In Part II of Greg LeMond's exclusive interview with Eurosport, the triple Tour winner chews the fat about the 2014 Grand Départ in Yorkshire, the battle for the green and polka dot jerseys, and the pressure piling up on Mark Cavendish's rounded shoulders.
LeMond - who will be Eurosport's cycling ambassador throughout the 101st Tour de France this July - was talking to cycling blogger Blazin' Saddles just days before flying over to the UK to prepare for the historic Tour curtain-raiser in Leeds this Saturday.
Blazin' Saddles: How excited are you about the Grand Départ in Yorkshire next Saturday?
Greg LeMond: I think the Yorkshire stages are going to be very dynamic. Cycling is such a growing sport in London and England, which has really taken over as the hotbed of cycling. It's not just about the people racing but the passion of the fans. It's not merely a fluffer of a prologue and some routine sprint stages - the 2014 Grand Départ will provide fans with some real racing. The short and steep climbs of stage two will be very difficult. A lot of riders will be aware and prepared for the hilly course but even then many riders need to ride into form in the Tour. The second stage is like a mini classic race in the mould of Liège-Bastogne-Liège and there's a climb near the finish that reaches 33 per cent. That's crazy!
It's a stage that could already establish real time gaps between some of the favourites. I think a lot of riders will be prepared and ready to go. It's a whole different race without a prologue - riders will be approaching the start of the Tour in a different way to usual. I love it and think it will be really exciting for England and the spectators. Chris Froome could win it with his explosive power - especially with the 30 per cent gradient. Alberto Contador will be strong too. But I don't think the favourites will be battling it out to win the stage, even if they will be there. Peter Sagan: a guy like that could be really strong. It could even be a Cancellara-type rider because it's like a classic race and it will suit someone with good all-round capabilities. The smaller riders, like Andrew Talansky or Vincenzo Nibali, may struggle a bit.
BS: The British fans will be cheering on a certain sprinter in stages one and two, that's for sure...
GL: The pressure's on Mark Cavendish. Unfortunately he's going to be under so much pressure that Marcel Kittel will probably nip him. I think that's going to be a fun battle. But they're going to be high-pressure races for Cavendish. I always love the sprint stages. Cavendish coming into London - this is going to be the one he wants to win. It will be one of the better stages of the Tour. The entire three opening stages are going to be excellent. There's a great variety of stages: one's going to be mixed, the second like a mini classic in the mould of Liège or the Flèche Wallonne, then you have a a pure sprinters' stage. And then there will be two million spectators lining the streets. I'm excited. I haven't been to that part of England too so it's going to be a new experience for me. I like England, its landscapes and riding my bike - so for me personally it's going to be wonderful, outside of the race.
BS: What do you think about the route this year in general?
GL: I love the course but I'm surprised they only have one time trial. I'd love to see a team time trial or another individual time trial. But I love the cobbled sections and it's going to be a return to a more rounded winner. From day one until the 90s most of the top riders also did the classics as well as the Tour. As much as I say I like cobble stones there's always going to be a little bit of worry in the back of your mind; there is a lot of risk to it but it's part of the game, part of the Tour.
There are some mean-ass cobbled sections and that's why I said it's going to be a dynamic race. Everything could change in that one stage. It takes a certain technique and I imagine a lot of the riders have been working on them. It'll be a very nervous race that day, very fast, and I think we'll see a lot of crashes from the first section onwards. This is where I think excluding Bradley Wiggins from the Sky team was a big risk because he's very good on the cobbles and a strong time triallist. If you're going into battle in a big war and you're riding in the front line and get taken out - that's when you need someone else as a reinforcement. In the olden days the team leader was always the rider in the best condition - so if Hinault was best, then I'd be riding for him. At the Tour de France it's natural selection. The goal is to win the race as a team and however you've had to do it is how you got it done.
BS: Could any of the big favourites find themselves out of contention after a demanding opening week?
GL: I can see one of favourites - even Chris or Contador - at risk. You could have some guys already four or five minutes behind just after the cobbled sections and that second stage in Yorkshire. It could be easy: you're not on top of things, there's a split and you get caught behind. With the pavé it doesn't take a lot to have a crash and then lose a couple of minutes. There will be riders not used to cobbles and so crashes will happen. Limiting losses will be the strategy of choice. Sometimes you've got to be willing to lose to win.
BS: Which will be the decisive stages beyond the Grand Départ and the cobbles?
GL: I think Chamrousse (stage 13) will be a good day and make a selection. It's a pretty good climb, I've done it before. I think it will be the big stage of the Alps - more so than the next stage to Risoul. I don't think the Izoard is a significant enough climb. It's long and has some difficult bits but then the last climb to Risoul is not too steep and demanding. So I think it will be Chamrousse that will be the critical stage in the Alps.
BS: Who's your tip for the green jersey?
GL: I would say Peter Sagan has a good chance. I'm always surprised at how rounded he is as a rider. He's really competitive against the likes of Cavendish and Kittel, but also relishes the ramped finishes too. His best weapon is his consistency so he's probably my first choice.
BS: And the polka dot jersey?
GL: Last year Quintana won but there was a period when riders would target certain small climbs to get enough points. This Tour is actually conducive to this kind of strategy. The second stage and some of the transitional stages have numerous lower category climbs so an aggressive rider could build up a good lead before the first proper climbs. And if he's a decent climber he could then still add to his tally in the mountains. This is what I think is what will happen. It won't be so much an out-and-out climber as an outsider who wins the polka dot jersey.
BS: Thanks Greg - and have a safe journey over to England.
GL: Not a problem. I'm looking forward to working with Eurosport throughout the Tour and hopefully we can chat again during the race. See you in London!
In Part I LeMond talked about the main contenders Chris Froome and Alberto Contador, the absence of Bradley Wiggins and Nairo Quintana, and the backlash from Froome's recent TUE. Greg LeMond will be making daily TV appearances as Eurosport's cycling consultant throughout the Tour de France this July. Greg also makes a cameo as Blazin' Saddles' unofficial mentor in Felix Lowe's book 'Climbs and Punishment: Riding to Rome in the Footsteps of Hannibal'.
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- Mark Cavendish
- Greg LeMond
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- Chris Froome
- Alberto Contador