Blazin' Saddles

Tour de France white jersey guide

Blazin' Saddles

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that triple white jersey winner Andy Schleck has turned 26, the Tour will
welcome a new maillot blanc onto the podium in Paris for the first time in four

competition has existed under various guises since 1975, but since 2000 the
white jersey had been specifically open for all cyclists less than 26 years of
age at 1 January of the year. This has been reduced by one year to 25 for the
latest edition of the Tour, meaning Schleck will not be able to take a record
fourth win.

white jersey winners in this millennium include Alberto Contador (2007),
Damiano Cunego (2006) and Ivan Basso (2002). Only three riders in history have
won both the yellow and white jerseys in the same year - the late Laurent
Fignon (1983), Jan Ullrich (1997) and Contador (2007).

we look at the main contenders for the 2011 maillot blanc, in what is shaping
up to be a major two-horse race...

favourite: Robert Gesink (Rabobank, 25, pictured)
- On paper, the Dutchman should be a
shoo-in for the white jersey. Gesink was forced to retire from his debut Tour
in 2009 after breaking a wrist early on in the race, but rode to a solid sixth
place in 2010 to prove himself the best of the young riders behind Schleck. A
strong climber and an improving time triallist, Gesink has shown fine form this
season, winning the Tour of Oman and coming second in the Tirreno-Adriatico.
Yet to finish below the top seven in a Grand Tour (with the exception of 2009's
Tour withdrawal) only injury, a crash or a certain man from Astana will keep
Gesink away from the white jersey this year.

main rival: Roman Kreuziger (Astana, 25)
- The Czech rider has two top ten Tour
finishes to his name since finishing his debut Grande Boucle in 13th
place back in 2008. Hardly the most explosive of riders, Kreuziger is
nevertheless a solid climber with excellent descending and time trialling
skills. What he perhaps lacks, however, is that mixture of belief and drive
which saw his former Liquigas team-mate Vincenzo Nibali ride to victory in last
year's Vuelta. Now at Astana, Kreuziger took sixth (and the white jersey) in
May's Giro while clearly riding with one eye on the Tour. A top five is
possible, but that may not be enough to topple Gesink.


Taaramae (Cofidis, 24)
- The Estonian was forced to quit his debut Tour last
year after stage 13 owing to an achilles injury. This year, Taaramae shows
promising form going into the race, having taken the youth classification in
both the Criterium International and Paris-Nice. Despite his tender age,
Taaramae will be Cofidis' main GC contender and has all the attributes
necessary to target a top 15 finish.

Van Garderen (HTC-Highroad, 22)
- Riding his debut Tour, the young American
(of Dutch descent) is looking to make a splash in this year's race on the back
of his fifth overall in the Tour of California, which earned him the best young
rider award. Solid in the Vuelta last September, the former Rabobank man is a
good time triallist although yet to fully develop as a climber.

Mollema (Rabobank, 24)
- Unless Gesink crashes, there's very little chance his
Rabobank team-mate Mollema will finish higher, but the young Dutchman will
nevertheless hope to create a good impression in his debut Tour. Having won the
Tour de l'Avenir in 2007, Mollema has gone from strength to strength, and last
year finished 12 in the Giro, his first Grand Tour ride.

Uran (Team Sky, 24)

- Forced to miss last year's race after a training crash, the Colombian climber
has been working hard at Sky since joining last summer. Uran has ridden in all
three Grand Tours and won't crumble when riding against the clock. Of course,
his main job will be to protect Bradley Wiggins in the mountains, but if the
Brit slips up, don't bet against his team-mate stepping up to the plate.

Coppel (Saur-Sojasun, 24)
- The all rounder has been touted as France's next best
thing for years now and the time has come for him to make the step up. Indeed,
Coppel is so highly regarded by the French that conspiracy theorists attribute
Saur-Sojasun's presence on the race (at the expense of the more experienced
Geox team) as simply down to Coppel's presence on the Pro Continental team.


French climber Pierre Rolland (Team Europcar, 24) has had a
promising season and is highly regarded by team manager Jean-Rene Bernaudeau.
Dutchman Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil, 24) has picked up wins in the
Tour of Switzerland and Paris-Nice this year, although he's more of a sprinter
than a future GC contender. With all-rounder Edvald Boasson Hagen (Team Sky,
recovering from illness, Britain's Ben Swift (Team Sky, 23) will
hope to make an impression in his debut Tour.

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