Tour de France Preview – Les Équipes du Tour – Part Une

Here at Pavé we’re getting geared-up for our first year of coverage of this year’s Tour de France. Expect updates and comments on a daily basis, as well as speculation, gentle rants, and whatever else we might have up our sleeves.

Frankly, we’re hoping it will be the best month Pavé yet!

To begin, we thought a team-by-team preview might be in order, particularly since the web is inundated with reports on the individual favorites. We’ll go alphabetically through all 20 teams, posting 5 each day as final rosters are submitted.

Come back daily to see what’s new!

Here’s Part Une:


AG2R-La Mondiale

AG2R won two stages in last year’s Tour (albeit one was due to Riccardo Ricco’s forfeit) and returns this year hoping for more of the same. They take the start in Monaco Saturday with Cyril Dessel as their “GC Rider”, but he’ll really just be hoping for another stage win and possibly a finish in the Top-10 (although Top-15 or 20 seems more like it). Vladimir Efimkin would love to win a stage outright, while talented escape artists like Stéphane Goubert, Jose-Luis Arrieta, and Rinaldo Nocentini will look to make things interesting. This is a team that makes it’s budget during July, and anything less than at least one stage will be considered a disappointment.


Agritubel

Agritubel takes the line hoping for stage wins and perhaps a Top-10 from the soon-to-be-retired Christophe Moreau. If Moreau can pull a Top-5 result in the Monaco Prologue his team will be one to watch during the first few days as he would love to pull on the Maillot Jaune once again. However, like many of the French teams, Agritubel’s real pain et beurre comes from the opportunists that stack its roster. The Feillu brothers (especially Roman), Sylvain Calzati, and Nicolas Vogondy are all riders capable of winning after long days in breakaways. Roman Feillu evens has the finishing speed to pull a surprise in a small sprint every now and again.


Astana

By most accounts, this is Astana’s Tour to lose. The team’s Tour roster can count 10 Grand Tour victories between Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador, and several podium placings and Top Ten finishes through riders like Levi Leipheimer, Yaroslav Popovych, Andreas Kloden, and Haimar Zubledia. That said, one can’t help but wonder if this team has simply too much talent to work together cohesively. On top of that, it’s not like Astana’s had a drama-free Tour build-up either. Besides the circus that surrounds Lance Armstrong, the team has faced a sponsorship crisis, several rumors of Contador’s departure (first to Spain then to the USA), and now a bit of a dust-up over the immensely popular and talented Chris Horner’s omission from the Tour team (most likely to keep Contador content). Clearly this is not the preparation Johan Bruyneel wanted for his team over the past 6 weeks.

When the race begins on Saturday, right away we’ll see a crisis of too many cooks to stir the soup. Look for Armstrong, Contador, and Kloden to ride good prologues, forcing the team to immediately make decisions about who it will protect throughout the first week. Expect at least one rider to begin pouting within the first 4-5 days.

Assuming all goes at planned during the opening days, by the time the race hits the mountains we might witness a full-on rift with lines being clearly drawn between the Armstrong and Contador camps. It could create exciting racing for the fans, but it will be a nightmare for Johan Bruyneel. Will Contador crack under the weight of Lance and his entourage? Will Armstrong’s ego allow him to survive should things not go quite as swimmingly as it used to for him in the Tour?

The key will be Johan Bruyneel. Johan will need to define clear and consistent roles for his riders early. He will need to cultivate trust within the team and hope that his decisions are proven wise in the race’s decisive moments. If he can convince his riders that winning the race for the team is more important than winning the race for any one individual, he stands a chance to go down as one of the sport’s greatest sport directors. Otherwise, he might be forced to learn a lesson that Joe Torre, former manager of the New York Yankees, came to know all too well: having the most talented players doesn’t always mean you’ll have the best team.

BBox Bouyges Telecom
At this time, BBox’s roster is still unconfirmed. We’ll cover them once their roster’s set later in the week.

Caisse d’Epargne
Like BBox and several other teams, Caisse d’Epargne’s roster is still unconfirmed at this time. We’ll come back to them later in the week!


Cervélo TestTeam

Like many of the other Top Favorite’s teams, Cervélo was not immune to some drama in the weeks leading to the Tour, notably due to the omission of Simon Gerrans from the team’s roster. A stage winner in last year’s Tour and this year’s Giro, Gerrans was certainly a rider worth a place on the team, both for his talents in the mountains and his knack for finding just the right breakaway. Bits of speculation surround his absence; it could come to bite them in the derrière.

As for whom they did take, Cervélo seems to be bringing a team more suited to winning stages than defending Sastre’s win last year. The team will work hard to get Thor Hushovd the Green Jersey and perhaps a stage win or two through riders like Andreas Klier and Heinrich Haussler. Haussler’s particularly interesting to watch as an outside favorite for the Green Jersey.

For his title defense, Sastre will be forced to rely mainly on Inigo Cuesta to help him up the bigger hills, as the rest of the team seems more suited to flatter days. (Here’s where the presence of Simon Gerrans would have made perfect sense.) All in all, Sastre is an outside favorite—at best—to win the Tour this year. Look for him to lose time to the bigger, more talented teams and riders, ultimately hoping for a Top-5 placing and a stage win when things get hilly.



Cofidis, Le Credit en Ligne

Like its compatriots, Cofidis will come to the Tour hoping for a stage win or two and—if he can put his l’argent where his bouche is—the polka dot jersey for David Moncoutié. Moncoutié shouldn’t be discounted; he’s a talented rider and has won a stage in the Tour before. Look for him especially on Stage 13 into Colmar, a transitional mountain stage with two Category 1 climbs—and no radios. As for the rest, breakaways will be the key with riders like Remi Pauriol taking turns off the front hoping for glory. Bingen Fernandez is also a potential pick to win a stage. It seems like Bingen’s been around forever; many in the peloton would appreciate seeing him take the big win he deserves. It could be his last chance.

That’s it for now. Come back soon for the next team previews and more!

About Whit

My experiences might easily fit many cycling fans' definitions of “living the dream.” Since getting hooked on the sport watching Lance Armstrong win the 1993 U.S. Pro Championship, I've raced as an amateur on Belgian cobbles, traveled Europe to help build a European pro team, and piloted that team from Malaysia to Mont Ventoux. As a former assistant director sportif with Mercury-Viatel, I've also seen the less dreamy side of the sport – the side rife with broken contracts, infighting, and positive dope tests. These days, I live with my lovely wife in Pennsylvania and share my experiences and views on the sport at Bicycling Magazine, the Embrocation Cycling Journal, and at my own site, Pavé.
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