2007 Tour de France Preview – Part 1 or Does Anyone Still Care?
It’s that time of year again, Tour de France time. As of this writing, I may have predicted last year’s winner. Unfortunately, that last sentence says more about the state of affairs of bicycle racing than anything else. In case you’ve been living under a rock, last year’s Tour de France was won by Floyd Landis, who then proceeded to test positive for synthetic testosterone. A retest this year confirmed the presence of the synthetic testosterone. No disciplinary action has yet been taken, although it seems likely that said action will consist either of nothing or of the title being stripped from Landis and awarded to runner up Oscar Pereiro. In any event the decision will come far too late to satisfy anyone. In addition, Landis then proceeded to threaten to out Greg LeMond for having been abused as a child. Classy Floyd, classy.
In the mean time the remainder of 2006 and the first six months of 2007 have seen numerous doping confessions by some of the sports biggest names and further investigations, testimony, revelations and allegations that make it apparent that the battles fought in the post Indurain era in the Tour de France have consisted largely of chemical warfare.
In the defense of the Tour itself, the Tour has taken the lead in trying to clean up the sport. In addition to last year’s expulsions we may see some last minute expulsions this year. Further, I suspect that certain individuals have likely been informed they are not welcome. Finally, don’t be surprised if a lot more testing takes place starting this year, with the appeals process being shortened. Eventually retroactive testing could even be implemented. In a novel idea, the Tour has forced cycling’s governing body, the UCI, to make all riders wishing to ride the Tour de France sign a pledge that they will forfeit a year’s salary in the event of a positive doping result. The Tour has begun to throw its’ weight around and the Tour is too big to be ignored.
Hopefully it will be a start and not the end. Personally I think the teams, doctors and directors need to be held accountable. Better than having the riders sign a pledge would be having each team post a bond in the amount of say, twice the purse. Test positive, forfeit your bond. Let the market decide who is a risk to cheat.
It is with this background in place that this year’s contenders take the stage. The excitement that normally precedes the Tour has been replaced by a combination of apprehension for what might happen next mixed with indifference to an event that has lost its’ appeal. To tell you the truth, this year’s Tour will have to do a lot to get more than a yawn even from me. Other sports should take notice not only of what happens when performance enhancing drugs get out of hand, but how long and costly it is to even start to clean up a sport. But enough of that for now, on to the race:
This year’s Tour consists of the usual 21 stages. One short prologue time trial, two individual time trials, three mountaintop finishes, three mountainous stages that do not end on mountaintops, one sort of transitional stage, and eleven stages that are more or less flat.
The usual prizes will be awarded: the green jersey for the best sprinter, the polka dot jersey for the best climber, the white jersey for the best young rider, and the yellow jersey for the rider with the lowest overall time. The prizes will be contested by 21 teams of nine riders each. The rosters for the race are not all set, but the teams that will compete are:
After having Francisco Mancebo busted in last year’s doping scandal, the leader of this French team will be Cristophe Moreau. Moreau has had good form this year and is a strong overall rider who can keep up in the mountains and deliver a solid time trial. He is my pick to win it all. The key to his winning will be having a clean race. Moreau is a rider long rumored to be clean since the Festina scandal of 1998. If he is clean and the race is not he will be at a disadvantage that should be apparent the first time the race goes uphill. Given that the race is in France, and France has a reputation of having the cleanest cycling, I’m going to guess he will find the tour’s new era to his liking. AG2R is not a powerhouse team, but he should have no problems having adequate support in the race.
This team has one rider, Mercado, that could be somewhat competitive, but realistically should do little.
Astana appears to be the powerhouse team with Vinokourov, Kloden and Savoldelli. All three are realistic podium contenders, and all three also come from teams whose riders have had a history of using various chemical additives. The Tour will be hoping for this team to fall flat. If one of these riders wins, the result will likely be considered suspect. That fact is another indication of how low the Tour has sunk, and how quickly.
Robbie Hunter, who raced a gutsy final time trial last year, will probably lead an otherwise uninteresting team. For his showing last year I hope Hunter finds a way to steal a stage.
Thomas Voeckler, who held the yellow jersey for a few days two years ago, leads a team that should do nothing.
This is the team of who will probably be a popular pick to win Alejandro Valverde as well as last year’s possible winner Oscar Pereiro. They are a very strong team and either Valverde or Pereiro could win. On the down side Valverde has been frequently rumored to be a part of multiple doping investigations and Pereiro has the debacle of last year’s Tour de France still unresolved. How do you defend a title you’re not even sure you’ve won? This team is too well run to just disappear so I expect they will be competitive with Valverde being the one rider in the race capable of winning any stage other than the time trials.
Chavanel is their best rider. That is why they rarely win.
