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

Here are the next 5 teams in our team-by-team preview of this year’s Tour de France. We’re going alphabetically, saving for the end those teams with rosters still unconfirmed at post time.

Be sure to keep coming back daily for more previews, random notes, and reports once the race gets started on Saturday in Monaco.

And in case you missed it yesterday, you can read Part Une of our preview here.

Team Columbia – HTC
Remember when Columbia won 6 out of 9 stages at the Tour de Suisse? Well, look for much of the same here. A double-digit win total is certainly within the realm of possibility as just about every rider on the team’s roster could win an individual stage.

Obviously, Mark Cavendish is the team’s primary focus during the flatter stages. But don’t forget Bernhard Eisel. He showed in the Tour de Suisse that he can win field sprints too and he has the ability to last well into the race’s final days. He’ll be working for Cavvie early on, but he’ll certainly have some chances to play his own hand closer to Paris—perhaps on the Champs-Élysées itself. Bert Grabsch could pull a win in any of the Tour’s time trials–same for Tony Martin, an outside bet to perform well on the GC.

And speaking of time trials, don’t think this team won’t be gunning for the TTT next Tuesday–especially if it means yellow for Cavendish. George Hincapie is never to be forgotten; it would be nice to see him add another stage to his palmares. And keep your eye on Maxime Monfort; he must be talented if earned a spot over André Griepel and 2008 stage winner Marcus Burghardt.

For the GC, Columbia’s putting its hopes in Kim Kirchen and Michael Rogers. Both have the ability for a Top-5 or Top-10 finish, but that might be a stretch in a year with so many favorites. Regardless, it will be a banner July for Columbia—just as it’s been pretty much since the season began.

For Euskaltel, the Tour will essentially be decided by the end of the first week. In particular, Stages 6 through 9 take place at least partially in Spain (or darn to close to it). Stage 9 from Saint-Gaudens to Tarbes rides through the team’s Basque backyard, climbing over the Col d’Aspin and the Tourmalet in the process. Expect to see the team on the offensive during this period, especially when the road begins to climb.

The team lost its main GC hope when Haimar Zubeldia jumped to Astana. Mikel Astarloza will hope to fill the void; he’s finished in the Top-10 before and rode well to finish 5th in the Dauphiné. Egoi Martinez and the rest will hope for some luck in breakaways, with Igor Anton focused particularly on the mountains. But it can’t be stressed enough: a win in Stages 6 to 9 and the team can spend the rest of the Tour essentially pressure-free. A win in Andorra on Arcalis, and the team can relax for the rest of the season.

Française des Jeux
Like other French teams, FDJ comes to the race hoping for TV exposure when live coverage begins and more importantly, stage wins. Thus, Marc Madiot’s team is well-stocked with rouleurs and escapees.

Anthony Geslin rode a brilliant race to win this spring’s Brabantse Pijl; he’ll be looking for the right breakaway to get him a win in his national tour. The same goes for Sébastien Joly, Benoît Vaugrenard, and Jussi Veikkanen, riders suited to winning races from small groups. Sandy Casar is reportedly the team’s main hope for the GC, but he’s never lit anyone’s fire in that department. Yes, he finished 14th last year, but do you remember it? He stands a better chance gunning for a stage win—he won one in 2007 following a dramatic day of racing.

That said, FDJ’s greatest hope comes from Belorussia in the form of Yauheni Hutarovich, a sprinter with several wins to his name this year. He’s another rider who can win out of breakaways and in field sprints. Look for him especially in the Tour’s final week. If FDJ gets a stage this year, there’s a good chance it will come via this rider.

Of all the roster omissions leading up to this Tour, perhaps none has bothered us here at Pavé more than Garmin leaving Will Frishkorn at home. Will was beginning to remind us of Jacky Durand with his fondness for the all-day breakaway. Courage, Will; you’ll get another chance for Tour glory.

As for the riders in the race, Garmin has selected—again—a team full of rouleurs and time trialists. He might be a punk, but Cavendish isn’t that off-base: this is a team for the TTT. On paper, only Daniel Martin appears to be a liability against the clock, so clearly, Garmin’s the 3rd entry in a 3-horse race in the Tour’s time trials (along with Astana and Columbia). In fact, except for Saxo’s Fabian Cancellara, I bet you’ll see every Top-10 spot in the each of the Tour’s TT’s occupied by a rider from these 3 teams.

For the GC, Garmin says Christian Vande Velde’s 4th place in 2008 was no fluke. Luckily, VDV’s Giro tumble is just the excuse they’ll need if he struggles to score a similar result. For the sprints? Tyler Farrar is talented, but he lacks the top-end power and the team necessary to beat Cavendish, Boonen, and Hushovd head-to-head. But don’t rule him out later in the race—maybe on the Champs-Élysées?

Were we running this team, we’d abandon any serious GC aspirations and go for breakaway stage wins (Ryder Hesjedal will do Will F. proud), the time trials, and field sprints once the big sprinters go home. We’d also let Daniel Martin ride his own race, following wheels in the mountains to see what he can do. And of course, we’d—cautiously—hope for the Yellow Jersey following the Prologue or TTT.

Then we’d go for hunting for a legitimate captain for the GC in next year’s race.

Team Katusha
Katusha has also been unable to avoid a bit of Pre-Tour scandal. Asking the riders to sign a new clause in their contracts giving the team 5-times their annual salary should they be found positive for doping produced mixed results. Kenny Dehaes has already left the team for Silence-Lotto and Geert Steegmans has been declared “inactive”, thus leaving him out of the Tour roster. Couple this with Robbie McEwen’s absence due to a fall earlier in the season and you have a Katusha roster much less potent than originally planned.

As a result, the team comes to the Tour looking for stage wins. Filippo Pozzato is the new Italian Champion; he’ll be eager to show-off the tricolore. Sergei Ivanov, Alexandre Botcharov, and Mikhail Ignatiev are also capable of scoring breakaway stage wins.

Vladimir Karpets takes the line in Monaco as Katusha’s lone GC threat, but it’s hard to see him doing anything more than maybe finishing just inside the Top-10. He’s adequate both uphill and against the clock, but has yet to show the top talent necessary to hang with the big guns on a consistent basis.

That’s it for Part Deux. Come back tomorrow for more!

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And as always, we welcome your comments below.

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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