Monday, July 5, 2010

2010 Tour de France - Stage 2

For coverage and commentary from Stage 2 of the 2010 Tour, head over to our new site at

Hope to see you there!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

2010 Tour de France - Stage 1

For coverage and commentary on today's Stage 1, please head over to our new address:

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Saturday, July 3, 2010

Friday, July 2, 2010

10 Questions for the 2010 Tour de France

It's the day before the start of the 2010 Tour de France.  While countless questions abound, here are 10 that I'll be looking to have answered.  Feel free to share your own questions and comments below.

1. What impact will the Wall Street Journal’s “Blood Brothers” feature have on Radio Shack’s Tour?

While I would prefer to focus on the racing itself, it would be irresponsible to ignore what could potentially be the story of the race. While it’s impossible to tell what the feature might contain, one can only hope it’s not speculative—we’ve had enough of that.

It’s a shame the WSJ couldn’t have picked an earlier date for its story as it risks overshadowing the start of the race itself. A week before the Prologue, a Rest Day, anything would have been better—in my opinion—than tomorrow.

C’est la vie, I guess.

2. Will Tyler Farrar and his Garmin challenge Mark Cavendish and HTC-Columbia in the Tour’s field sprints—and will either of them affect Thor Hushovd’s quest for a third green jersey?

Sunday’s Stage 1 travels from Rotterdam to Brussels, and should give us our first bunch sprint of the race. Tyler Farrar has been the fastest and most consistent field sprinter this year taking wins in the Scheldeprijs and the Giro against some top competition. Garmin has honored the American’s progression by building a team of riders able to deliver Farrar to the line with the best.

On the other hand, Mark Cavendish’s season hasn’t exactly gone as planned. He lost George Hincapie this past off-season (one of the more ingredients in his 6-stage showing in last year’s Tour), and began the season suffering from bad teeth. This was followed by inconsistent results, public displays of his immaturity, and a crash at the Tour de Suisse (and subsequent rider boycott). While Cavendish comes to the Tour as confident as ever, one cannot help but wonder why.

Look for Sunday’s Stage 1 to set the tone for the rest of the week—whichever sprinter and team gets the first punch might go on to subsequent fights over the next several days. And don’t forget Hushovd—he might not have the team of the other two, but he still warrants attention.

3. What effect will Stage 3’s trip over the pavé have on the GC?

Tuesday’s Stage 3 from Wanze to Arenberg Porte du Hainaut is already one the more hyped stages in recent memory. With 13.2km of pavé—the last section of which comes a mere 7.7km from the finish line—the stage is being touted as one of the key strategic points of the first week.

First of all, one should not discount the effects that the previous day’s ride from Brussels to Spa might have. With a finish resembling a mini-Ardennes classic, some serious time gaps could evolve, perhaps creating a bit of early daylight between one or two of the main contenders. Remember Miguel Indurain’s attack on the road to Liege in 1995? It might be too early for a repeat of that surprise move, but don’t discount the role the stage could have in what we see the following day.

In this year’s Giro, bad weather and several stretches of strade bianche greeted the riders in Stage 7. While a favorite or two did lose precious time, the ultimate battle for the maglia rosa was not immensely effected by the day’s muddy carnage. In fact, Ivan Basso, Michele Scarponi, and Vincenzo Nibali all lost chunks of time, but they all went on to finish the Giro within the top-4, with Basso taking the overall victory. In other words, while Stage 3 could prove pivotal for some, there’s a long to go before Paris.

All in all, I think we can expect to see several teams attempt to stick it to Astana with maybe one or two favorites losing significant chunks of time.

But after only 3 days of racing, will it be enough to effectively end someone’s Tour so soon after it began?

4. Will the Alps blow the race apart or will most contenders be content to wait for the Pyrenees?

This year’s Tour features no time trialing between the Prologue and Stage 19, so we can expect the main favorites to hit the Alps bunched together—barring any time losses in the Ardennes, on the pavé, or due to crashes. Next Saturday’s Stage 7 ends with a flat 4km drag to the line from the summit of the Cat. 2 Cote de Lamoura, while Sunday’s Stage 8 finishes atop the Cat. 1 climb to Morzine-Avoriaz.

It will be interesting to see how the contenders handle these two days. Saturday’s finish is considered the easier of the two, but with 6 climbs on the day, a break could escape early of riders eager to stake claims in the KOM competition. And the final 20km are almost entirely uphill; it will be a difficult day for those unable to adjust to the sudden change in terrain.

Sunday looks to be a more significant test with the Cat. 1 Col de la Ramaz softening the leading group before the finale to Morzine. With a rest day following, it could be our first chance to see fireworks from the contenders.

5. How will Sky support Bradley Wiggins in the mountains?

When the race does hit the high mountains, I’m eager to see who Sky assigns to usher Bradley Wiggins through the early parts of each stage. On paper, his team is built more for stage wins than cultivating and protecting a high placing on the GC. Will Simon Gerrans be asked to sit-up from a breakaway to drift back and pace Wiggins?

Michael Barry and Serge Pauwels are true domestiques—few can forget Pauwels bailing on a breakaway in last year’s Giro to work for Sastre. But the rest? Flecha, Cummings, and Boasson Hagen are more suited to flatter days, while Gerrans and Lokvist are opportunists—not true climbers.

That said, Wiggins hardly had the full support of his team in last year’s race—Garmin was a squad built relatively similar to Sky’s, albeit with slightly lesser talent—with one key exception: Christian Vande Velde.

If one of Wiggo’s mates rises to the occasion as a mountain lieutenant, another top-5 performance is within reach. Otherwise, without a TTT or an ITT before the high mountains, Wiggins could find himself outmanned when the heavy lifting begins.

6. Will HTC-Columbia be faced with the reality that it might actually have a contender or two for the overall? If so, when?

Last year, there was little expectation of a GC rider emerging from HTC-Columbia. Tony Martin held the white jersey for a few days, but he was widely expected to cough it up once the race went into the mountains. And Michael Rogers? Well, he wasn’t on anyone’s radar either.

That’s all changed this year with both Martin and Rogers enjoying banner seasons to now. Throw-in the fact that Mark Cavendish is showing cracks in his indomitability and you have a case of a team that might be on the verge of an identity change.

Looking down the team’s roster, it seems to be split down the middle: Cavendish, Eisel, Grabsch, Hansen, and Renshaw for the sprints; and Martin, Monfort, Rogers, and Siutsou for the GC. While every rider will certainly pitch-in when and wherever asked, it’s clear that Bob Stapleton has more than just stage wins on his radar.

With Martin still a year or two away from being a true contender, Rogers is the key to this year’s race. If he’s able to make it through the first week (and maybe even the Alps) inside the top-10, the team might have a tough choice to make—especially if Cavendish is still in contention for stages or the green jersey.

But no matter what happens this year, HTC will face an even tougher dilemma next season if young stage racers Tejay Van Garderen, Peter Velits, and Craig Lewis continue to develop. That’s not entirely a bad problem to have.

7. Is Lance Armstrong the best rider on his team?

Team Radio Shack might face a dilemma of its own in this year’s Tour should Lance Armstrong prove weaker than a few of his key support personnel. Andreas Kloden looked to be the stronger of the two several times during last year’s race, ultimately sacrificing his own chances for the sake of Big Tex. Should the gap between Lance and the competition prove even greater this July, it might be tough for Kloden to make the same sacrifices—he’s not retiring after all.

And then there’s Janez Brajkovic, a man who surprisingly makes his first Tour appearance this year. Brajkovic rode a fantastic Dauphiné, taking the win with an impressive mix of time trialing and climbing. If he comes to the Tour with similar form, he could throw a wrench in The Shack’s plans.

8. Will the new “Team Luxembourg” negatively impact the chemistry at Saxo Bank?

Bjarne Riis needs to do something—and quick—if he wants to keep Saxo Bank functioning harmoniously. Already having lost his press officer, Bryan Nygaard, and DS, Kim Andersen, to start the new formation (rumored to be sponsored by French supermarket chain, Auchan) Riis now faces the departures of several of his riders to the start-up squad.

Andy and Frank Schleck have been the most-discussed departures; they’ve been talking about forming their own team for months now. Fabian Cancellara has been rumored to be BMC-bound; while Jakob Fuglsang and Matti Breschel are already fielding offers should Riis prove unable to save the day.

But with such dissention in the ranks, how will it affect the team’s chances in a race in which they’re considered one of the top 2 or 3 contenders?

9. What will be the Tour’s juiciest transfer rumor?

It seems that the transfer rumors heat-up earlier and earlier each year. Aside from the Saxo Bank situation, we’ve already heard rumors about HTC’s Andre Greipel, Quick Step’s Stijn Devolder, and Lampre’s Damiano Cunego—just to name a few.

While I’m curious to hear your thoughts, I’ll leave you with my prediction: Roman Kreuziger has already indicated his desire to stretch his wings. Look for his landing-place to be one of the Tour’s hottest topics—and for the likely answer to be Radio Shack.

10. With no Italian or Belgian tricolored jerseys in the Tour this year, which national champion(s) will have the biggest impact?

Will Thomas Voeckler win another stage for France? Will Christian Knees and Niki Terpstra grab Milram it’s first Tour win? What about Norwegian champ Thor Hushovd—will he take his third green jersey?

So many choices—so little time.

A few notes before wrapping things up:

1. Assuming everything goes well this afternoon, we will be launching the new site tomorrow. The address will change to, but we plan to have the old URL re-direct you as well. Please update your bookmarks, readers, etc.

2. Also, I’ll be live blogging for Bicycling several times during the Tour, beginning tomorrow with Bill Strickland. Please stop-by and ask a question, join the discussion, or share your thoughts—it will be nice to see some from friendly faces! (Even if I’ve actually never seen you.)

That’s it for today—please share your thoughts, questions, and comments below.

And most of all—enjoy the Tour!

Á bientôt!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

2010 Tour de France Preview - Part 4

Here's the fourth and final installment of Pavé's 2010 Tour de France Preview.  In case you missed a day, click the link to read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.  Feel free to share your comments below.

Sky Professional Cycling Team
Halfway through its first season of existence, Team Sky has already achieved one of its goals just by earning an invitation to the Tour de France. That said, despite the presence of last year’s fourth-place finisher, Bradley Wiggins, Sky might find success in the race itself a bit harder to find. Why? Because you can’t buy chemistry.

