The general classification of the 2012 Tour de France received its first major shake-up on the race’s first summit finish, where Team Sky won the stage, the yellow jersey, and the polka-dot jersey for the King of the Mountains. Here’s a rundown of the new GC and a look at each rider’s chances moving forward:
- By Whit Yost
1. Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky; Overall Leader)
As expected, Bradley Wiggins has finally pulled on the yellow jersey after a dominant performance by Team Sky. Escorted by his teammates throughout most of the day, Wiggins showed no signs of fatigue up the final climb of La Planche des Belles Filles, a short-but-steep ascent that offered a good indicator of the Briton’s climbing form. With so few contenders able to follow him and with what is now clearly the best team in the race supporting him, the 2012 Tour de France is without a doubt Wiggins’s race to lose. Tomorrow, expect him to stay out of trouble as he looks ahead to extending his lead in Stage 9’s long time trial.
2. Cadel Evans (BMC; 0:10 behind)
Evans spent much of the day glued to the wheel of Bradley Wiggins—except when positioning himself for the sprint up the steep final ramp of today’s climb. While the Australian had no problems following Wiggins, Evans has to be worried about the apparent lack of chinks in the new race leader’s armour. Even more worrisome for the defending champion: Evans was completely isolated on the final climb today. Even Tejay Van Garderen was dropped, the man many expected to be Evans’s best mountain ally. If Evans is to win the Tour for a second time, he’ll need to do it by himself.
3. Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale; 0:16 behind)
Like Evans, Nibali spent the final climb simply doing his best to follow the incredible tempo set by Team Sky’s Michael Rogers, Richie Porte, and Christopher Froome—not an easy task considering how few of the other contenders proved able to do it. Like Evans, Nibali found himself isolated today, but will likely have more support from teammates Ivan Basso and Sylvester Szmyd in the Alps and Pyrenees. Nibali’s next challenge will be Stage 9’s time trial, where the Italian needs a solid ride to defend his place in the top three.
4. Rein Taaramae (Cofidis; 0:32 behind)
Perhaps the day’s biggest surprise, Estonia’s Rein Taaramae hung with the favourites until the final 250 metres of today’s stage. For his efforts, Taaramae now wears the white jersey as Best Young Rider, a title he narrowly missed winning in last year’s Tour de France. A respectable time trialist, Taaramae should defend his top-five placing in Stage 9, but will also find himself isolated in the Alps and Pyrenees thanks to a Cofidis squad built more for stage wins than to support his GC challenge.
5. Denis Menchov (Katusha; 0:54 behind)
While it was a bit surprising to see Menchov dropped on today’s final climb, it wasn’t entirely shocking. Riders often struggle on the first summit finish of a grand tour as their legs are not used to the effort and tempo changes necessary for success in the high mountains. While he’s lucky to stay within the top five overall, look for Menchov to improve as the race progresses, possibly riding himself onto the podium by the time the race ends in Paris. Unfortunately, Katusha sent its best climbers to the Tour of Italy earlier this year, so Menchov will find himself playing off the work of other teams in the Alps and Pyrenees.
6. Haimar Zubeldia (RadioShack-Nissan; 0:59 behind)
The first of back-to-back riders in the top 10 for RadioShack-Nissan, Spain’s Zubeldia is certainly no Tour de France slouch. With three top-10 finishes on his resume, the 35-year-old can be counted on for a solid (yet unspectacular) ride in the French grand tour. It’s unlikely that Zubeldia can challenge for the yellow jersey, but a solid team effort could see him snag a spot inside the top five, an impressive result for an unheralded rider.
7. Maxime Monfort (RadioShack-Nissan; 1:09 behind)
Zubeldia’s teammate Maxime Monfort finished sixth at last year’s Tour of Spain, proof that the 29-year-old Belgian is worth keeping an eye on in a three-week race like the Tour de France. Now here’s the tricky part: With seven teammates clustered in the top 30, Monfort could find himself the victim of team politics and an ever-changing game plan built around whichever RadioShack-Nissan rider feels the strongest.
8. Nicolas Roche (Ag2R-La Mondiale; 1:22 behind)
Roche finished 15th in the 2010 Tour de France, but failed to improve on that result in 2011. Currently sitting eighth, the Irishman (and son of 1987 Tour winner Stephen Roche) is in perfect position to finish this year’s race inside the top 10. That said, with two weeks left to race, Roche needs to be careful: Thirteen riders sit within two minutes of his time and many of them can expect to have far better days in the mountains still to come. The time trial should give us our first chance to see if Roche is for real.