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.
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 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!