Starting from scratch this past summer, Team Sky brought together riders from 15 different programs to form its roster for 2010. It looks easy on paper, but building a strong and successful team takes more than just plucking the best riders and putting them in a race together—it takes time for the riders and staff to develop the chemistry that comes after years of racing and working with one another.

This is why Sky enjoyed so much success early in the season, but less so as the year progressed. The team won several races at a time when everyone was busy reacquainting themselves with their teams. But as the established formations quickly settled into patterns and roles established in prior years, Team Sky was still feeling-itself-out so to speak, something that might have led to a decline in results. Of course, an injury to one of the team’s best riders didn’t help.

That said, I think tempered expectations might be best for the team in its first year at the Tour de France. A stage win or two is realistic, but a dominating performance—and more importantly, a top-5 ride for Wiggo—might be a bit out of reach.

Wiggins could struggle during a difficult final week in a Tour where time trialing takes a backseat to major climbing. He’ll perform well on the pavé, but when the road turns uphill, I wonder which of his teammates will be the main man to guide him through the mountains. All in all, expect at least stage win from Team Sky—especially if Edvald Boasson Hagen returns to his 2009 form.

Man of the Hour: Wiggins comes to the Tour hoping to improve upon his fourth-place ride last year. Wiggins was one of the true all-rounders of last year’s race, a rider able to climb and time trial with the favorites. That said, he won’t have the element of surprise working in his favor this year; he’ll be racing as a contender and will be given less of a leash as a result.

On the Hot Seat: Edvald Boasson Hagen must be feeling some pressure to deliver on the tremendous potential he displayed last season. After missing much of the spring with an injury, he seems back on track following a win in the final stage of the Dauphiné. A talented time trialist, Hagen could take a win as early as Saturday’s Prologue.

Up-and-Comer: Geraint Thomas scored four consecutive top-10 finishes in the first four stages of the Dauphiné before winning the British road championship. Now he gets to show-off his new jersey in the Tour.

Just Happy to Be There: Michael Barry’s been a professional since 1999 and is riding his first Tour de France this season. “Happy to There” is a bit of an understatement.

Feeling Left Out: Kurt Asle Arvesen has ridden 5 Tours and has one stage win on his résumé. Dario Cioni is a talented climber and an experienced grand tour rider as well. Matthew Hayman knows how to control a peloton when gaps need to be closed and breaks need catching. For a team with GC aspirations, I can’t help but feel that these men would have been better choices than some of the riders selected.

Team HTC-Columbia
At some point, possibly as early as this year’s Team Tour de France, HTC-Columbia might have to decide whether it’s a sprint team or a GC team. Last year, the question had an easy answer: ride for Cavendish and let the young GC riders get a taste for the Tour. This year however, with both Michael Rogers and Tony Martin looking as if they have serious chances for top-10 results, HTC might be forced to reconsider its strategy.

First, let’s talk about Cavendish. Equalling last year’s six stage wins looks to be a tall order this year. For one, he’s lacking a bit of the fitness and speed he possessed last season at this time. Dental issues, poor form, and crashes have derailed his chances to find a rhythm—his wins have been few and far between. Worse still, Cavendish now seems to have attracted the ire of the majority of the peloton following his antics at the end of Stage 4 of the Tour de Suisse. Irregular sprinting, spitting, and a generally bad attitude will ensure that Cavendish gets no favors this year. Add to this the continued progression of Tyler Farrar and the rejuvenation of Thor Hushovd, and Cavendish might have more competition than he was used to in 2009—especially with Garmin now able to provide a lead-out much more on par with HTC’s. Overall, while a shut-out might be a bit unrealistic, I think 2-3 stage wins for Cavendish is a better estimate.

On the GC side of things, Michael Rogers and Tony Martin lead HTC’s charge, supported by super-domestique Maxime Monfort and climber Konstantin Siutsou. Rogers has been enjoying quite a renaissance after several seasons that fell short of expectations. As for Martin, he held the white jersey for a while in last year’s race before suffering too much in the mountains. The same happened in this year’s Tour de Suisse, where Martin held the yellow jersey before losing it on the big stage to La Punt. Rogers is clearly the more polished of the two right now, but Martin might be more talented. I’m eager to see how both perform—and to what degree HTC saves them in the first week.

In the end, the best thing HTC-Columbia has going for it is depth. If things go pear-shaped for Cavendish and/or the GC men, there are plenty of riders capable of picking-up the slack and taking some stage wins. While we might not see a repeat of last year’s Tour de Cavendish, with this team, another impressive performance is certainly possible.

Man of the Hour: Michael Rogers has been enjoying a terrific season with wins in the Ruta del Sol and Tour of California as well as podium spots in the Criterium International and Tour of Romandie. The Tour de France will be the Australian’s first grand tour of 2010—will the results continue?

On the Hot Seat: I feel like I wrote this last year, but Mark Cavendish needs to let his legs do more of the talking. After his two-fingered salute at the Tour of Romandie, there was a distinct sense at the Tour of California that team management had reprimanded the Manxman, given the subdued nature of his interaction with the media. After his Swiss antics, it can be assumed another lecture was delivered. But was it heard?

Up-and-Comer: Tony Martin’s still only 25—he has at least another year or two before he’s at his peak. One of the world’s finest time trialists, Martin needs to show some progression in the high mountains before we can begin heralding him as a true grand tour contender. I expected more from him in the Tour de Suisse, a race he was leading until the serious climbing began. This year’s Tour will be a terrific test of just how far the German has come.

Just Happy to Be There: Adam Hansen squeaked into HTC’s Tour selection with a win in Holland’s Ster Elektrotoer. It’s been a banner year for Australians, look for Hansen in the early stages of Cavendish’s lead-outs as well as some breakaways later in the race.

Feeling Left Out: At this point, Andre Greipel might as well list himself on eBay. His Tour snub was a clear reflection of HTC’s intentions not to make a strong effort to sign the German this off-season. Yes, he underwhelmed at the Giro—winning only one stage—but he hasn’t exactly been overshadowed by Cavendish either. Look-out 2011!

Team Katusha
It’s not good when your team’s GC rider is Vladimir Karpets—but that’s okay with Katusha, a team built more for stage wins than overall success.

Sergei Ivanov, Alexandr Kolobnev, and Jose Joaquin Rodriguez are Katusha’s best riders—look for them to come to the fore as early as Monday—Ivanov and Kolobnev impressed in the Ardennes races and could certainly win Stage 2 on similar terrain. Even though Rodriguez finished seventh in last year’s Vuelta, he is a more likely candidate for stage wins in France.

On flatter days, the team will back Robbie McEwen in field sprints, hoping the aging Australian can find a bit of the speed that saw him win 12 Tour stages between 2002 and 2007. At 38, McEwen’s another sprinter whose fastest days might have passed—but anything’s possible. Robbie should be especially motivated to take Stage 1 in Brussels as it’s not too far from Brakel, his adopted home. Do you think McEwen and Petacchi can give us a little flashback to 2003?

As for Karpets, he finished 13th in the 2004 Tour de France, taking the white jersey as Best Young Rider for Caisse d’Epargne. Last year the Russian ended the Tour in 12th-place as Katusha’s best-placed rider. This year, look for Karpets to follow the favorites in the mountains, using his above-average time trialing skills to pick-up places here and there. At best, Karpets can hope to beat-out Rabobank’s Denis Menchov for the best GC placing by a Russian. But if he were a legitimate contender for the podium, we would have seen more from him by now.

Man of the Hour: Alexandr Kolobnev was perhaps the most aggressive rider of the Ardennes classics, failing to take the big win he so valiantly sought. A Tour stage would be nice consolation for the new Russian champion.

On the Hot Seat: McEwen might be a candidate, but he’s at a point when less seems to be expected from him. On the other hand, Vladimir Karpets is 29 and in the “prime” of his career. If he fails to produce a top-10 result in France this year, it might be time to re-evaluate his goals, perhaps shifting focus from grand tours to shorter stage races (in which he’s performed well in the past).

Up-and-Comer: Katusha’s bringing a relatively veteran squad to this year’s Tour de France—except for 23-year-old Alexandre Pliuschkin. The 3-time defending Moldavian national champion, this will be the youngster’s first chance to show-off his nation’s colors in the Tour. With an impressive résumé including medals in various junior and U23 world championship events and a win in the 2007 U23 Tour of Flanders, it will be interesting to see how he fares in his first Tour. Is Pliuschkin the next Roman Kreuziger?

Just Happy to Be There: Robbie McEwen missed last year’s Tour with an injury—he’s got to be thrilled just to be riding this year.

Feeling Left Out: He certainly wasn’t “left out”, but let’s keep Kim Kirchen in our thoughts anyway.

Team Milram
I have a good feeling about Milram in this year’s Tour de France—and by that I mean they might win a stage (it would be their first). Niki Terpstra and Christian Knees won their national championships (Holland and Germany), perhaps giving the team a bit of confidence heading into the Tour.

Looking down the rest of the team’s roster, it’s not an all together a bad picture. Gerald Ciolek’s the team’s sprinter—he seems to struggle against the world’s fastest guys, but gets closer and closer each year. Knees, Terpstra, and Fabian Wegmann can handle themselves in breakaways—Wegmann has just missed on more than one occasion. And last but not least, Linus Gerdemann carries the team’s GC hopes. He’s certainly not the best rider to carry the team’s entire burden, but he’s more than serviceable and could certainly slip into the yellow jersey should he find the right breakaway during the first week.

Man of the Hour: Linus Gerdemann has been Germany’s GC-hopeful since he took a stage and the yellow jersey for a few days in the 2007 Tour. But looking over his résumé, there’s nothing to indicate that he’s a man for the grand tours. He finished 16th in this year’s Giro; but for a rider who always seems to suffer from at least catastrophic day, stage wins might be a more realistic goal.

On the Hot Seat: General Manager Gerry Van Gerwen has not yet received a commitment from Milram for next season. With several Pro Tour squads searching for title sponsors, now is not a good time to be a mediocre squad with a market severely damaged by the sport’s various doping scandals. Van Gerwen’s men need immediate results if he is to have any chance of securing his program’s future.

