The Prologue of this year’s Tour de France covers 6.4km through the Belgian town of Liege, the only city to have hosted stages of all three Grand Tours. It is also the city where Fabian Cancellara burst onto the scene as a 22-year old, beating Lance Armstrong in the prologue of the 2004 Tour de France, recording the third-fastest prologue time in history and earning him the prestigious yellow jersey for the first time.
Cancellara is the strong favourite to win the prologue again this time around. Technically, he is the defending champion, having won the most recent prologue of the Tour de France, and has won no fewer than four Tour de France prologues in his career. After a poor 2011 campaign, ‘Spartacus’ came into 2012 in good form, but a series of crashes, culminating in a fractured collarbone ruined his spring campaign.
|Fabian Cancellara will be looking to repeat his 2004 Prologue victory in Liege|
Most recently, he finished second in the prologue of the Tour de Suisse on his comeback from injury, being beaten to the line by Peter Sagan. Today, he will be the penultimate rider out of the start-gate, meaning he will know exactly what he needs to do. Indeed, the course would appear to favour the powerful, explosive riders, meaning that Fabian Cancellara is a solid favourite. The best price on the Swiss rider to clinch his fifth prologue title is 2/1 in various places.
Bradley Wiggins is also a strong contender in the betting at a best price of 11/2 with Stan James. He is an excellent time-trialler, but questions must be raised about his motivation to win the prologue. Given the time differences are likely to be very small on a stage of this length, he may be best advised to take it easy and save his legs for the later parts of the Tour.
In addition, one would imagine that Team Sky would not really fancy having to defend the yellow jersey from the very first day of the Tour. It requires a lot of effort from a team to defend the jersey, and again, the team would be best advised to be saving their legs for the mountains and the later stages of the race.
The reigning world time-trial champion, Tony Martin, is another that will be looking to challenge. He has admitted that he is purely targeting the prologue and the time-trials, rather than the general classification. His main aim for this summer is likely to be the Olympics, so he could well be looking to ride himself into some form, which he has somewhat struggled for in the past few months. In addition, he tends to favour the longer time trials as opposed to these short prologues.
The final of the four main favourites is Peter Sagan. He has been in good form, and has already won the individual time trial in the Tour de Suisse, beating Fabian Cancellara by four seconds over 7.3km. However, the flat course here will suit him less, although it certainly would not be a huge surprise if he were to take advantage of the weaknesses in the three leading favourites and clinch the victory.
|Peter Sagan is the young star looking to make an impact|
The prologue will almost certainly feature a podium of three of those four men, meaning there is little value in looking for outsiders who could spring an upset. Instead, there are a few of the head-to-head bets that are worth a little consideration.
The experienced Australian, Brett Lancaster, rode a good prologue in the Giro d’Italia to finish in seventh-place. He also has history in winning a prologue, albeit seven years ago. He has been placed in a match bet with fellow Aussie, Simon Gerrans, who recorded a sixth-place finish in the Dauphine last month. However, having enjoyed the drier early conditions, this may be a slightly misrepresentative position. As a result, I would be looking to take Lancaster here.
The other two match bets involve David Millar. The Scotsman missed the team presentation with illness, and there were even doubts that it would lead him to pull out of the Tour. He has apparently recovered sufficiently, but it is certainly not ideal preparation.
Andreas Kloden is a dark horse for the Tour, and is a solid time-trialler himself. He will be looking to get off to a good start with a good performance in the prologue. Patrick Gretsch is another good time-trialler, who won the prologue in the Vuelta a Andalucia earlier this year. Normally, Millar would be fancied to beat both of these, but with his preparation, I would be happy to back both these two today.
Brett Lancaster to beat Simon Gerrans – 11/10 (William Hill)
Andreas Kloden to beat David Millar – 4/5 (William Hill)
Patrick Gretsch to beat David Millar – 4/5 (Ladbrokes)