Le Tour As Political Metaphor
If you're like some of us, you'll be glued to your television set tomorrow as the biggest sporting event in the world kicks off. We're not talking about the Super Bowl, or Wimbledon, or the All-Star Game, we're talking about the Tour de France.
Fortunately, the Tour lends itself to political metaphors. We've asked some of our favorite political cycling fans -- Greenwire's Jeremy Jacobs, Rep. Chris Van Hollen chief of staff C.R. Wooters, Republican strategist Chris Taylor and ABC News political director Amy Walter -- to weigh in with their picks. And we may have added a bit of our own analysis.
Greenwire's Jeremy Jacobs:
The dominant story is whether Luxembourg's Andy Schleck can capitalize on his stomach being "full of anger" after the Pistolero, Spaniard Alberto Contador, attacked when Schleck dropped his chain last year. Contado went on to win last year's tour (his third win) by the same margin he gained that day.
To put it political context: Contador is to this year's tour as Mitt Romney is to the 2012 GOP field. Contador is far and away the favorite and is coming off an absolutely dominant win in the Giro d'Italia (Italy's version of the Tour de France). And like Romney with Massachusetts health care, Contador has a potentially crippling flaw: He tested positive for a banned substance last year, leaving many to wonder whether he should even be allowed to race this month.
If Contador is Romney, Schleck is Tim Pawlenty -- a mainstream alternative who many are rooting for but, at least at this point, hasn't landed a glove on the leader.
There are plenty of other story lines worth following in the race for the maillot jeune. Will this year's Tour be a coming out party for 22 year-old American phenom Tejay Van Garderen? Will aging Americans Levi Leipheimer or Chris Horner pull a surprise performance, no longer in the shadow of Lance Armstrong? (Back to politics: Horner, who turns 40 in October, winning would be like John McCain running again this year and winning the Republican nomination). Then there's Christian Vande Velde -- a fan favorite who may have one more shot at getting on the podium. And Jurgen Van Den Broeck, who has the hopes of his nation -- Belgium -- riding on his shoulders.
Then there are the sprinters -- brash daredevils who often say very outlandish (and confusing things) things. Just find Mark Cavendish, aka the "Manx Missile," on Twitter to see what I mean. He remains the one to beat and is perhaps most like Michele Bachmann -- great at delivering soundbites, but often leaves you wondering how accurate they are.
ABC News political director Amy Walter:
I'm going to be boring and pick Contador. Like Romney he is a "fragile frontrunner" but I don't think there is anyone strong enough to beat him.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen chief of staff C.R. Wooters:
My pick is the inevitable front runner. Much like Mitt Romney everyone expects Spain's Alberto Contador to win the Tour. After watching him decimate the field in the giro d'italia (see Romney $) it's hard to imagine him losing. The bridesmaid for the last 2 tours is Luxembourg's Andy Schleck and his form, like Tim Pawlenty, has been a little underwhelming so far this season. If there is an upset I would keep an eye on American Chris Horner, who could take the Bachmann path, win some stages early and potentially have a shot as the race wears on.
Bonus pics: I have World Champion Thor Hushovd winning the coveted green sprinters jersey. And Obama winning re-election!
GOP strategist Chris Taylor:
Points: Alessandro Petacchi
Best Young Rider: Peter Sagan
Polka Dot Jersey (Mountains classification): Janez Brajkovic
Green Jersey (Sprinters classification): Mark Cavendish
Team Time Trial: Leopard Trek
Time Trial: Fabian Cancellara
Team General Classification: Team Radioshack
General Classification: Andy Schleck
And Hotline editor Reid Wilson:
The Tour's field bears a remarkable resemblance to the WH'12 race: There's the obvious front-runner, the star candidate who's underperforming, and even the second-tier contenders who could make life difficult for some of the bigger names. Here's our look at the contenders:
Mitt Romney as Alberto Contador: Romney and Contador should blow away the field. Romney's got cash and organization from his '08 bid, and Contador demonstrated in the Giro d'Italia that the other top contenders aren't even in the same league as he danced away up the Italian Alps day after day.
But each has two glaring weaknesses: For Romney, it's CommonwealthCare, the health care reform package that his rivals will attack as the inspiration for ObamaCare, and his image as a flip-flopper who doesn't have a set ideology. For Contador, it's his win in the Giro, from which he's said he's still tired, as well as the doping investigation that hangs over his head. Contador will face a hearing the week after the Tour ends, but it's something that will certainly weigh on his mind as he climbs the French Alps.
Tim Pawlenty as Andy Schleck: Schleck has finished second at the Tour twice, and at age 25, his career has nowhere to go but up. But he hasn't impressed this year, and his new Leopard-Trek squad is underperforming virtually across the board; Fabian Cancellara couldn't repeat wins in two of the Spring Classics, and Frank Schleck placed a disappointing seventh in the Tour de Suisse (Frank's actually having a good year; he won the Criterium International and finished second in Liege-Bastogne-Liege).
But on paper, Andy Schleck's team is better than almost any other. If he can find his form in time for three consecutive killer mountain stages in the final week of the Tour, this could be the year he takes a step up on the podium. Watch his first week, when the nasty weather of northern France imperils those who aren't paying attention to the wind; Schleck has made a point of training for that part of the race.
Herman Cain as Cadel Evans: Evans has his moments, but they're few and far between. On major climbs, he's frequently in the lead pack, until he cracks and loses any hopes of snagging a win. That reminds us of Cain, who impressed backers early and saw his poll numbers rise, only to stagnate during last month's debate in New Hampshire.
Michele Bachmann as Ivan Basso: Bachmann is the second-tier contender who could legitimately become a top-tier candidate. Basso has demonstrated his ability, as in his win at the Giro in '10. But he's tacitly admitted that he's not in Contador's league; his decision to skip a title defense this year to focus on the Tour was based on the assumption that Contador wouldn't be allowed to ride in France because of the doping case.
Then again, one could make the case that Bachmann's role will be to win a few primaries here and there -- the political equivalent to stage-hunting in cycling. This year's sprints will be dominated by HTC-Highroad's Mark Cavendish and Garmin-Cervelo's Tyler Farrar and Thor Hushovd. Watch Lampre's Damiano Cunego pick a mountain stage or two to target for a win.
Newt Gingrich as Bradley Wiggins or Alexandre Vinokourov: Gingrich has had more than a few false starts during his career. He contemplated running for president in '00 and in '08 before ultimately standing aside. Wiggins, too, has contemplated making a run at the top spot; he was the Brit to keep an eye on last year, but he couldn't keep up with the leaders. He's got better form, and better results, this year.
Vinokourov has made his own comeback, though after a doping suspension that kept him out of cycling for two years. Now that Contador has left Team Astana, Vinokourov doesn't have to live in Contador's shadow. But he doesn't have the strongest team around him -- remind you of any presidential candidates who, say, lost their whole staff last month? -- which will leave him lonely in the mountains.
The big question: Can anyone play the role of Rick Perry, the 800-pound gorilla who could shake up the WH'12 race? Sammy Sanchez and Robert Gesink are the only two other general classification contenders with a shot, but it's unlikely they'll fight over anything but the third step on the podium.
To keep up with the Tour, check out the excellent website SteepHill.tv.