Up-and-Comer: Here’s the thing about Gerald Ciolek that many people forget—he’s only 23! He seems to be a man of near-misses in the Tour, but with time to develop, a win should arrive at some point. I could also see Ciolek becoming more of an all-rounder at some point in his career, forgoing field sprints for small groups and breakaways.

Just Happy to Be There: Roger Kluge made a name for himself on the track before switching primarily to the road. He makes his Tour debut in his first season in the Pro Tour. If he can avoid being overwhelmed by the Tour circus, he’ll be a valuable asset to Ciolek on flatter days.

Feeling Left Out: Markus Fothen made a name for himself in the 2006 Tour by wearing the white jersey for about two weeks. After two seasons of decent results, the 28-year-old seems to have disappeared from the map. This year, he’s on the outside looking in at Milram’s Tour de France squad.

Team Radio Shack
They say that sometimes in cycling, the best rider doesn’t always win. In the case of Team Radio Shack and the 2010 Tour de France, it might ultimately be said that the best team doesn’t always either—especially when they don’t have the best rider.

From top to bottom, Radio Shack brings the most experienced and talented squad to Rotterdam led by none other than 7-time Tour-winner, Lance Armstrong. In what he claims will be his last Tour de France, Lance has assembled the finest riders, staff, management, and material the sport might have ever seen. But will it be enough to overcome the Texan’s age and the riders looking to exploit it? I don’t think so.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not trying to be pessimistic, nor am I taking advantage of an opportunity to be a Lance-hater. I just don’t think he has enough left in the tank to overcome the likes of Alberto Contador, Andy Schleck, and several of the other contenders in this year’s race.

But that shouldn’t stop us from admiring the team Armstrong has assembled—it’s quite impressive. Andreas Kloden has two second-places and sixth-place on his Tour record, while Levi Leipheimer has four top-10 finishes including third-place in 2007. Either man would be a team leader on another squad. Then there’s Janez Brajkovic, a real star in the making who won this year’s Dauphiné in a fashion eerily similar to how Lance and Contador won their major stage races. Chris Horner’s also in the Tour de France this year following his omission in 2009, while Yaroslav Popovych, a veteran from Lance’s late Tour victories and a rider who once finished third in the Giro, rides as well.

Dmitri Murayev, Sergio Paulinho, and Greg Rast round out the squad, three talented domestiques who will be expected to drive the peloton in the service of their more illustrious teammates.

But never forget, this is primarily Lance’s team—even if Johan Bruyneel directs it. While a win might be out of his reach, Lance is certainly capable of another podium spot by virtue of his cunning and determined style of racing. Look for his team to work a bit harder to get him a final stage win as well, especially if he appears to have fallen out of contention.

And as far as the rest of his time in France is concerned, pay attention to whom Lance spends his time chatting with in the peloton as they might just become the new leader of The Shack in 2011, the year Lance seeks to win his first Tour de France—as a team manager, that is.

Man of the Hour: Lance—even if his team doesn’t give press conferences.

On the Hot Seat: Lost in the hubbub over Big Tex has been the slow, subtle decline of Levi Leipheimer. Levi is 36, several years past his best years as a rider. Racing in Lance’s shadow has obscured the fact that the California native hasn’t won an individual race since last year’s ATOC. Levi needs a good showing in France to prove he still has what it takes to win.

Up-and-Comer: Janez Brajkovic rides his first Tour after years of waiting in the wings. The 26-year-old Slovenian could be the future of what is a relatively “old” team. If he can climb and time trial like he did in June’s Dauphiné, he could turn out to be The Shack’s best rider—now.

Happy to be There: Chris Horner was a disappointing absentee from last year’s Tour after team politics kept him off the roster. Like Lance, Chris is 38 and nearing the end of his career—although you wouldn’t know it given his recent results. Here’s hoping he gets at least one chance to ride for a stage win in this year’s race—there’s perhaps not a more deserving rider.

Feeling Left Out: Geert Steegmans might be a bit miffed about missing this year’s Tour de France since it passes through Belgium. Steegmans won a Belgian Tour stage in 2007 and perhaps was looking to do so again. But despite his ambitions, it’s hard to Steegmans having a spot on team already leaving Tour veterans Jose Luis Rubiera and Tomas Vaitkus at home as well.

Team Saxo Bank
Last but not least, we have Team Saxo Bank, a squad who’s been in the press quite a bit lately—and for the wrong reasons.

When Saxo Bank announced that is was ending its sponsorship at the end of 2010, everyone assumed that Bjarne Riis would pull yet another rabbit from his hat—and probably right before the Tour. For a while it appeared that this would indeed be the case, with current co-sponsor Sun Guard stepping-up to become the new title sponsor. However, as recently as today’s press conference, there were no announcements coming from Riis—only promises that his team would continue.

Uh, oh.

To make matters worse, (former) members of Riis’ staff have decided to take matters into their own hands to create a new Pro Tour team for Luxembourg—rumored to be sponsored by French supermarket chain, Auchan. Of course, you can’t talk about Saxo Bank and Luxembourg without at least mentioning Andy and Frank Schleck—they’re rumored to be involved too, but this can’t be confirmed as they are currently under contract.

Clearly, there’s something rotten in the state of Denmark. (Been waiting all week to write that!)

But moving on, there’s a little matter of the Tour de France at hand, a race Saxo Bank has a very good shot of winning.

Andy Schleck (the younger of the two brothers) finished second in last year’s Tour and seems to be the only rider—based upon last year’s performances at least—with a realistic shot at overcoming Alberto Contador. Next to Contador, he’s perhaps the most electric climber in the race, but needs to improve considerably against the clock in order to strike some serious fear in his Spanish rival.

As for Frank, he’s taken fifth-place in both of the last two editions, earning a stage win last year as well. An even lesser time trialist than his brother, Frank turned heads when he came from behind to win this year’s Tour de Suisse—in a time trial, no less.

In order to defeat Contador in this year’s race, Andy and Frank will need to go on the offensive early, exposing Contador and his team to a constant wave of attacks. The rest of Saxo’s squad is much deeper and more adept at controlling—and stringing-out—a race than Astana, something they’ll need to exploit. And should Saxo Bank and Radio Shack choose to work in tandem, it could mean lights-out for Alberto.

Look for Saxo Bank to go on the offensive as early as Stage 3, using Stuart O’Grady, Fabian Cancellara, and their 3 Paris-Roubaix titles to apply some serious pressure to the softer squads on the pavé. On other transitional days, Jens Voigt, Matti Breschel, and Nicki Sorensen can apply the heat, while Jacob Fuglsang and Chris Anker Sorensen can turn the screws when the race heads to the mountains.

That’s a lot of metaphors. (Must be the Shakespeare.)

In the end, it will take nothing short of a full team effort to topple Contador and Astana in this year’s Tour de France. But the question remains: will Saxo Bank have a team by the end of it?

Man of the Hour: Andy Schleck is the #1 threat to Contador’s throne. Better still, he’s only 25—this rivalry’s just getting started.

On the Hot Seat: It seems as if every other year Bjarne Riis is on the hot seat to find a new sponsor for his team. This season, things look particularly perilous, as members of his staff have left to form their own program. Riis needs a new sponsor—and fast—if he wants to keep the core of this year’s team intact.

Up-and-Comer: Jacob Fuglsang gets his first shot at the Tour following a third-place finish in last month’s Tour de Suisse. The Dane’s already received interest from other squads, making him one of several riders waiting to hear what Riis has or hasn’t found for 2011.

Happy to Be There: Following his scary crash on the descent of the Col du Petit-Saint-Bernard in Stage 16 of last year’s race, Jens Voigt is just happy to be riding this year’s Tour. But as we all know, “just riding” is not a phrase Jens knows very well.

Feeling Left Out: Gustav Erik Larsson did just about everything that was asked of him prior to this year’s Tour de France, but in the end it just wasn’t enough to earn an invitation. The lack of a TTT in this year’s race was likely the biggest detriment to his chances, as he would have been a major asset to his team in the event of its inclusion.

That's it for now--come back tomorrow for list of questions we hope to see answered during this year's Tour.  And look for the launch of our new site Saturday!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

2010 Tour de France Preview - Part 3

Here's the third installment of Pavé's 2010 Tour de France Preview.  I'll wrap things up tomorrow with the final installment, and then present some interesting questions to be answered during this year's Tour on Friday.  In case you missed them, here are links to Part 1 and Part 2 of the Preview.  As always, share your comments and insights below.

Lampre-Farnese Vini
Damiano Cunego, Alessandro Petacchi, and 5 riders making their Tour debuts is hardly a roster to strike fear into the opposition, but that’s what Lampre brings to this year’s Tour de France. For a team that received almost as much criticism as Footon-Servetto for its inclusion, Lampre doesn’t seem too concerned with proving critics wrong.

After a relatively anonymous spring and a less-than-stellar Giro d’Italia, Cunego needs to do something—and soon—lest he risk losing money on the transfer market this off-season. He showed flashes of brilliance at this year’s Giro; unfortunately his good rides were often followed by rides equally as bad. He comes to this year’s Tour in search of a stage win or two, and perhaps a top-15 finish in the GC. Stick to stage wins, Damiano—start with Stage 2 through the Ardennes.

As for Petacchi, he’s clearly outclassed in anything other than regional Italian races. He won Stage 4 in Switzerland simply by virtue of the fact that he remained upright following a major crash, but that’s hardly an indicator of Tour field sprint success.

As for the rest, there’s always a chance for a stage win from a break or two—Simon Spilak’s a handy opportunist to have around and Grega Bole won a small field sprint in the Dauphiné. If Cunego and Petacchi falter, it’s up to a member of Lampre’s supporting cast to take center stage.

Man of the Hour: Damiano Cunego’s been hunting for a major result since last season when he failed in the spring classics, the Giro, the Tour, Worlds, and the fall classics. Were it not for two wins in the Vuelta, the Italian’s season would have been a complete wash. Time to shine, Damiano—there’s millions waiting for you this off-season if you do.

On the Hot Seat: Giuseppe Saronni has a lot of explaining to do. He lost some of his best riders this past off-season and replaced them with aging stars and unknown rookies. Rumors are already swirling that his last marketable asset—Damiano Cunego—is about to leave as well. With few important wins and a potentially deserted roster, Saronni’s sponsors can’t be happy.

