Former Rider and Current Cycling Commentator Brian Smith Takes a Look at Americans in the Tour

Brian SmithBrian Smith @brismithy

Brian Smith has been involved in cycling at the highest level for more than two decades. He won the 1991 British professional road race championship in his first professional season and was champion again in 1994. In the 1994 season, Brian signed for one of the world’s top teams, Motorola. It was a predominantly American squad with some talented riders: Giro d’Italia winner Andy Hampsten, Canadian classics specialist Steve Bauer, Australian legend Phil Anderson . . . and a young, ambitious American by the name of Lance Armstrong. After he stepped off the bike, Brian found himself a career behind the microphone, enlightening cycling fans worldwide with his expertise.

US Cycling Report is so very pleased to have had Brian's insights during the 2012 Tour de France and want to thank him for his contribution.

Crash, Bang, Wallup!

The first week of the Tour has been devastated by crashes and has become a battle of survival. With team pressures comes nerves and risks. The riders are constantly told to stay near the front and often take risks to do this. There are only a limited amount of riders on these small roads that manage to do this successfully. The best way to do this is with the complete team. Pretty much strength in numbers. For me the best team so far have been BMC. Well drilled and have managed to keep most of their riders out of trouble. The first week of the Tour has brought many highs and lows and never fails to provide excitement. There have been 2 men of the Tour so far for me....Sagan and Wiggins. No real surprises as they both have been the men of the year in their fields. The Tour can throw up many difficulties under so much pressure especially with its media circus and sometimes form can go out the window in this cauldron atmosphere. Both have dealt with this with ease and I have no doubt they will continue to do what they do best. So while the UK and Slovakia have their Stars, what can be said about the US?

The US has 8 riders in this year’s Tour de France. I have rated them 1-8 and given my reasons why.

1. Van Garderen
What a young rider! Tejay has all the characteristics as a future Tour contender. He is on a great team to learn his apprenticeship and at the same time has come up with the goods. The white jersey should definitely be a goal and if successful would be a tremendous achievement. He has shown great maturity in getting himself ready for the Tour and getting through the first week unscathed. He will no doubt be a great asset for Evans and I'm not sure if he will be allowed to try for a stage win. This opportunity may arise if Evans loses the possibility of a podium position and I can't see that at the moment. Tejay will need to do his job and stay with Evans. He needs to look at his future and possibly look for another team from next year where he can go to the Tour as a leader.

2. Hincapie
The backbone of the BMC team. Again year after year Geo directs his troops by example and keeps the whole team out of trouble. His experience tells him when to push hard and where to ride. Never tempted to get into a break and leave the side of his leader Evans but the perfect lieutenant. I can't say enough good about George and the only reason he is not my number 1 is due to his age and his varicose veins. We always need to give way to the young pretenders as George was himself many moons ago. The other pressures of the USADA investigation has now added more pressure but George still has the concentration to deliver a faultless first week at the Tour.

3. Zabriskie
Dave is a very classy bike rider but prefers to race alone than in a bunch. Its due to this he finds himself in the wrong places at the wrong time. The positives come from when the team have been dealt a massive blow he is the one that gets himself in the breakaway and gets caught with 1.3kms to go. This gave him the most aggressive rider of the day. It takes huge motivation to do this and over the years we have seen him do this on several occasions when he is super focused. Dave has got all the characteristics to gain a stage win. He just needs to get himself in the break again and keep trying. He definitely has the form. With Ryder and Tom now out Dave Z can relax and chose a couple of stages to concentrate his efforts on for the win.

4. Horner
Chris was a last minute edition to the Radioshack Tour team. Probably should have been named from the start. Chris has had a slow burning career but is definitely an asset to any team in his maturity. He has managed to keep out of trouble in the first week but with Frank needing to gain a lot of time back in the mountains Chris will need to be on his game to help. I really can't see Frank on the podium at the end of the Tour and with Spartacus now home if I were in charge of Radioshack I would allow Chris a free rein to try for a stage win. With Fabs and the yellow jersey they have been in the limelight for almost all of the first week. Continued success for the team will need to come from potential stage wins and this is where Chris can help. Let Chris blow his own horn!

5. Vande Velde
It must of been a very hard thing to deal with in the past when you realize after finishing 4th in the Tour that you were never going to beat that. Especially when you find yourself with teammates better at this kind of thing. Christian has turned himself into this super domestic and should take a lot of the plaudits for a Grand Tour win already this year. But for me Garmin has failed in their first week of keeping their men out of trouble and Christian needs to take this responsibility on his shoulders.
Many people are saying unlucky etc but you only need to compare your week against the two big teams of Sky and BMC. Protection is key in the first week and you need the firepower that can sit on the front for the first week. Take the pace making on when roads narrow or the wind direction favors a crosswind. For me its total concentration and the first week is not about socializing with your fellows. Christian needs to do what Hincapie does for BMC.

6. Leipheimer
I was a little surprised to see Levi go to Omega Pharma. I would think it was to help Tony Martin as Levi has plenty of experience. With Tony out the picture with a crash Levi has skipped under the radar. A very quiet Tour so far and has kept away from the bad luck of crashing so much like last year. Levi's best bet would be to concentrate on a stage. I said the same thing last year. Take a leaf out Chavanel’s book and put himself in a position to win. Last year it all came too late. This year he has 2 weeks to try for a stage win in Alps or Pyrenees. With Team Sky dominance in the first week many riders will need to be aggressive in the mountains. This is Levi's terrain and he should use these riders to his advantage. Levi will never finish on the podium in the Tour but stage wins are definitely what he is capable of. So what if he fails and loses more time. Supporters love to see attacking riders. Better to have failed on several occasions and won once that to never try at all.

7. Farrar
Garmin have gone into the Tour with a different tact. Going for the Overall rather than having a lead-out train for Tyler. This has had a huge impact on him. Tyler's main weakness is positioning. He is not as fast as many of the other sprinters and really needs a good position to maximize his chances. Tyler has needed to surf his own wheels and take risks with other teams and these risks have backfired on him. So what can he do to salvage his Tour? Hang in there and get himself to the final week. There will be less sprinters left by then and hopefully he will have had some chance to recover from his injury's. I see Tyler's future more in the Classics mould that Tour sprinter. He may need to look at other examples like Hushovd and Boonen.

8. Danielson
Tom was the Garmin 'B' plan and wrote himself off in the first week with crashes. Don't get me wrong, there is some bad luck involved with crashes but look at both favorites Wiggins and Evans and this will give an indication of what good team work does. It's a massive blow to Tom as I really think he would have surpassed his performance from last year. He looked good in Suisse and with this confidence he was in for a great Tour. The only reason he is my number 7 is the fact that he fell at the first hurdle. Plenty of promise but everyone knows you need to get through the first week and its crashes. Its disappointing and nobody likes to see anyone crash out but questions needs to be asked about the whole team as they stand after the first week without plan 'A' or plan 'B' and nothing to shout about.

As for the US Teams...

RSNT: outstanding first week with Cancellara. Pressure now on Schleck. They could struggle from here.

BMC: keep doing what they are doing

Garmin: get into the breaks and salvage a stage win

Potential US Success for 2nd week: Stage win by Dave Z, VDV, Horner and Levi