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  • Tour de France Preview - Part 1

       June 29, 2005

    (Please welcome BVBigBro as a new contributor to Dummocrats. As many of you have probably guessed, BV is indeed one of my big brothers. Although he's a man of many interests, BV's first few contributions will be about the upcoming Tour de France. -Kris)

    Saturday starts the Fourth of July weekend. In addition to celebrating our independence from Great Britain, the 4th or thereabouts annually marks the start of that most American of sporting events: the Tour de France. Yeah I know what youíre thinking, who cares? Well I do, and you should too. In reality the Tour has almost everything an American audience could want; finely tuned athletes, brutal physical requirements, hotly contested finishes, high technology, beautiful scenery, the occasional spectacular crash, for the last six years an American winner, and if you attend in person you can watch for free. It has everything but cheerleaders. Instead youíll have to settle for a weirdo in a devil costume. Best of all, it lasts three weeks and you donít have to watch every second of it. You can go to the fridge and get a beer without missing anything. For that matter, if you time it right you can go on a short vacation and not miss anything. Tomorrow, Iíll look at the stages and how the race should develop, and tell you when you can take the vacation. Today, Iíll go over the race basics, the teams, and the contenders.

    The Race

    This years Tour consists of 21 stages. Each individual stage is a race unto itself and is considered a major win for any of the riders. There are two individual time trials, one team time trial, and the rest are road stages varying from flat to mountainous. In addition to having individual stage winners, the Tour awards prizes and jerseys to the best sprinter (the green jersey), the best climber (the polka dot jersey), best young rider(the white jersey), and finally the general classification (GC) also known as the overall (the yellow jersey). The big one is the GC and this is the one that Lance Armstrong has won six times. The GC winner is the person who has the lowest overall time for the combined 21 stages.

    The Teams and Contenders

    This year's tour will be contested by 21 teams of nine riders each. Some of these teams are contenders, others are low budget affairs that will just fill out the field. The teams are:

    AG2R Prevoyance: This is a French team that has one rider, Jean Patrick Nazon, who might win a stage, otherwise this team has nothing.

    Bouygues Telecom: Another French team that has a rider, Thomas Voeckler, who held the yellow jersey for a time last year. Look for them to do nothing this year.

    Cofidis: Another French team, that has one rider, Stuart OíGrady, who could compete for the green jersey and some stages. David Moncoutie is an OK climber, but he should be easily outclassed by this field.

    Credit Agricole: Yet another French team that has two riders, Thor Hushovd and Jan Kirsipuu who should compete for some flat stages. If you havenít figured it out yet, French cycling is dead.

    CSC: The first of our contenders. CSC has a young Italian, Ivan Basso, who finished third last year and is picked by many people to win this year. This team also has Americans Bobby Julich and David Zabriskie, Norwegian Kurt Asle-Arvese, German Jens Voight and a great Spanish climber, Carlos Sastre. This is a real strong team that ought to finish high in the team time trial and be able to support Basso throughout the tour. Basso can climb with anybody, but although he has improved, he is not a strong time trialist. The big question is whether or not he can avoid bad days like the one in which last monthís Giro díItalia where he lost 42 minutes on a single stage. If he avoids the bad days, and he team focuses on just him winning, he will finish in the top three again. If you are watching on TV, these will be the guys in the red and white jerseys.

    Davitamon Lotto: A Belgian team that has an Australian, Robbie McEwen, who will be one of the favorites for the green jersey.

    Domina Vacanze: An Italian team that should do nothing.

    Discovery Channel: This is the team of Lance Armstrong and the favorite to win it again. The biggest question is whether Armstrong, who is retiring after the race, is really motivated to win. If he is, he will contend again, if he is not, it should be evident the first time the race enters the mountains. There are no secrets about what this team will do. They will ride solely in support of Armstrong winning the overall.

    There are two big changes to this team. Gone are Slava Ekimov and Floyd Landis. They have been replaced by Paolo Savoldelli and Yaroslav Popovych. Savoldelli has won the Giro twice, is an excellent overall rider, and is the best descender in the world. He could help Armstrong on some of the descents if he can stay with him on the climbs. Popovych is a young rider with a lot of potential, but this is his first Tour. The concern here is that neither is as good a time trialist as Landis or Ekimov. Look for this team to possibly lose time in the team trial this year, an event this team has traditionally dominated.

    On a fashion note, this team will have the ugliest jerseys in the race. Itís a combination blue, white and gray thing that is both boring and hideous. Their otherwise beautiful Trek bikes are equally ugly in the team colors. Given that Discovery Channel is the sponsor, youíd think this would have been a natural for some fashion / art reality show to take a crack at, but then what do I know.

    Euskaltel Euskadi: This is a Basque team that could bring some fireworks to the Tour, but has some question marks. Their main riders will be Iban Mayo and Haimar Zubeldia. Both have done well at the Tour and elsewhere. Mayo won just about everything he raced last year before the Tour. In the Tour he crashed and then got mono and dropped out. This year he has raced little and looked less than spectacular. The theory is he was over raced last year. Mayo is also only an average time trialist. Mayo has planned his whole year around this one race, so he should be motivated. When he is in good form, he is the best climber in the world, capable of dropping the rest of the field, and thus capable of winning the race in the mountains. Anything less than a top three finish will be a disappointment for him. Zubeldia is also an excellent overall rider, but he has been plagued by knee injuries and has not shown that he is fully recovered. Inigo Landaluze won one of the big Tour warm ups, and could contend for some stages, but he will be riding strictly in support of Mayo. You will recognize them in the race from their orange jerseys and from their legion of fans in the Pyrenees similarly decked out in orange.

