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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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