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Rating the Tour de France favorites, from W(iggins) to Z

Vincenzo Nibali (ITA), Liquigas-Cannondale ★★★★

Winning the queen stage and overall at Tirreno-Adriatico, finishing second in the Tour of Oman with a stage win, taking third at Milan-San Remo and second at Liège–Bastogne–Liège — Vincenzo Nibali’s 2012 season started off with a bang.

The 2010 Vuelta a España winner skipped the Giro d’Italia this year in order to focus on the Tour de France.

Strong in the mountains, decent against the clock and eager to jump at every opportunity, a podium placing is an attainable goal for Nibali. That is, assuming that he can count on his Liquigas-Cannondale team for support when Peter Sagan is chasing stage wins.

Nibali has already announced that he will leave the Italian team once his contract expires at the end of the year, and he has cause for concern that the green train that so powerfully controlled the Giro won’t be fully behind him.

With an incredible 12 wins already under his belt this season, the young powerhouse Sagan has taken sprints from some of the world’s best finishers this season, and come July he will test the water in the deepest pool of the year. Sagan enters the Tour on a streak that saw him win nine stages and the points jerseys in his final two preparation stage races: five at the Amgen Tour of California and four at the Tour de Suisse.

The final maillot jaune is a big ask, but not impossible for Nibali, and there is a chance that Liquigas-Cannondale will focus more of its energy on the Slovak stage-win machine than the departing Sicilian. The top Italian squad is yet to announce its final Tour roster.

What Nibali can hope for is bagging stage wins and certainly a top-five GC result. His strengths will suit some of the stages with more of a classics flavor, particularly early in the race. The new mountain finish on La Planche des Belles Filles, a 5.9km climb that finishes on a 14-percent grade, in stage 7 is perfect for the “The Shark.”

“I’m convinced in my abilities,” Nibali told VeloNews at the first road stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné. “In these last years, I’ve always done well in the stage races and in the one-day races, the classics. You can’t ask for more, knowing that sometimes you win by a small amount, but sometimes you can lose by that same amount.”

We’re convinced as well.

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