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Inside the Tour with John Wilcockson: Rating the top 20 contenders


David Arroyo (Sp), 31, Movistar
As sole leader of the Movistar team (in the absence of the suspended Alejandro Valverde), this solid Spanish climber will have all the support he needs to improve on his 13th place at the 2010 Tour and show that his runner-up spot (to Ivan Basso) at last year’s Giro was a true indication of his qualities.

Jani Brajkovic (Slo), 27, Team RadioShack

Brajkovic at the 2011 Tour of Catalunya.

Though he is talented as both a climber and time trialist (he beat Contador to win last year’s Dauphiné), this slim Slovenian has yet to prove he can sustain a challenge over three weeks. That’s why he’s more likely to end this Tour (ably) supporting his veteran U.S. teammates Horner and Leipheimer.

Jérôme Coppel (F), 24, Saur-Sojasun
Tabbed as the next great French rider at the Tour, Coppel can climb and time trial very well, and he has the full backing of a team that’s stronger than it looks, but can he bear the pressure of a nation rooting for him?

Ryder Hesjedal (Can), 30, Garmin-Cervélo
This unselfish, hard-working rider from British Columbia races like an old-style Tour contender. He likes to get in long breakaways, and he has the power to match the best on the climbs. If he is to improve on his seventh place of last year Hesjedal will need to gain some time on pre-mountain stages like the ones to Super-Besse and St. Flour.

Christophe Kern (F), 30, Europcar
Even though he’s already 30 years old, Kern has been tabbed as the likely revelation of the 2011 Tour after a startling performance at the recent Dauphiné (a mountain stage win and sixth overall after climbing with the best). He then won the French national time trial title to prove he has all-around strengths.

Andreas Klöden (G), 36, Team RadioShack
This Swiss-based German veteran spent most of his career working for others, notably Jan Ullrich and Lance Armstrong, but he still managed to finish on the Tour podium two times. He’s been on great form this year, especially in time trials, but should teammates Leipheimer, Horner or Brajkovic prove stronger in the mountains he’ll be a superb worker for them.

2011 Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Tejay Van Garderen
Van Garderen at Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Photo: Graham Watson

Tejay Van Garderen (USA), 22, HTC-Highroad
While Germany’s Tony Martin and Slovakia’s Peter Velits are HTC’s designated leaders, Tour rookie Van Garderen has the intrinsic ability and talents to do better than both of them. There’s no pressure on the young American, who will be inspired to contest the young riders’ white jersey with the likes of Gesink and Coppel, which in turn should see him competitive on the climbs.

Christian Vande Velde (USA), 35, Garmin-Cervélo
After crashing out last year and taking eighth in 2009 (after serious crashes at the Giro and Tour de Suisse hampered his preparation), the amiable Vande Velde looks ready to regain the form that earned him fourth place in 2008. By sharing team leadership duties with Hesjedal and getting help in the mountains from Tour rookie Tom Danielson, he may achieve his goals.

Alexander Vinokourov (Kaz), 37, Astana
In his final Tour de France, this veteran Kazakh with a mixed reputation is not going to rival the top contenders; but his aggressive style may help him fulfill his dream of wearing the yellow jersey in the opening week.

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