    Fassa Bortolo: This is the team of the great sprinter Alessandro Petacchi. Unfortunately, Petacchi will not be in the race. Look for Juan Antonio Flecha to take a stage or two and give us that cool victory salute of shooting an arrow into the crowd.

    Francais des Jeux: Another French team. This one has two good sprinters, Brad McGee and Baden Cooke who could contend for some stages.

    Gerolsteiner: American Levi Leipheimer will lead this team, but donít expect him to do too much. Davide Rebellin should contend for some road stages.

    Illes Balears: With Francisco Mancebo, Vladimir Karpets, and Alejandro Valverde, this team will threaten everywhere. They do an excellent team time trial as well. Mancebo is an interesting rider. You will recognize him as the rider who has his head cocked to one side when he is climbing or hurting. He is very consistent, though, and has gotten better every year at the Tour. Look for him to try and attack in the mountains and to be in the top five or six at the end of the race. Valverde is the great unknown. He is sort of a jack of all trades, master of none, but very good at the all part. That being said, he will be a marked man early in the race, but he could prove a useful decoy for Mancebo.

    Lampre Caffita: This is the team of Gilberto Simoni and the young phenom Damiano Cunego. Because neither one of them will be racing the Tour, this team will be nine guys going through the motions.

    Liberty Seguros: Roberto Heras, who used to ride for Lance, will lead this team. He has won the Vuelta twice and can climb with anybody. Joseba Beloki was once a great rider, but has never recovered from a really bad crash at the Tour in 2003. Heras will have to be in the best form of his life to even crack the top five.

    Liquigas Ė Bianchi: This team should do nothing.

    Phonak: This is a strong team with Floyd Landis, Santiago Botero and Robert Hunter. They can time trial with anybody, climb very good, and should contend for some high places in the GC. If Botero or Landis are at their best, they could contend for a top three spot.

    Quick Step: Tom Boonen will be favored to take several flat stages with no Petacchi in the race. This team should not contend for the overall although Michael Rogers could surprise.

    Rabobank: Denis Menchov should crack the top ten overall, and Michael Boogerd and Erik Dekker could take stages.

    Saunier Duval: A low budget team that shouldnít contend for the GC, but races hard and has several good climbers. Because they race hard without really threatening anyone for the overall, they could put a rider into the top ten and possibly win a stage.

    T-Mobile: Jan Ullrich heads up what is the strongest team on paper. With Alexandre Vinokourov, Andreas Kloden and Oscar Sevilla supporting him, he will have no excuses. The most notable name regarding their roster for the Tour is Erik Zabel. Zabel, who has won and contended for the green jersey several times, will not be riding the Tour this year. That means this team has finally committed to just supporting Ullrich for the overall. The big question, though is Ullrich himself. Ever since winning the Tour in 1997, he has been overweight or injured; losing to Marco Pantani in 1998 and then Lance Armstrong. This year, Ullrich looks to be in much better shape. If that is the case, then he can climb with Armstrong, and beat him in the time trials. If not, he will be dropped in the mountains yet again.

    So thatís the field. Tomorrow Iíll take a look at the race and how it should all shake out.

    Posted by BVBigBro at June 29, 2005 11:51 AM

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    #  June 29th, 2005 11:57 AM      kris
    I like Roberto Heras and Inigo Landaluze. I'm not a big fan of Lance, mostly because of his Sheryl Crow-loving ways, but I wouldn't mind seeing him win again, just to piss off the French.  
    #  June 29th, 2005 2:12 PM      KVBigSis
    That was a great preview, BV. It seems like in years past you were always telling me why Jan Ullrich would win the race, and every year I'd see LA up on the podium. It sounds like you're finally giving him a chance.  
    #  June 29th, 2005 10:46 PM      kris

    I think you should also talk about the strategy of the race. Stuff like "why do all those riders ride in a big group like that the whole time?" or "what do you mean so-and-so is 'working' for Lance?" and "Pela WHAT???"  
    #  June 30th, 2005 3:26 PM      countertop
    excellent post. FWIW - I am going to try live blogging the race as it occurs (the velonews updates are excellent but a bit much to read if your not a dedicated fan).

    Also, while all eyes will be on Ulrich, I think Vinokourov might actually present a much more formidable challange over the long haul for Lance. Jan is getting old and after being shut out for so long (and with Vinokourov biting at his heels for control of T-Mobile) I just don't see him winning.

    My money's on Basso in 3rd, Jan collapsing on Corchavel and Vino challenging Lance for the win again.  
    #  June 30th, 2005 3:31 PM      BVBigBro
    Agressive riding will be the key (I hope). If Vino attacks early and often he will be rewarded.  
    #  June 30th, 2005 3:35 PM      BVBigBro
    I prefer cyclingnews to the velonews.  
    #  June 30th, 2005 3:39 PM      kris
    I think the cycling news updates from the Tour are actually really funny.


    drop us a note if you live blog and we'll put a special link it on the blogroll for the during of the Tour.  
    #  June 30th, 2005 4:53 PM      countertop

    Will do.

    As I will be heading on vacation Saturday, the blogging will be limited, but it will start up full time that evening.

    Cycling news is pretty good - and I think their coverage might be more detailed - but velonews anyway so thats why I end up at their page.  
    #  June 30th, 2005 8:16 PM      kris
    is this the weirdo devil guy?

    #  June 30th, 2005 8:30 PM      BVBigBro
    10-4. Actually no, that's Michael Boogerd.  



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