Only a couple of sleeps left until the "Greatest Show on Earth" kicks off on the island of Corsica. I've been slammed at work over the last few weeks with a new job role, plus juggling some responsibilities from my previous role - but what has kept me sane has been some great mileage on the bike, and studying the form of the contenders heading into the Tour de France.
So without further ado - here are my jumbled, not-very-structured thoughts on how things will happen at the Tour de France for 2013...
Who will win - Chris Froome (Team Sky)
Yes, he is the favourite, so I'm hardly sticking my neck out here. But he's the favourite for very good reason. Showing fantastic form all year, his lead-up has been almost flawless (in fact, it closely mirrors the lead-up form of Bradley Wiggins last year).
Froome is not invincible, and you can't bet your house on someone who has never won a Grand Tour before. However, this really is Froome's race to lose. He has the 2nd best team in the race to support him, and he is free from injury and illness. It is he who will need to have a bad day to lose this race.
Who can make the podium
Alberto Contador (Saxobank-Tinkoff)
Contador is no longer the invincible, Grand-Tour-winning machine of previous years. He does remain as an outstanding performer over 3 weeks, and he arrives at this year's Tour de France with the strongest team of all.
I'm looking forward to seeing how Froome and Contador battle in the high mountains. What will also be interesting is how the two teams handle each other. Last year Team Sky was the superior juggernaut by far, however they have an equal this year in Saxobank-Tinkoff.
Jurgen Van den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol)
Fourth overall last year, and expected to do well again this year. Not as consistent as some of the other contenders, but a podium position is not out of the question. One of the riders who benefits from the reduced flat individual timetrial kilometres in this year's race.
Cadel Evans (BMC)
What can Cadel do? I was writing him off at the start of the year, and then he showed immense class in finishing on the Giro d'Italia podium after only a short training block.
Can he do the Giro-Tour double? If anyone can, it's him. Last time he attempted it (in 2010), all was going well he was in the yellow jersey!) until he broke his elbow in a fall.
The underdog status suits Cadel's style much more than favouritism, and I expect him to do well this year.
Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha)
'Purito' is desperate to do well this year, and has dramatically altered his traditional lead-up races in an effort to reach the Tour de France in peak form. Is likely to do better than previous efforts. His flamboyant, punchy, attacking style is likely to be blunted by the sheer overwhelming strength of the Sky and Saxobank teams - but he won't die wondering. I'm looking forward to seeing him try to animate the race in the mountains.
The Future Stars - White Jersey contenders
This is a part of the race I'm fascinated with. There is a huge crop of young riders in this year's race that seem destined for future greatness. Most are riding for more experienced team leaders, but will also be looking to finish high on GC as well.
The best credentialed is Tejay Van Garderen (BMC) who won the white jersey last year and came 5th overall. But also keep an eye on Thibault Pinot (FDJ), Nairo Quintana (Movistar), and Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp).
This "race within the race" will be very close and hard fought, and will give us a clue as to who may be the new Grand Tour champions in the years to come...
Who Will Disappoint
A bit of a negative paragraph or two, but I think we'll see a few supposed 'contenders' fair relatively poorly this year.
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) is probably past his best, and has two great riders on his team (in Quintana and Rui Costa) that may eclipse him in the mountains. Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Merida) will also fall by the wayside. He has said he's targeting the overall, but he'd be better served going after some stage wins.
Andy Schleck (Radioshack) is a tricky one. While he won't 'disappoint' per se, he won't trouble the GC contenders. I'm quite interested to see how he'll go this year, and if he goes for stage wins or the Polka-Dot mountains jersey.
The Green Sprinter's Jersey
Mark Cavendish (OmegaPharma-Quickstep) will win the most stages, but Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) will win the overall green jersey competition. This will be due to Sagan's ability to gain points on some of the small/medium hilly stages where Cavendish will fall away and score nothing. It'll be close, but I think Sagan will prevail.
Expect strong performances also by Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol), Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano), and Matthew Goss (Orica-Greenedge) on the flat pure-sprint stages, and John Degenkolb (Argos-Shimano) and Darryl Impey (Orica-Greenedge) on the bumpier sprint stages.
Sticking my neck out...
I can't wait for the Tour to start, and am already planning out the key stages to watch, as well as the all important 'snack and beverage strategy'...!! To finish off - here is my predicted finishing order for this year's big race, I hope you enjoy it all as much as I know I will!!
1. Chris Froome
2. Alberto Contador
3. Cadel Evans
4. Joaquim Rodriguez
5. Tejay Van Garderen
6. Nairo Quintana
7. Jurgen Van den Broek
8. Ryder Hesjedal
9. Thibault Pinot
10. Thomas De Gendt