Up-and-Comer: Simon Spilak won this May’s Tour of Romandie following the disqulification of Alejandro Valverde. A young, talented all-rounder, Spilak gets his second Tour start this year. Don’t be surprised if he’s the only Lampre rider to take a win.

Just Happy to Be There: Grega Bole, Mauro Da Dalto, Francesco Gavazzi, Mirco Lorenzetto and Adriano Malori are all making their Tour debuts this summer. Forza, ragazzi!

Feeling Left Out: The entire team in 2011—if they don’t perform in 2010.

In my humble opinion, Liquigas is one of the more intriguing teams in this year’s Tour de France. Ivan Basso won his second Giro d’Italia this May, topping-off one of the most fantastic post-suspension comebacks the sport has ever seen. Basso raced with grinta and determination, never wavering as he clawed back from a several-minute deficit to take the lead just before the final weekend.

Now he comes to the Tour, with aspirations to become the first person since Marco Pantani to win the Giro and the Tour in the same year. Can he do it? I discounted Basso’s chances to win the Giro, considering him too old and far removed from his prime to win a grand tour—he proved me wrong. As for the Tour, while I don’t consider him one of the top 2 or 3 contenders, I will not be surprised to see him take the win—especially if the main favorites make the same mistake I did before the Giro.

Remember, no one thought Pantani would win the Tour in 1998—especially over a seemingly dominant Jan Ullrich. And were you just a little surprised when Carlos Sastre rode away on Alpe d’Huez to take the win in 2008? Anything’s possible.

The biggest thing going for Basso is the layout of this year’s race. Basso rode himself into shape throughout the Giro, peaking during what was an impossibly tough third week. This year’s Tour de
France follows a similar pattern, slowly building week-to-week to a Pyrenean crescendo. Except for Saturday’s Italian championship, Basso hasn’t raced since May—making a steady progression through the Tour even more important—and probable. If he manages to pull it off, Basso’s ride will go down in history as one of the Tour’s most legendary performances.

As for the rest of the squad, don’t discount Roman Kreuziger either—a man with his own Tour aspirations. Kreuziger seems to have dialed-in his preparation this season, laying all of his cards on the table for the Tour. A talented climber and able time trialist, Kreuziger is the most talented of the young men expected to challenge for Tour supremacy throughout the next decade. Should Basso prove fallible, Kreuziger could be the man for Liquigas.

Man of the Hour: Basso. The competition will be fierce, but this might be his last and best chance for yellow.

On the Hot Seat: No one, actually. Liquigas has had a relatively perfect season so far, winning the Giro with several stage wins to boot. A top-5 finish in the Tour along with a stage win or two would be a welcome sight, but for now, Liquigas can ride a pressure-free race—a bad sign for the competition.

Up-and-Comer: Kreuziger’s barely 24 and already he’s finished 13th and 9th in the Tour de France. Should he continue his ascension toward the podium—perhaps even landing on it—look for him to be one of the most sought-after commodities in this off-season’s transfer market.

Just Happy to be There: If you have some time—and can tolerate Google translator—take a trip over Sylvester Szmyd’s blog. It’s casual, thoughtful, and offers a pleasant look into the mind of one of the peloton’s most underrated talents. This won’t be his first Tour—or his last—but Szmyd seems to epitomize someone who’s just happy to be there.

Feeling Left Out: Remember when Daniele Bennati was everyone’s pick to be the next great Italian sprinter? He won two stages in 2007—none since. While he be feeling left out, it’s easy to see why.

Omega Pharma – Lotto
Gone are the days when Lotto came to the Tour with split sprint/GC ambitions. With inconsistent Aussies Robbie McEwen and Cadel Evans elsewhere, and classics men Philippe Gilbert, Leif Hoste, and Greg Van Avermaet staying home, this year’s Lotto squad belongs to one man: Jurgen Van den Broeck.


Yup, the man I’ve come to call “VDB2” has earned the right to have a full team supporting his chances in this year’s Tour—and he’s done it fair and square. VDB2 first showed his grand tour talents by finishing seventh in the 2008 Giro d’Italia after several strong performances in the mountains. The effort earned the Belgian a spot in last year’s Tour, riding as a lieutenant for Cadel Evans. Evans quickly proved the weaker of the two though, ultimately surrendering his captaincy by the final week of the race. VDB2 would go on finish the Tour 15th overall, a deceiving result considering his earlier sacrifices.

This season, Van den Broeck rode brilliantly in support of Gilbert in the Ardennes classics, covering moves and driving the chase group to essentially hand Gilbert the Amstel Gold Race on a platter. He then finished 4th in the Dauphiné, beaten by two men peaking for the race itself—Janez Brajkovic and Tejay Vangarderen—and the man who is perhaps the best stage racer in the world—Alberto Contador.

If VDB2 has indeed saved his best form for July, a stunning result is possible—maybe even one inside the top-5. Heck, most of Belgium would settle for a top-10, considering it’s been ages since they’ve had a legitimate contender for the Tour’s GC. With a solid team of climbers, rouleurs, and domestiques, there’s nothing to prevent Van den Broeck from making his country proud.

Man of the Hour: Van den Broeck.

On the Hot Seat: Van den Broeck will be if he fails to deliver under such favorable cicumstances. Belgian fans can be so fickle.

Up-and-Comer: Like VDB2, Matt Lloyd is riding his second Tour this year as well. After a stage win and the climber’s jersey at the Giro, his stock is rising.

Just Happy to Be There: Considering how Lotto left just about every other classics rider off the Tour squad, Jurgen Roelandts has to be grateful to have been given a shot at the Tour. Maybe he would have preferred a vacation, but a grand tour might help the youngster’s progression for next year’s classics.

Feeling Left Out: I have a feeling Greg Van Avermaet was hoping for a chance at a stage win in this year’s Tour. One of the more disappointing Belgians of the past two seasons, it was beginning to look in June as if Van Avermaet was—finally—hitting his stride. Looks like he’ll have to be content with another Vuelta.

Quick Step
Quick Step can’t seem to catch a break. Last year Tom Boonen was almost disqualified before the Tour even started thanks to another cocaine offense. He received a last-minute reprieve, but failed to deliver after his team went to great lengths to get him to the line.

Fast forward a year and Boonen has already been ruled-out from racing thanks to the knee injury he received in a crash at the end of Stage 1 of the Tour of California. Even worse, his initial replacement, Giro stage-winner Wouter Weylandt, has been ruled ineligible since we wasn’t on the official 15-rider pre-selection list Quick Step sent to the race organization weeks ago. After all was said and done, the rider finally chosen to take Tom Boonen’s is probably the last rider on the list anyone ever thought would have to ride—Italian Francesco Reda.

Without Boonen, Quick Step closely resembles a French squad with several opportunists hunting for stage wins, a young rider or two hoping for a good GC showing, and a few soon to be washed-up veterans looking for one last chance to shine. Carlos Barredo and Sylvain Chavanel are the cream of the crop. Barredo came close to winning a stage last year before winning the Clasica San Sebastian soon after the Tour ended. Chavanel’s been rather disappointing so far this season—he’s certainly hoping to add another stage win to the one he took in 2008. Frenchman Jérome Pineau won a stage at this year’s Giro; a stage victory in his home tour would be a welcome addition to his résumé.

And that’s about it for Quick Step—not much to get excited about considering this team might have contended for the green jersey had its star been healthy enough to take part.

Man of the Hour: Barredo, Chavanel, and Pineau will take turns trying to take stages. Chavanel might make a go of it as early as Stage 3.

On the Hot Seat: For a Belgian super-team, getting shut-out of the classics is an incredibly worrisome situation. Two stage wins in the Giro were nice, but the team needs some Tour success if it wishes to regain credibility with its fans.

Up-and-Comer: Boonen’s absence might be the best thing for young Kevin Seeldraeyers, the winner of the white jersey as Best Young Rider in last year’s Giro d’Italia. Without the pressure of setting things up for field sprints, Seeldrayers can relax during the first week, doing his best to stay out of trouble. Will the 23-year-old join Jurgen Van den Broeck to form a new generation of Belgian Tour contenders?

Just Happy to Be There: Franceso Reda’s the obvious choice, but how about Eddy Merckx bicycles? Yes, Merckx himself has little to do with the company and the quality is rumored to be not what it once was, but it’s still nice to see the brand back in the Tour.

Feeling Left Out: I’m having a tough time wrapping my head around how and why it happened, but Stijn Devolder will be missed as Belgian national champion. The Tour’s always a better race with more national champions’ jerseys represented, but Devolder’s absence will be particularly missed on the stages through Belgium. At first it seemed as if Devolder was left off by management; then it appeared that Devolder himself had passed on the opportunity. Whatever the reason, it spells the beginning—or maybe the middle actually—of the end for the Belgian’s affiliation with Quick Step.

Denis Menchov, Robert Gesink, and Oscar Freire are the three Rabobank riders we can expect to hear the most from in this Tour de France.

Menchov skipped a chance to defend his title at the Giro this year, choosing instead to focus on adding the only grand tour he has yet to win to his palmares. As far as his chances go, your guesses are as good as mine. A natural grand tour rider, Menchov possesses the rare mix of climbing and time trialing so rarely seen nowadays. When in-shape and confident, he’s one of the best riders in the world. Unfortunately, Menchov’s also prone to crashing, something that makes him a bit suspect in a Tour beginning in Holland and passing over the pavé on its way to France.

Perhaps even more talented—at going uphill at least—than Menchov, Robert Gesink hopes to finally finish the Tour de France after an early exit last year. Like his Russian teammate, Gesink is a rider known for being a bit squirrely at times—a crash being the reason he left last year’s Tour. But a bigger liability for Gesink—as was so spectacularly illustrated at this year’s Tour de Suisse—is his inability to time trial. While Gesink is still young and has plenty of time to improve against the clock, losing a stage race to Frank Schleck in a time trial is certainly cause for concern. Until he fixes the problem, he’ll remain nothing more than a candidate for mountain stage wins, the polka dot jersey, and the lower half of the top-10.

As for Freire, he keeps coming back for more—and winning. After winning a stage and the green jersey in 2008, Freire was shut-out last year. But as he showed with his third win in Milan-San Remo earlier this season, Oscar’s not someone to ignore.

