If there's one thing that never ceases to amaze me about the Tour de France, it's the amount of money that's invested in it by various teams, sponsors and the French in general. Take for example the photo below provided by @Maxdelincel.
At first thought you'd think that the photo in question is of a shed with BMC Racing painted onto it. If you look closer however, it's quickly evident that the monster of an object is in fact a humongous bus that's been designed with only one thought in mind: Getting a BMC Racing rider across the line first at any of the major races in the UCI Road Racing Calender.
But as most sportspeople know, buses and training facilities aren't anywhere near as valuable as the minds of the people that use them.
When you really think about it, events such as the Tour De France are essentially a representation of life unfolding in all of it's glory. For a three week period, it showcases all of what we are, all of what we have been and all of what we can be in the future. For a cyclist, it is one of the few events that can define the rest of a person's life both on and off the bike. By grabbing courage by the throat and throwing it towards your own inner-wolves with the right psychological training, tests of endurance like the Tour de France show how you can accomplish the unthinkable even when the entire world feels to be against you.
One primary example would be Stage 19 of the 2011 Tour de France. After having a catastrophic bike failure early in what turned out to be a very mountainous stage, Cadel Evans shredded the competition by using the power of self-confidence and the ability to think tactically on his feet along with the rest of his team and support staff.
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If you've got those particular characteristics and human resources in your pocket, then one way or another you are always going to be a human missile once you step onto a bike. Lance Armstrong and George Hincapie proved this on countless occasions as well, which in turn has probably been what has prompted the recent drug charges against Armstrong as well. While it's human nature to support a winner, it's also human nature to doubt the honesty of a competitor that wins something time after time just by trying something different in a way that others were never expecting.
In many ways I believe that Cadel Evans should be viewed as the favourite for this year's Tour de France, as he has all of these factors down-pat in a way that no one has had in a way since Armstrong won the first of his several Tour de Frances while Bradley Wiggins doesn't. Regardless of what people say, Sky is always going to be a split team whenever you have both Wiggins and asprinter like Mark Cavendish on the same team, even if the latter wants to focus primarily on the Olympics.
Given that the Olympics will be on only a week after end of this year's Tour, Cavendish will be wanting to preserve as much energy as he possibly can in order to preserve his own shot at glory. Throw in the fact that he's a control freak, not a climber and extremely competitive as an individual, it is obvious that Cavendish's usefulness as a Domestique will have to come into question once we get into the business end of this year's Tour de France.
Unlike Wiggins however, Cadel Evans will have a team that is focusing solely on him throughout the entirety of the Tour. While Wiggins has had a very successful season this year, Cadel hasn't been far off his best throughout most of the events that he's competed in this year either. Furthermore, Cadel knows exactly what he has to do in order to win the Tour de France now, which is an experience that no other rider in this year's race currently has. With that, Cadel and his team will be able to ride their race with a level of insight and experience that Wiggins doesn't currently have.
If Cadel is able to harness that experience immediately from the start of the Prologue today, then the psychological mountain that Wiggins will have to conquer in order to beat him will become immeasurably harder. If he lets Wiggins ride over him throughout the early stages of this years race however, then Cadel will have trouble reining Wiggins in come the business end of the Tour given the level of confidence that would undoubtedly grow within Team Sky as a result. While the Tour obviously can't be won in the first week, it most certainly can be lost if people aren't careful.