No hopes for yellow … but the red polka dots are within range

Danish cyclist Chris Anker Sørensen is the bookmakers’ favourite to win the King of the Mountains, although the category is one of the most open of all time

It’s Miguel Indurain ruling supreme. It’s Lance Armstrong leaving Lars Ullrich for dead. It’s Eddy Merckx with his arms pointing to the skies in triumph. It’s Stephen Roche appearing out of nowhere on La Plagne to claw back Pedro Delgado. It’s Marcus Burghardt crashing into a stray dog. It’s John-Lee Augustyn going over the cliff. Put on your helmets, oil up your chain and pray for a strike at your work, because Mon Dieu! It’s Tour de France time!

It’s going to be 20 days of pure punishment. Blood, sweat and tears will be spilt onto the quaint French country roads as hundreds of riders make their way through the gruelling stages of the 2012 Tour de France. Twenty-two teams will battle it out, come rain or shine, to see who will be tasting champagne on top of the winner’s podium in Paris on July 22. 

Excruciating mountain stages through the Pyrenees and Alps will test the endurance limitations of the individual rider, team time trials will gauge the collective effort, and the ever-rousing spirit of the fans will contribute to the most spectacular and demanding bicycle race of the year. This year’s edition will feature nine flat ‘sprinter friendly’ stages, nine mountain stages, three individual time-trial stages (including the 6.4km prologue) and only two rest days all rolled into 3,501 kilometres of unbridled drama and agony.

The Tour de France has held a special place in the hearts of the Danes ever since Kim Andersen held the yellow jersey for six special days in 1983. And it was a love that was finally reciprocated in 1996 when ‘The Eagle from Herning’, Bjarne Riis, became the first Dane to win the coveted race. Michael ‘The Chicken’ Rasmussen then came agonisingly close to repeating the achievement in 2007, but was pulled from the race by his team under suspicious circumstances with victory in sight. And several other home-grown cyclists have become icons overnight, including Rolf Sørensen, Jørgen Pedersen and Bo Hamburger, by taking the yellow jersey at some point in their career. 

The 2012 Tour de France once again has a Danish presence, counting five riders in total. Lars Bak will be an important component for the Lotto-Belisol team, but it will be Team Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank – as it is now officially called (as of June 25) following the announcement that a Russian online financial institution, Tinkoff Bank, has signed up to become a main co-sponsor with Saxo Bank – that will provide the bulk of the Danish riders this year. Chris Anker Sørensen, Michael Mørkov, Anders Lund and veteran Nicki Sørensen will all help the Danish team as they strive to overcome the loss of Alberto Contador due to his drug suspension. This will be the first year for a long time that the Danish squad won’t have a rider vying for overall victory, but owner Bjarne Riis believes that the team still shouldn’t be underestimated.

“Of course it’s a different challenge that greets us now that we don’t really have a potential winner riding in our team,” Bjarne Riis wrote on the Team Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank website. “We begin this year’s Tour de France with a goal of going for stage victories and leaving our mark on the race – something I believe we can do. We have tried to create a team focusing on open opportunities, and I think that we have ended up with a good balance of experience, aggressiveness and various competences.”

In addition to the five Danish riders, there are two Danes listed as reserves: Matti Breschel for Dutch outfit Rabobank and Jakob Fuglsang for the Radioshack-Nissan team. Fuglsang is reportedly so gutted at missing out on a place for his team that he is currently negotiating with Bjarne Riis to return to Team Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank.

The 2012 Tour de France begins on June 30 with the short prologue in Liège, Belgium, and ends on July 22 when the winner pulls on the yellow jersey for one final time on the Champs-Élysées in Paris.

Is victory at hand for Sørensen? (Photo: Scanpix)

The boy who would be king

Chris Anker Sørensen: The 27-year old Dane will be gunning for glory in the King of the Mountains category after proving himself invaluable as a support rider in the mountains in the past for Contador and Andy Schleck. With neither of them competing for the team (suspended, left the team and injured respectively), it’s his turn to shine and he could even make it inside the top 20 in the final individual standings.

However, his main focus is the red polka dot jacket, and he is currently the favourite (13/2 with Ladbroke’s) to take the title. Nevertheless, this is the most open category in living memory, and he will be counting on the essential support of his teammates if he is to conquer the gruelling French mountains.

His form this year is good – he finished in eleventh place in the Swiss Tour and won the king of the mountains title in the seven-stage Spanish race, the Volta a Catalunya. Other career highlights include stage 8 of the 2010 Giro d’Italia, which he won after a long solo breakaway.

Riis (centre) presenting his team's new jersy with Saxo Bank boss Lars Seier Christensen (left) and Oleg Tinkoff (Photo: Scanpix)

Kingmakers behind the boy

Denmark’s Team Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank, wich is managed by Bjarne Riis (pictured above, centre) will be looking to win a stage or two while competing for the King of the Mountains jersey for Chris Anker Sørensen. Here is the rest of the team:

Juan José Haedo: Riis will be hoping that the Argentine sprinter manages to get a stage win, though he’s not in the same league as the likes of Mark Cavendish, Tyler Farrar, Oscar Freire and Alessandro Petacchi.

Jonathan Cantwell: The Australian sprinter will be counted on to support Haedo in his sprint finishes and also to be a solid component in the team effort.

Nick Nuyens: The powerful Belgian one-day-race specialist will provide plenty of experience and tactical prowess. 

Nicki Sørensen: The Danish veteran will help the team with his experience and stamina. Sørensen is the team’s captain and although he is a brilliant support rider, he also won a stage in the 2009 tour.

Michael Mørkøv: The Dane is an excellent support rider due to his tactical skills and also pretty useful in the time trials.

Anders Lund: The Dane is perhaps the best team rider in the squad. He’s a solid support rider blessed with great stamina who is capable of riding strong in the mountains.

Karsten Kroon: A loyal team rider, the Dutchman brings loads of experience to the table and has stage wins in the Tour de France and Giro D’Italia under his belt.

Sergio Paulinho: The Portuguese support rider will be a huge help to Chris Anker Sørensen in his quest to win the mountain jersey, but Paulinho can also win himself, as he proved by winning a stage in the 2010 Tour de France.

View this story as it appeared in our print edition.

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