And by the way, Lars Boom could win the Prologue, so put your money down now.

Man of the Hour: Menchov’s wagered the first half of his season on success in France.

On the Hot Seat: This spot could be Menchov’s if he fails to deliver. That said, the man’s won three grand tours; he’s earned a bit of patience.

Up-and-Comer: Gesink’s an easy pick, but he’s been “up and coming” for so long now that it hardly seems fair to keep mentioning him. I’m eager to see what Lars Boom does in his first Tour. He might be a better pick than Gesink for Tour GC success a few years from now—especially since he can actually time trial. In fact, Boom’s a good outside bet to win the Prologue, so put your money down now.

Just Happy to There: There were few surprises in Rabobank’s Tour selection this year. Aside from some last minute crash replacements, everyone’s preparation has more or less gone as planned.

Feeling Left Out: Laurens Ten Dam fell heavily during the Tour de Suisse, suffering several serious injuries to keep him from riding this year’s Tour. A consummate professional and a seemingly fearless rider, Ten Dam’s presence in the mountains—the uphill part of them at least—will be missed by his team and its fans. Get well soon, Laurens!

And that’s it for Part 3 of Pavé’s 2010 Tour de France Preview. Be sure to share your comments and feedback below—and come back tomorrow for the fourth and final part of the series!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

2010 Tour de France Preview - Part 2

Here's Part 2 of Pavé's 2010 Tour de France Preview.  You can read Part 1 here.  Please share your comments and picks below.

Like most of the French teams in this year’s Tour de France, AG2R comes to the race hoping to find relevance through stage wins, days spent in various leader’s jerseys, and maybe—if one of the riders proves particularly lucky—a top-15 placing in the final overall classification.

Last year, Rinaldo Nocentini saved the day in what would have been an otherwise anonymous showing for the squad. His eights day in yellow gave the team and its sponsors a solid week of good publicity in the midst of a race where the only excitement the team had been able to generate involved its terrible fashion sense.

This year, the bulk of last year’s Tour squad returns for AG2R with similar goals in its sights. Rinaldo Nocentini started the season on a tear, winning the Tour Méditerranéen and the first stage of the Tour du Haut Var before breaking his elbow in a crash in March. He’ll be on the hunt for an early breakaway, looking for a stage win, the polka dot jersey, and perhaps some more time in yellow.

The AG2R man you’ll hear the most about is Nicolas Roche. The 25-year-old Irishman, came close to winning two stages last year—he’s looking to put himself on the top step of a stage podium at least once. He’s also being touted as having an outside chance for a top-15 or top-20 overall placing in Paris. While I don’t quite see it, anything’s possible after you pass the first 15 or so overall contenders—all it takes is one big time gap in a breakaway and suddenly you’ve jumped 50 places (ask Oscar Pereiro or Davide Arroyo about that).

Man of the Hour: Roche leads a team of vagabonds and opportunists—there’s nothing standing between him and a stage win.

On the Hot Seat: Do you feel like John Gadret’s been knocking on the door of a major result for the past 3 or 4 years? He finished 13th in this year’s Giro d’Italia—does he have the legs for a top-15 in France or a stage win? Here’s a tip, John: follow Pierrick Fedrigo.

Up-and-Comer: AG2R’s chosen a roster of veterans with few true “up-and-comers” among them. Roche is an easy pick, but he’s received so much press of late that it’s hard to give him the label.

Just Happy to Be There: Considering he was thought by few to have a shot at returning in time for the Tour, Rinaldo Nocentini deserves credit for healing and riding himself into enough shape to come back in time for the event.

Feeling Left Out: I’m a bit surprised to see AG2R’s Tour veterans Cyril Dessel and Vladimir Efimkin were left off of this year’s squad—perhaps they feel the same?

Caisse d’Epargne
Eusebio Unzue has a bit of a problem. His title sponsor has announced it no longer intends to sponsor his Pro Tour squad and his best and most high-profile rider has just been suspended for 2 years for his “alleged” involvement in Operation Puerto. Clearly, this will be an important Tour de France for the Spanish team—if it wishes to avoid making it their last.

But there’s hope on the horizon, and his name is Luis Leon Sanchez. Sanchez has long been overshadowed by Valverde—and with good reason, as Valverde’s accolades and antics deserve the attention they have received. But with several major wins over the past few years, including some impressive results in weeklong stage races, it’s time to see what Sanchez can do in a grand tour when fully supported by his team.

Some might say that we’ve already seen what Sanchez can do—last year, for example, when Valverde was barred from racing in Italy and therefore had to skip the Tour. While I might tend to agree, I think Sanchez was still racing for stage wins more than GC success. He has two stages to his name now (from 2008 and 2009); it’s the perfect time to test his legs as an overall contender.

Sanchez can climb, time trial, and has the benefit of an experienced and dedicated team at his disposal. There’s no better time like the present to see if he can have his countrymen asking “Alejandro who?” by the end of July. The future of his team just might depend upon it.

Man of the Hour: Sanchez is entering his grand tour prime with a resume many riders would like have by the time they retired. Can he take his talent to the next level?

On the Hot Seat: Unzue’s been relatively quiet regarding his search for a new sponsor. That could be a good sign—or a very, very bad one.

Up-and-Comer: Rui Costa won Stage 8 of this year’s Tour de Suisse and then followed it up with the Portugese time trial championship. One of the youngest riders on Caisse d’Epargne, he gets his second shot after abandoning last year’s Tour before Stage 12. One interesting note: Costa was one of the lucky Caisse d’Epargne riders chosen to ride the cobbled classics this spring—he finished none of them.

Just Happy to Be There: At age 39, Christophe Moreau is in the twilight of his career and riding what is likely to be his final Tour de France. Can he go out with a bang?

Feeling Left Out: Alejandro Valverde’s missed the last two Tours de France. He still hopes to clear his name, but he might be better served by taking his lumps and resuming his career later.

Have you ever gone on a blind date and quickly that realize you have nothing to talk about with the person sitting across from you?

Ring, Ring!

That’s how I’m feeling right now as I struggle to say something insightful about a squad most agree is in the Tour based less on merit and more on its Pro Tour contract.

Ring, Ring!

Footon’s won only a handful of races this year—unfortunately two of them were in Argentina and Australia (in January!), three were from the Circuit de Lorraine, and the last came in the 1.2 GP Judendorf-Strassengel.

Ring, Ring!

For Eros Capecchi, Manuel Cardoso, Markus Eibegger, Fabio Felline, and Iban Mayoz, the task will be simply making Footon’s presence felt—in breakaways, jersey competitions, and possibly, with a stage win.

Ring, Ring! I’m sorry I really have to take this.

Hello? ... What’s up? ...  Really? Is he okay? ... Well, I’m with someone—can’t you take him? ... No? ... Okay, I’ll be right home. ... Yup, bye.

I hate to do this to you, but that was my roommate. Apparently my dog ate something on his walk tonight that’s made him pretty sick and I need to take him to the vet. My roommate’s late for work, otherwise he’d take him. This has been great, though. I’m pretty busy for the next 3 weeks or so, but let’s talk at the end of the month, okay?

Man of the Hour: Take your pick.

On the Hot Seat: Mauro Gianetti last brought a team to the Tour in 2008 with Saunier Duval. Left home last year, Gianetti—a man with a not-so-clean reputation—needs a scandal-free race in assure he’s invited again.

Up-and-Comer: Many of these men are riding their first Tours—while few merit consideration as true up-and-comer’s, let’s give Eros Capecchi credit for his second-place in the Dauphiné’s Stage 5 and 13th-place finish in his nation’s national championship. Could the all-rounder take a stage in France?

Just Happy to Be There: Fuji paid handsomely to sponsor Gianetti’s squad only to be left-out of last year’s race. This year they get a chance to—finally—reach the larger audience they were hoping for when they made the deal.

Feeling Left Out: Vacansoleil, Skil-Shimano, and Saur-Sojasun, the three teams who deserved to be in the race more than Footon-Servetto.

Don’t be fooled—despite its publicized GC aspirations, Garmin’s 2010 Tour roster is built around Tyler Farrar. Robert Hunter and Martijn Maaskant are in; Tom Danielson and Daniel Martin are out—that looks to me like the makings of a team for sprints, not mountains. With Mark Cavendish riding a notch or two below where he was last year, the time is right for Farrar to take the next step in his ascension as a field sprinter. Like Columbia-HTC last year, Garmin has—on paper at least—a squad that can control most flatter stages well into their latter phases, delivering it’s American star to the line in time to take what could be multiple stage wins.

Farrar’s been riding well enough as of late to even garner attention as an early contender for the yellow jersey. He’ll likely put himself in contention with a solid ride in the Prologue, possibly taking yellow as early as Stage 1. He should lose time in Stage 2, but Stage 3 might be another day suited to his talents—he’s a classics rider in the making who performed well in several cobbled races this spring.

All in all, look for Farrar to have earned Garmin its first two (yes, I said two) Tour stage wins by the end of the first week—thanks largely in part to the efforts of his teammates.

As for the GC, Bradley is Wiggins has left for Team Sky, leaving Christian Vande Velde to fend for himself in the mountains. Vande Velde claims to be in fine shape despite a broken collarbone in the Giro and a quiet Tour de Suisse. He’s not expected by many to have a serious shot at a high placing in Paris, something that might suit him as the race progresses and he can quietly follow wheels. A third-consecutive top-10 would be a fine result for the veteran American—a late-race stage win would be even better.

And the rest of the squad? David Zabriskie impressed in the final time trial in Switzerland—does he have another Prologue-winning ride in his legs? Johan Vansummeren is without a doubt my favorite domestique in the peloton—expect to see him pulling on the pavé and in the mountains—a stage win for the Belgian would be a welcome sight. And then there’s David Millar. It’s been a year of redemptive rides with Alexandre Vinokourov and Ivan Basso taking big wins—can Millar add a “clean” stage win to his resumé?

Man of the Hour: Tyler Farrar has just about an entire team built for him. Last year he learned how to contest field sprints in the Tour; now it’s time for him to win some.

