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Inside Cycling with John Wilcockson: It’s gonna be a great opening week at the Tour!

Recent wins by Gilbert, Cancellara, Farrar and Hushovd boost the expectations

Editor’s note: Every week through the 2011 road season, VeloNews Editor-at-Large John Wilcockson is writing about key features of the week’s racing. This is the 19th installment.

There was a time not too long ago when the opening week of the Tour de France was a yawner. Long, flat stages and dominant sprint-team trains saw multiple mass finishes that favored fast men like Mario Cipollini (four consecutive stage wins in 1999), Alessandro Petacchi (four straight in 2003) or Robbie McEwen (three of six in 2006). Their successor Mark Cavendish of HTC-Highroad isn’t going to repeat those feats this year when the 98th Tour loops its first week around the rolling roads of the Vendée, Brittany and Normandy early next month.

2011 Tour de Suisse, stage 7: Cavendish
Cavendish during the Swiss tour. Photo: Graham Watson | www.grahamwatson.com

The main reasons for this prognosis are threefold:

  • (1) race director Christian Prudhomme has responded to the wishes of French television to make the first week more exciting by inserting three hilltop finishes in the first seven days;
  • (2) an increasing number of teams are riding the Tour with the one goal of winning a stage (and having the riders capable of doing it); and
  • (3) Omega Pharma-Lotto’s Philippe Gilbert, Leopard-Trek’s Fabian Cancellara and Garmin-Cervélo’s Tyler Farrar and Thor Hushovd, all potential stage winners in the Tour’s first week, are all on rising form.

Not that Cavendish is going to go down without a fight. Much has been made of the HTC sprinter’s failure to win any stages of the Tour of Switzerland this past week. But by simply finishing the nine-day Swiss race, which featured more than 50,000 feet (16,000 meters) of actual climbing, the British sprinter showed that he’s ready to tackle (and finish) another Tour.

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