Thor Hushovd is a tough sprinter who should contend for the green jersey. This team tends to race hard, but its’ difficult to see them contending for the general classification.
CSC is the team managed by Bjarne Riis. Riis has now admitted to doping during his 1996 Tour victory. This team has traditionally obtained riders who miraculously became better after putting on a CSC jersey. Now we know why. Carlos Sastre is CSC’s best rider, and a threat to win it all regardless of how clean the race is. The remainder of the team are strong enough to support him but I suspect this team will have a big performance drop with the doping revelations and the subsequent microscope they can expect to endure at the Tour.
Joining CSC under the scope will be Discovery. Too many of its’ riders have had too many doping incidents for this team to skate by unnoticed. Levi Leipheimer should be their team leader, and he is definitely a threat to win. Leipheimer is a better time trialer than several of the other contenders, and this should serve him well in Tour that has only three mountaintop finishes.
Haimar Zubeldia will be the Basque team’s man for the Tour. Zubeldia, when healthy, is a threat for the podium if he can put together a half-assed time trial. I think his time trialing will be poor and I think he will disappoint this year. This team has had only minor doping incidents, and given their low budget, they may be a fairly clean team. If that is the case a clean Tour could see them surprise.
Francais de Jeux
A French team that should do nothing but always seems to find a way to win a stage.
On paper this is as weak a team as there is in this Tour. Fothen was a challenger for last year’s best young rider, but he is nowhere near being competitive in this race.
Damiano Cunego is their best rider, but he will not ride the Tour. Without him, Marzio Bruseghin will contest the time trials and Tadej Valjevic could crack the top ten overall.
Danilo DiLuca won this year’s Giro d’Italia and then promptly blessed us all with another doping scandal. Without DiLuca this team will likely phone it in.
Yet another suspended rider, the formerly great sprinter Alessandro Petacchi will not be contending anything for this team. Which means their only hope is for Celestino to contest a flat stage or two.
This is another strong team that should contend for the green jersey with Robbie McEwen and for the overall with Cadel Evans. Traditionally trying to do both results in a team doing neither, thus I suspect Evans will get the short end of the stick as the team supports McEwen. Evans is still good enough to contend for the podium, and if the team throws its’ weight behind him he will be favored to do so.
This team will try to spoil McEwen’s green jersey party and they have a man who can do it in Tom Boonen. Boonen was consistently bested by McEwen in the sprints in last year’s Tour and it will be a tough test for him to see if can regain his form and challenge McEewn for the Green Jersey. They have a couple of other good riders in Paolo Bettini and Juan Manuel Garate but it would be a major upset for them to have anyone contend for the overall.
Rabobank will have a contender for the polka dot jersey in Michael Rasmussen and a contender for the overall in Denis Menchov. I think Menchov is the greater threat to do some damage, and given the open nature of this year’s Tour he has to be seriously considered for the overall. Rasmussen can climb with anyone but is too poor a time trailer (editor’s note: only if you considering falling to be “bad”!) to threaten in this year’s Tour. Rabobank also has a number of riders like Oscar Freire, Michael Boogerd and Juan Antonio Flecha who can contend for virtually any of the road stages. With a lot of teams waiting around to see what will happen for the overall don’t be surprised if this team animates the first half of the race by having a lot of riders in breakaways and maybe stealing a sprint or two from the big boys contending for the Green jersey.
Saunier Duval will have the best bikes in the race. Unfortunately they will not have the best riders. After a strong showing in the Giro d’Italia they will seek only stage wins here which they should be able to get with Iban Mayo in the mountains. If Mayo is healthy and gets away in the mountains, he could threaten for the overall but it is unlikely the other teams will let this happen. Look for Mayo’s results in the early stages. If he loses several minutes on some flat stage and turns in a poor first time trial thise will be a pretty good sign he wants a time deficit so no one will view him as a threat in the mountains and will therefore not chase him when he decides to go for a prestigious mountain stage win.
The last team for this year’s Tour is the former powerhouse and now scandal ridden T-Mobile team. Michael Rogers will lead this team and he is good enough to finish in the top 5-6 if things go his way. It would take a huge effort and a lot of luck for him to find the podium. Given the doping scandals, this team will also find itself under close scrutiny. Unlike some others, though, they have confessed their sins and appear to be on the right path. Given their actions towards creating a clean team the Tour would probably like to see them do fairly good. Not too good, though.
That’s the field. After the 4th I’ll take a look at what could turn into one of this years’ more bizarre sporting spectacles.
Posted by BVBigBro at July 2, 2007 10:12 AM
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|# July 2nd, 2007 12:12 PM KVBigSis|
|Good job! Last year I followed the Tour on my computer at work, and watched it at night. This year I had no intention of wasting a second on it, but your preview has me a LITTLE bit interested.
Editor: You made me snort water out my nose!