On the Hot Seat: Christian Vande Velde gets a lot of credit from Jonathan Vaughters before each Tour, but much less following it. Following Vaughters’ unsuccessful bids to retain Bradley Wiggins and sign Alberto Contador, it’s safe to wonder just how much faith JV really has in Vande Velde’s Tour chances. Wiggins’ late departure all but assured Vande Velde one more year of Tour captaincy, but unless he pulls the result of a lifetime, look for this chance to be his last.

Up-and-Comer: This squad is built for success—now. There’s no more room for up-and-comers.

Just Glad to Be There: Martijn Maaskant’s top rides in the 2008 editions of Flanders and Roubaix are looking more and like flukes. Will Maaskant do enough to remain with the team for another year?

Feeling Left-Out: Daniel Martin was likely told last year that this year would be his Tour debut. How much longer will Martin be content to wait for his first crack at the Tour?

La Francaise des Jeux
FDJ’s Tour aspirations read much like other French teams with one exception: they actually have a candidate for a high overall placing in Paris thanks to Christophe Le Mevel. Last year’s 10th-place finisher, Le Mevel impressed many with a gutsy ride through the final week to hold onto his placing. Brimming with confidence, he returns this year hoping to prove he’s no one hit wonder.

As for the rest of the team, the usual stage win suspects abound, led by Sandy “Stop Talking About the Damn Dog” Casar and Remi “I Promise I’ll Win Something Someday” DiGregorio. In fact, from top to bottom, FDJ has a roster so jammed with opportunists that it looks as if Le Mevel will be left to his own devices in repeating last year’s top-10 ride. Either his team doesn’t think he has it in him, or they consider a stage win a more important goal.

Man of the Hour: Le Mevel’s been touted as France’s best (and only?) hope for a high placing in Paris—an honor he seems eager to accept. Le Mevel rode well in the Dauphiné, finishing 14th overall and riding with the leaders on the tough final two stages before finishing second in the French road championships. While 10th might be just about the best he can do in the Tour, adding a stage win would certainly warm the hearts of his countrymen—and sponsors.

On the Hot Seat: Okay, Monsieur DiGregorio, it’s time to show your mettle—or risk spending the rest of your career riding for Big Mat. You finished 19th in the Dauphiné and 19th on the Alpe d’Huez—but that’s far from what has been expected of you. A Tour stage, and all will be forgotten—at least until next year.

Up-and-Comer: The youngest rider on FDJ’s Tour roster, Wesley Sulzberger tackles his first Tour de France this July. Given the success English-speaking riders have enjoyed this season, it’s easy to see Sulzberger breaking through for his first big win.

Just Happy to Be There: Mathieu Ladagnous seems to have peaked a bit too early this season—as in, Etoile des Besseges-early. Either Marc Madiot knows something we don’t, or Ladagnous better make the best of his chances this July.

Feeling Left Out: His best days might have passed him by, but it’s a shame we won’t see 1997 Roubaix-winner Frédéric Guesdon on the pavé in Stage 3. Guesdon looked to be in fine shape during this spring’s early classics, but hasn’t done much since aside from a fifth-place in Stage 3 of the Route du Sud. Does a place behind the wheel of a team car beckon?

And that's it for Part 2!  Come back tomorrow for Part 3.

Share your comments and insights below.

Monday, June 28, 2010

2010 Tour de France Preview - Part 1

Pavé’s 2010 Tour de France coverage begins this week with our second annual Tour de France Team-by-Team Preview. As rosters are finalized, we’ll take a look at each team’s prospects for the Grand Boucle, highlighting several key riders as we go. To be fair, we’ll work alphabetically, skipping the teams with rosters still undefined until the final day. Come back daily between Monday and Thursday to get the complete scoop on what we expect to see over the coming weeks. On Friday, we’ll cover what we consider to be the most intriguing questions we hope to have answered by the time the Tour hits Paris a little more than 3 weeks later.

And with a little luck, we’ll be unveiling our new site design too!

So let’s get started!

Astana looks to win its second-consecutive Tour de France title this July with Spaniard Alberto Contador leading what is essentially a new-look team. Armstrong, Leipheimer, Kloden, Bruyneel, and Trek have all gone to Radio Shack; they’ve been replaced with a new supporting cast of riders (including Alexandre Vinokourov), new management, and a new bike sponsor—Specialized, Trek’s main rival.

Contador’s main support in this year’s Tour will come from a talented, but relatively untested group including Dauphiné stage-winner Daniel Navarro, Paolo Tiralongo, Benjamin Noval, and David De La Fuente. Maxim Iglinksy and Andrei Grivko impressed this spring in several of the classics; they’ll be on the attack during the dangerous first week, easing the pressure on the rest of the team to control the race.

Astana’s real wild card is Vinokourov. Will he be a trusted and loyal ally to Contador, or will he ride for himself if the situation presents itself? He and Contador have raced well together the few times they’ve shared a start list this season—few can forget Contador’s sacrifice for Vino in Liege-Bastogne-Liege, for example. The best case July scenario sees Vinokourov playing the role of dangerous lieutenant to Contador, thus easing some of the pressure on his captain and forcing team’s to think twice before keying-in on the Spaniard exclusively. If all goes well, look for Contador help Vino grab a stage win (and the polka dot jersey?) in the final week—if he has enough of a cushion to spare it.

After Vino, the biggest obstacle on Contador’s road to a third Tour de France title has to be Stage 3 from Wanze to Arenberg Porte de Hainaut. Including several sections of pavé—the last of which is quite rough and less than 10 kilometers from the finish line—this will be a day that several of Contador’s main rivals (especially Lance Armstrong) attempt to gain some time. Astana missed a good chance to get a feel for what they’re facing when they inexplicably skipped this spring’s Paris-Roubaix—although Contador did spend some time training with former Roubaix-winner Peter Van Petegem. Stage 3’s not a day when the Tour will be won, but it is certainly one in which at least one of the overall favorites will lose precious time. Contador and his team will need to ride attentively and confidently in order to avoid falling into an early hole—no pun intended.

Man of the Hour: Without a doubt, Alberto Contador, is Astana’s Man of the Hour. Despite wins and high placings in several other races this season, everything hinges upon Contador’s ability to take home his third Tour de France title—thus leaving him two shy of tying Miguel Indurain for the most wins by a Spaniard.

On the Hot Seat: Specialized paid a lot of money to get one of their bikes under Contador (first) and the rest of his team (second). With their flagship Tarmac SL3 under 2 of the race’s top three overall contenders and the new 2011 Roubaix SL3 under the riders when they tackle the cobbles on Stage 3, there’s a high ceiling on Specialized’s exposure this July. Anything less than a win will be a major disappointment for the American manufacturer.

Up-and-Comer: Maxim Iglinsky impressed many with several top rides this spring including a win in the tough Montepaschi Strade Bianche semi-classic. An aggressive rider who’s unafraid to ride himself into the ground for a win, look for Iglinsky to contend on several of the Tour’s transitional stages—if he’s not working for the sake of his team’s GC interests.

Just Happy to Be There: Alexandre Vinokourov might have been expecting it anyway, but he should be grateful to have a chance to return to the Tour de France—a race he disgraced in 2007. Vino’s riding in support of Contador—he says—but one can expect him to contend for at least a stage win or two and possibly the polka dot jersey.

Feeling Left Out: Oscar Pereiro would have given Astana two Tour-winners on their roster in this year’s race. Unfortunately, the form’s just not there for a man who should probably just be happy he’s on a bike and racing again following his grisly fall in the 2008 Tour.

BBox Bouyges Telecom
Like past years, BBox Bouyges Telecom comes to this year’s Tour de France hunting for stage wins and enough publicity to guarantee the squad’s existence for another year or two. In last year’s Tour, the team won two stages with Thomas Voeckler and Pierrick Fedrigo taking wins on Stages 5 and 9—a successful haul for any French squad. That said, this year’s team has already surpassed its win total from 2009, taking impressive wins in the Critérium International, 3-Days of DePanne, the Giro d’Italia, the Critérium du Dauphine, and both the French road and time trial national championships.

Voeckler—the French national champion on the road—and Fedrigo lead the charge, hoping to add to their impressive Tour résumés. Voeckler seems to shine more from breakaways during the Tour’s flatter stages, while Fedrigo wins more transitional mountain stages on days after the favorites have exerted themselves.

As for the rest, look to see the bulk of the squad’s roster in a breakaway at some point during the 3-week Grand Tour. For example, Nicholas Vogondy won the mountain stage to Rasoul in this year’s Dauphiné—the former French road champion (and current time trial champion), is always a threat to take a stage victory. Otherwise, it’s tough to see anyone making a mark for himself in the overall classification—unless there’s a serious breakaway involved. This is a team built for stage success—and one of the best at garnering it.

Man of the Hour: Thomas Voeckler made a name for himself in the 2004 Tour de France when he escaped with a small group and took the yellow jersey. Battling valiantly before handing the lead back to Armstrong in the Alps, Voeckler came to epitomize the kind of national cycling heroes most fancied by French fans. Every year Voeckler manages to take at least one win to maintain his relevance in the hearts and minds of his countrymen—this year he did it again by taking his second French national championship. He hopes to continue the winning trend in July.

On the Hot Seat: Jean-René Bernaudeau is apparently close to finding a new sponsor for 2011 and beyond, but until the ink is dry, there’s always a chance for things to fall through. With another high-profile performance on the sport’s biggest stage, Jean-René and his team might just seal the deal.

Up-and-Comer: Pierre Rolland finished 8th and took the polka dot jersey as best climber in this year’s Dauphiné. Considered by some to be the next great French Tour rider, this might be Rolland’s last chance to show everyone he hasn’t been overestimated.

Just Happy to Be There: Yukio Arashiro is riding his second Tour de France, his second grand tour of the season after finishing May’s Giro d’Italia. Currently the only Japanese rider in the event, Arashiro is looking to improve upon the third-place finish he scored after a day spent in the break during the Giro’s fifth stage.

Feeling Left Out: Steve Chainel was one of the surprises of this year’s spring classics, taking several top placings to go with his win in Stage 1 at DePanne. While he might appreciate the time off to begin his build for the upcoming cyclocross season, there’s no doubt Chainel would have welcomed a chance to ride his national grand tour.

BMC Racing Team
It looks like BMC’s off-season upgrades had the desired the effects, as the squad was included on the list of invitees to this year’s Tour de France. Now the challenge begins as they attempt to find success in the squad’s first stab at the biggest race in the world.

