by big bro Frank.



5. Lance Armstrong (USA) Astana


Current top ten position: 3rd, at 8sec

Why did we pick him? He’s won it seven times.

Best moment so far: Managing to make the decisive split on wind-swept stage three and gaining 41 seconds over team-mate/arch-rival Alberto Contador. How d’ya like me now!

Worst moment so far: Joining Astana. Only kidding. Armstrong so very, very nearly got himself back in the yellow jersey on stage four, when he ended up in the same time as race leader Cancellara. Then Armstrong lost all that he gained on Contador in stage three when the Spaniard attacked on stage seven. That must have hurt.



6. Denis Menchov (Russia) Rabobank

Current top ten position: 27th, at 5-02

Why did we pick him? 2009 Giro d’Italia winner Menchov always features in the Tour top ten, and his performance in Italy in May showed he was having a good year. So we thought.

Best moment so far: Er, there hasn’t been one. Does staying upright in the Pyrenees count?

Worst moment so far: Crashing soon after the start in the team time trial. Menchov’s Rabobank team came in 11th. Truly appalling.



7. Luis Leon Sanchez (Spain) Caisse d’Epargne


Current top ten position: 11th, at 2-16

Why did we pick him? He looked good at Paris-Nice and with no Valverde, he’s free to have a go for himself.

Best moment so far: Winning stage eight gave Sanchez some time back, and meant he leaped up the overall classification to just outside the top ten.

Worst moment so far: Everything has been going well for Sanchez, only his individual time trialling has let him down  – he came in 89th in the opening stage. Not good enough for a top ten rider.



8. Levi Leipheimer (USA) Astana


Current top ten position: 4th, at 39secs

Why did we pick him? He can climb, he can time trial, but not well enough for the overall perhaps.

Best moment so far: Leipheimer has been over-shadowed by his Astana team-mates Armstrong and Contador so far, but let’s not forget that he’s currently fourth – the third Astana rider in the top five.

Worst moment so far: None. Leipheimer has been riding solidly, if rather unspectacularly. There’s no doubt he’s Armstrong’s key man and we’ll see more of him in the coming week.



9. Christian Vande Velde (USA) Garmin-Slipstream


Current top ten position: 8th, at 1-24

Why did we pick him? A good result last year, and it’s about time Garmin had a good result this year

Best moment so far: There hasn’t been a real stand-out moment for Vande Velde but he hasn’t put a foot wrong. Seems to have recovered well from the awful injuries sustained in the Giro d’Italia in May.

Worst moment so far: Not really a bad thing, but he now has to share leadership of Garmin with Bradley Wiggins. Does this stretch the team too far, or does it strengthen the squad’s assault on the top ten? Time will tell.



10. Roman Kreuziger (Czech Republic) Liquigas

Current top ten position: 14th, at 2-40

Why did we pick him? He’s young, and we reckoned this year will be where he shows what he’s got at the Tour.

Best moment so far: No stand-out moments yet. He’ll have to go on the attack in the Alps to gain any significant time, but the Liquigas team will probably be looking out for the higher-placed and equally young Vincenzo Nibali.

Worst moment so far: He didn’t look overly comfortable on the big climbs in the Pyrenees, the Alps will be worse. He came in over a minute adrift of the main contenders on the Arcalis – the only real climbing test so far. A top ten finish is looking a bit unlikely.

TOUR DE FRANCE 2009 LINKS

Tour de France 2009 – the hub: Index to reports, photos, previews and more.

STAGE REPORTS



Stage nine: Third French win as contenders content with ceasefire


stage eight: Sanchez wins from break as Tour favourites cancel each other out




Stage seven: Feillu wins at Arcalis, Nocentini takes yellow, Contador leap-frogs Lance



Stage six: Millar’s brave bid denied on Barcelona hill as Hushovd triumphs



Stage five: Voeckler survives chase to win his first Tour stage



Stage four: Astana on top but Armstrong misses yellow by hundredths of a second



Live Tour de France stage four TTT coverage



Stage three: Cavendish wins second stage as Armstrong distances Contador



Stage two: Cavendish takes first sprint



Stage one: Cancellara wins opening time trial

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TOUR DE FRANCE 2009 PHOTOS



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Stage three photo gallery by Graham Watson



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Stage one photo gallery by Andy Jones



Stage one photo gallery by Graham Watson



Team presentation by Andy Jones



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TOUR GUIDE

Tour de France 2009 – the hub

Tour de France 2009: Who’s riding

Tour de France 2009: Team guide

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