Cadel Evans leads the team in what is likely to be the first grand tour where he’s not considered among the main favorites for the overall title. All in all, a stage victory in the rainbow jersey and a low top-10 finish in Paris would be a fine result for the Australian, setting him up nicely for the rest of the season.

As other teams before them have found, simply stocking a roster with talent is not all that it takes to find success in the Tour, but with several experienced and proven Tour winners on board, it could be a terrific July for a team eager to prove it deserves mention among the world’s best. George Hincapie, Alessandro Ballan, Karsten Kroon, and Markus Burghardt have all won stages in the past—they’re all hoping to win a stage or two while preparing themselves for important one-day races later in the year.

Man of the Hour: Markus Burghardt has been BMC’s most aggressive rider of late, taking two impressive stage wins in the Tour de Suisse. Look for the former Ghent-Wevelgem winner to be a main contender in next week’s cobbled Stage 3.

On the Hot Seat: Remember when Alessandro Ballan was considered one of the world’s best one-day riders? Well, after an anonymous spring and rumblings that he was one of the riders involved with the Lampre drug scandal, there’s no time like the present for Ballan to win something…anything. After a third-place finish in Saturday’s difficult Italian championship, it appears as if Ballan’s hitting his stride—let’s see what he can do.

Up-and-Comer: Brent Bookwalter seemingly came out of nowhere to place second in Stage 1 of the Giro d’Italia. It will be interesting to see if the talented young American can take another impressive result in the Prologue of his first Tour de France. Last year: Utah; this year: France—an impressive change of scenery, no?

Just Glad to Be There: Rumor has it that Mike Sayers didn’t like me too much when I was with Mercury in 2001—I think he saw me as a young, uninitiated American who did little to deserve his place managing one of the top teams in the sport. Regardless, I’m glad to see Mike has worked his way to the Tour he was promised but never received during his years with Mercury. Always considered one of the hardest working guys in the peloton; it’s nice to see Mike’s years of dedication and perseverance rewarded—even if he never liked me. Congrats, Mike!

Feeling Left Out: While it’s hard to gauge the behind-the-scenes politics of such decisions, I bet there’s a part of Jeff Louder that regrets being left-off the roster for this year’s Tour. Louder’s been racing in Europe for years as both an amateur and a pro, and is one of the riders to have been with BMC since its earliest days. For certain he would have appreciated a chance to be with the team in Rotterdam.

Cervelo Test TeamThe Cervelo Test Team once again begins a major phase of its season without the services of one of its most talented riders, Heinrich Haussler. After missing much of the spring with a knee injury, Haussler looked to be back to his old self with a win in Stage 2 of the Tour de Suisse. Then came his now-infamous tangle with Mark Cavendish at the end of Stage 4, and Haussler’s back on the disabled list.

A stage winner last year, Haussler will certainly be missed by a team appearing to need all the help—and wins—it can get this season. Thor Hushovd is healthy once more; he’ll be hoping to replace his new jersey as Norwegian national champion with a green jersey sometime within the Tour’s first week. With two trips to the professional podium in Paris-Roubaix (he won the race as an amateur as well), Hushovd’s another rider to watch on the pavé during Stage 3.

As for Carlos Sastre, he limps to this year’s Tour following a Giro d’Italia in which he failed to live up to pre-race expectations. With a squad built more around Hushovd’s green jersey campaign than Sastre’s bid for yellow, it appears the team’s confidence in the Spaniard’s hopes to repeat his 2008 victory is on the decline.

If I were Sastre, I would forget the overall, and shoot for a stage win or two in the mountains. On his day he’s perhaps the best pure climber in the peloton. Losing minutes early might lengthen his leash later on, perhaps freeing him for a win in front of his home fans in the Pyrenees.

Man of the Hour: Thor Hushovd put on quite a show in winning the green jersey last year, at one point attacking in the mountains to extend his lead. With Cavendish ailing and nearly a full team of supporters backing him, the stage is set for Thor to take his third maillot vert.

On the Hot Seat: I hate to pick on him, but Carlos Sastre’s 35-years-old and beginning the downside of his career. If he wants to remain a commodity he’ll need to reinvent himself soon—similar to what Richard Virenque did when he began to make his exit. Mountain stage wins and the polka dot jersey are now worthy goals for a man whose best days are behind him.

Up-and-Comer: Ignatas Konovalovas won the final time trial in last year’s Giro d’Italia; now the 24-year-old gets his first start in the Tour. While the jury might still be out on the young Lithuanian, he’s by far the youngest rider on a team chock full of veterans. Look for him near the top of the result sheet in Saturday’s Prologue.

Just Happy to Be There: Jeremy Hunt’s inclusion was sure sign that Cervelo’s all about Thor’s green jersey this July. Hunt’s been a professional since 1996, but this is first Tour de France. Good luck, Jez!

Feeling Left-Out: He rode this May’s Giro and likely had little expectation of riding the Tour, but here’s hoping Ted King gets a shot at the French grand tour one day. One of the sport’s most open and accessible professionals, King’s commentary would have been a worthy addition to the already impressive amount of first-person perspectives into the race.

Like many French teams, Cofidis comes to the Tour eager to animate the race and perhaps win a stage or two. If all goes according to plan, Cofidis will take its first Tour stage since 2008.

Samuel Dumoulin took that last win for Cofidis in Stage 3 of the 2008 event, and if this season is any indication, he appears destined to at least repeat the feat. With six wins to his name, he’s clearly Cofidis’ best chance for a win from a breakaway or small group. But the list doesn’t end there, as Stéphane Augé, Julien El Fares, Christophe Kern, and Rémi Pauriol are all men unafraid to test their legs off the front.

Other than stage wins, Cofidis’ best chance for success—now and in years to come—might sit with the young Estonian, Rein Taaramae. Taarame’s been rising slowly through the ranks for the past few seasons, learning how to ride in smaller stage races before tackling his first grand tour in last year’s Vuelta. He’s had a bit of an up and down season, dropping-out of the Dauphiné before finishing 9th in the Route du Sud. That said, a top-15 or top-20 finish is certainly within reach, giving Cofidis a GC rider for the future.

Man of the Hour: Samuel Dumoulin’s been winning just about everything he enters this season—there’s no reason to think he’ll stop now.

On the Hot Seat: Stéphane Augé hasn’t taken a win since 2008—and he’s 35. ‘Nuff said.

Up-and-Comer: Rein Taaramae’s been on several “up-and-comer” lists for about a year or so. It’s time to see if he deserves the hype.

Just Happy to Be There: Remi Pauriol took two wins early last season before falling into obscurity. Either Cofidis thinks he still has something to show or they’re desperate for bodies—either way, Pauriol’s lucky to have earned the call.

Feeling Left-Out: Maybe I should call this one “Just Happy to Not Be There” as David Moncoutie’s chosen to skip his home grand tour in favor of the Vuelta, a race in which he’s fared much better as of late. Give Moncoutie credit for taking himself out of a race most Frenchman would give anything to contest.

With its usual mix of Basques and Spaniards, Euskaltel comes to this year’s Tour de France hoping reigning Olympic Champion Samuel Sanchez can contend for a spot on the race’s final podium. While not known much for it, Sanchez has ridden the Tour in the past, finishing 7th in 2008. And with five top-10 grand tour finishes on his resume, he deserves our attention. A talented climber, Sanchez has also proven to be not too shabby in a time trial, winning the final ITT in the 2007 Vuelta.

As is typical for Euskaltel, the team’s chances for a high overall placing depend largely on its ability to make it through the dangerous first week unscathed. Not known for riding at the front on flat, windy stages—the men in orange are often the first to be seen picking themselves up from the tarmac during massive Week 1 pile-ups.

That said, Sanchez could be targeting Stage 2 for an early shot at glory. The 201-km stage from Brussels to Spa tackles several of the climbs Sanchez knows from the Ardennes classics, a series of races to which he’s well suited. With the dangerous Stage 3 to follow, Stage 2 might be a good day for Sanchez to try and build himself a bit of a buffer for the cobbles to come.

Man of the Hour: Sanchez—there’s really no one else.

On the Hot Seat: With the several key stages in the Pyrenees including two days of the Tourmalet, the entire team will feel pressure from their sponsors and fans to take at least one stage in this year’s race. Euskaltel’s been supporting the squad since 1994—with 9 Tours and only 3 stages to show for it, now’s a better time than ever to honor their sponsor’s commitment with a victory.

Up-and-Comer: It’s tough to identify an up-and-comer as Euskaltel went for experience over youth with this year’s roster. That said, there’s a gorgeous new Orbea Orca ready to make its debut; let’s see how it fares!

Just Happy to Be There: Following his polka dot jersey in the Critérium du Dauphiné, Egoi Martinez has to be feeling good about his chances in the KOM competition in this year’s Tour. Last year’s second place finisher in the competition, Martinez would love to ride into Spain as the race’s best climber.

Feeling Left Out: He has no reason to be disappointed, but I’m sure Romain Sicard would have loved to race his country’s national tour this season. An impressive Dauphiné made the possibility all the more tempting, but in the end, cooler heads prevailed—Sicard will have to wait for the Tour of Spain to tackle his first grand tour.

And that’s it for Part 1 of Pavé’s Team-By-Team Tour de France Preview—come back Tuesday for Part 2.

And as always, share your comments below.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Monday Musette - Swiss Wrap-up, Crashes, Protests, and (Un)Invitations

School’s finally out for the summer, so expect to see Pavé back to a more frequent/regular post schedule. There’s also a new site design in the works, so keep checking back for changes, updates, and possibly a new address (don’t worry, I won’t surprise you with that). As always, your constructive feedback are always appreciated—I want to make the site as user-friendly and accessible as possible.

Without further ado, here’s this week’s Monday Musette.

1. Have we discounted Lance Armstrong’s chances in this year’s Tour a bit too much? Following a solid 2nd-place finish in last week’s Tour de Suisse, it’s beginning to look like perhaps we have. Lance rode with the main group of favorites on the tough mountain stage to La Punt, hung-in on a surprisingly difficult transitional stage Saturday, and then cemented his place on the podium with a respectable time trial. While I still have a hunch that Armstrong’s a bit closer to his ceiling than many of the other favorites, his performance last week indicates that he’s at least capable of remaining relevant in July—but just how much so remains to be seen.

2. Lost in the Armstrong hype were the top-10 performances of Andreas Kloden and Levi Leipheimer. These two—plus Dauphine-winner Janez Brajkovic and Pais Vasco-winner Chris Horner—give Radio Shack the deepest team in this year’s Tour. While inter-squad tactics might hurt the team’s best chances for a yellow jersey in Paris, there’s a strong possibility the team prize will be theirs.

In other Tour de Suisse news…

3. While Tony Martin missed the overall win I had predicted he would earn, he still performed solidly all race, beating Fabian Cancellara and David Zabriskie to take the final stage’s individual time trial. If Martin continues to develop as a climber, thus limiting his losses in big mountain stages like Thursday’s, he’s certainly a rider HTC can build around for grand tour success—and Germany’s first legitimate grand tour contender since Jan Ullrich. Look for him to take the first white jersey of this year’s Tour in Rotterdam—and if beats the men he defeated yesterday—the first yellow one too.

4. Andy and Frank Schleck seem right on track for the type of Tour de France we expect from them. With a stage win and the overall title, older brother Frank should be perfectly content in dedicating all of his energy toward helping Andy. As for Andy, his form’s not quite there yet, but with three weeks until the Tour’s first mountain stages—and four before the race hits the Pyrennees—he should be firing on all cylinders when he needs to be. I also have a hunch that Bjarne Riis will be announcing a brand new sponsor before the starts the Saturday after next—Schleck’s win might have been enough to seal whatever prospective deal he’s had in the works.

5. Roman Kreuziger’s another rider who appears to be peaking at just the right time for a good Tour result. While I expected a bit more from him during Thursday’s stage to La Punt, he think he’ll be fine in July. Unfortunately, he’s still not guaranteed the leadership of his Liquigas team—especially with Ivan Basso training well and Vincenzo Nibali winning races. All in all, there’s enough going-on for the men in green to make Liquigas’ choice of a team captain one of the Tour’s more intriguing sub-plots.

6. Stijn Devolder seems to have just enough fitness to have tricked himself—and at least several thousand Belgians—into thinking he can pull a top-10 result in this year’s Tour. Don’t drink the Kool Aid though—Devolder would fare much better hunting for stages wins. That said, look for him to impress this weekend in the Belgian national championship—a second title is well within reach.

7. At what point is Maxime Monfort going to get the win he deserves? He rode his butt off in Saturday’s breakaway, ultimately falling to Caisse d’Epargne’s one-two punch of Da Costa and Rojas. He followed that up with an 8th-place finish in yesterday’s time trial. Let’s hope Monfort gets a chance or two to ride for himself in the Tour—I’d love to see him take a stage.

8. Was Christian Vandevelde even racing last week? If Garmin’s smart, they’ll be putting the majority of their eggs in Tyler Farrar’s basket next month—he’s a much safer bet for success. I’d take a stage win or two over another mid-top-10 finish anyway.

9. We can’t finish the conversation about this year’s Tour de Suisse without discussing the now infamous crash at the end of Stage 4. While I love bashing him just as much as the rest of you do, it’s hard for me to assign 100% of the blame to Cavendish for causing Tuesday’s crash. Haussler and he were both sprinting at a bit of an angle—Cavendish just deviated from his the most.

On the other hand, if he really did spit on Haussler as they were picking themselves up off the pavement—as has been reported—then Cavendish deserves every bit of the flack he received from the rest of the peloton. As long as Cavendish makes himself the center of attention, he should expect to receive all the attention—positive and negative—that he seems to crave.

10. As for the rider protest to Start 5, it’s a shame the riders have more courage to police their ranks than the UCI—the sport’s governing body—does. Maybe a little peer pressure will help Boy Racer become Man Racer—credit the riders for trying.

11. But while riders policing riders is one thing, races policing teams is another. At first I felt a bit of schadenfreude upon hearing the news of Team Radio Shack’s exclusion from this year’s Vuelta, but I’m less supportive of the organization’s decision once I became able to take an objective look at the situation. While the Vuelta’s organizers might be said to have had the best of intentions in leaving Bruyneel and his men at home this autumn (who knows where the federal investigation will be by the time late-August arrives), they are acting hypocritically in singling them out this time. Have we already forgotten the name of last year’s “winner”?

Spain has long been considered one of the dirtiest countries in cycling—from a doping standpoint at least. Once France and Italy began cleaning house (as best they could), the Iberian Peninsula became a hotbed for the sport’s most cutting-edge “preparation” methods. Letting Radio Shack bear the brunt of recent allegations only emphasizes the disparate methods by which information is revealed and dealt with. It’s not the job of race organizers to punish teams for their alleged unsportsmanlike activities—it’s the job of the UCI and the various other “professional” organizations charged with ensuring the sport is as clean and as fair as is humanly possible.

All this begs an even more important question: when will the UCI start policing the ranks so the rest of its stakeholders (riders, organizers, fans, etc.) don’t have to? It’s an answer they’ll need to answer soon—especially if Landisgate becomes as big a scandal as some think it might be. If the sports own governing body could do a better job in handling brats, cheats, and hypocrites, individual interests wouldn’t have to take matters into their own hands.

That’s enough time on the soapbox for one week.

Share your comments below.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Monday Musette – Dauphiné Wrap-up, Swiss, and More

1. The 2010 Critérium du Dauphiné concluded yesterday with Slovenain Janez Brajkovic taking Radio Shack’s first big win of the season—and perhaps more importantly, he did it by beating Astana’s Alberto Contador. Although Brajkovic’s been a professional for 5 seasons, he’s only 26-years old—his best years are clearly still ahead of him.  He won the race in textbook fashion: a top-5 prologue followed by a win in the ITT and a successful defense of the leader’s jersey in the mountains. Lance must be proud.

Here’s my question: does Armstrong have cause to worry that his younger teammate might steal his thunder come July? 

2. As for Contador, he’s right on schedule for a successful defense of his Tour title next month.  Some are trying to cast doubt on the Spaniard’s fitness, but I think he’s right where he needs to be in order to peak for the Tour’s second and third weeks.  Better still, his team seems to be rising to the occasion as well.  At times during several of the race’s tougher moments, Contador had two or three teammates with him compared to Brajkovic’s one or two.  With another two or three weeks of good hard training and some time to grow more accustomed to his new TT bike, Contador should be fine in July.

3. While it might be a bit early to say so, I’m starting to think Tejay Van Garderen is the USA’s next great stage race hope—and not in a Tom Danielson kind of way either.  Van Garderen’s proven himself as an amateur in Europe, and finished 2nd in another important French stage race last season, the Tour de l’Avenir.  Van Garderen seems unfazed when racing in a country where just about every GC leader’s jersey is yellow.  With a terrific organization backing him, look for Van Garderen to steadily progress through the ranks—he’ll get his first shot at a Grand Tour in this autumn’s Tour of Spain.

4. Belgian Jurgen Vandenbroeck took a solid 4th-place, making him Belgium’s first legitimate top-10 contender in the Tour de France since…

VDBk rode with a confidence that speaks volumes about his ability to lead his Omega Pharma-Lotto team; on Alpe d’Huez he even attacked—something we haven’t seen from a Belgian grand tour favorite since…

5. As for Rabobank’s Denis Menchov—his Alpe d’Huez performance notwithstanding—I think it’s safe to put him back on the list of favorites for July—unless there’s rain during the Prologue.

6. Other impressive rides were registered by youngsters Romain Sicard, Branislav Samoilau, and Thibault Pinot from Euskaltel, Quick Step, and FDJ, respectively.  None of the three is likely to be riding the Tour this summer, but their performances bode well for the future.

7. It’s too bad that Heinrich Haussler and Edvald Boasson Hagen had to wait until Sunday to win their first major races of the season—it’s good to have them back.

8. In other news, it’s looking like the organizers of the Tour de Suisse gave Fabian Cancellara quite a gift in creating this year’s parcours.  Today’s Stage 3 was effectively the only “summit” finish of the weeklong Tour—if you consider a 2-kilometer climb with an 11% grade climb to the finish.  The event’s Queen Stage is Thursday’s Stage 6, a 213-kilometer slugfest featuring one first category and two hors categorie ascents.  But don’t get your hopes up—the stage finishes after about 15 kilometers of descending following the HC climb of the Albulapass.  The stage will test Cancellara’s climbing legs, but with the strongest team in the race and a long-ish ITT on the final day, it might be hard for the competition to deny him another win in his home tour.

That said, my pick for the overall title—Tony Martin—just took the leader’s jersey today.  If he can gain more time between now and Sunday’s ITT, he’s the one rider capable of limiting his losses enough to unseat Cancellara from his throne. 

9. In terms of the Tour de France, several men bear watching in Switzerland this week.  For instance, Stage 1 gave us our latest chance to see if Lance Armstrong is ready to challenge the favorites at this year’s Tour.  If Saturday’s 7.6 kilometer ITT is any indicator, the answer is “no”.  Lance finished 44th—almost half a minute down.  Even Andy Schleck beat him.

And yes, there’s a difference between saying Contador’s defeat is nothing to get worked-up about while stating that Armstrong’s is cause for concern.  Contador is at about 90% of his top fitness, I reckon—the difference might have been enough for him to win the Dauphiné’s long ITT or perhaps drop the rest on Alpe d’Huez.  Had Armstrong finished a few seconds off the pace Saturday, we would consider him on-track for the Tour as well.  But he didn’t.  No matter how you slice it, losing 29 seconds over 7.6 kilometers is just not something we have come to expect from a Tour contender at this point in the season—especially one known for his time trialing.  In Lance’s defense, there was rain, and several other favorites recorded poor times including David Zabriskie, Luis Leon Sanchez, and Christian Vande Velde.

10. Last but not least, what do you make of today’s announcement of the teams invited to the Vuelta?  Is Radio Shack starting to feel the fallout from Landisgate?  And what does Vacansoleil have to do to earn an invitation to a grand tour?

11. In closing, I’ll leave you with this.  (Warning: it’s graphic.)  Thoughts?

Have a great day—and share your comments below.  What did you take away from the Dauphiné?  What do you think about this week’s Tour de Suisse?