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

Here’s Part Trois in our team-by-team preview of this year’s Tour de France. Tomorrow will be the last 5, including some we missed earlied due to rosters not being finalized.

You can read Part Une here, and Part Deux here.

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Here’s Part Trois:

Lampre comes to the Tour with aspirations similar to Katusha—minus the preceding drama (See Part Deux). For Alessandro Ballan, the goal is a stage win in the rainbow jersey, thus propelling him into the second half of the season with the hope of more wins to come. Simon Spilak is another rider to watch for in a breakaway; he’s talented and aggressive. In the sprints, Lampre will be backing Angelo Furlan, but he’s a step below the A-List field sprinters. Look for him later in the race if he can survive past the mountains.

Marzio Bruseghin comes to the Tour following his Top-10 ride in the Giro ready to test himself in July. A time trialist who can also pull good results in the mountains, Bruseghin has to be counted as at least a dark horse for the Top-10. He doesn’t have much of a team to back him when things get tough, but if he can follow the right moves and play-off the other, deeper squads he could find himself well-placed come Paris.

Don’t let Liquigas fool you. They say they’re coming to the Tour with modest aspirations, but they’re certainly capable of turning the race on it’s ear. Co-Leaders Roman Kreuzinger and Vincenzo Nibali are still considered by mangement to be a year away from a serious assault on the Maillot Jaune, but that could be a smoke screen to protect the youngsters—23 and 24 respectively—from the intense pressure favored status brings. Both can climb and time trial. Kreuzinger won the Tour de Suisse last year before finishing the Tour in 12th place; Nibali finished 7th in this year’s Dauphiné following his 20th place in Paris in 2008. Both riders will be motivated to take the next step to greatness, and—assuming they can avoid an inter-squad feud—can easily finish within the Tour’s Top-10.

Franco Pellizotti will be riding the race fresh from his 3rd place in this year’s Giro. The other two will certainly appreciate his presence. Franco’s a talented climber who can help in the more difficult stages; he’s also used to the pressure of riding for the GC. While guiding the youngsters, he’ll be shooting for a stage win himself. Look for him on transitional mountain stages, or perhaps, Mont Ventoux if he’s down on GC.

For the flatter days, Liquigas will be relying on former stage winner Daniele Bennati to regain the speed he’s displayed in the past. Watch for Aleksandr Kuschynski and Frederic Willems in breakaways—both are classics-type riders capable of winning following a long day off the front.

All in all, Liquigas comes to the Tour with perhaps one of the most well-rounded teams in the race. Capable of winning on multiple fronts, with good direction they could seriously threaten the supremacy of the more heavily-favored Astana’s, Rabobank’s, and Saxo’s.

Team Milram
Milram comes to the Tour with perhaps it’s best team in recent memory. Young, aggressive, and well-rounded, it’s a team of riders capable of animating the race on several fronts.

Fabian Wegman comes to the Tour for the first time in recent memory without the jersey of German National Champion. Wegman’s an attacking rider who perhaps gets a bit too eager at times. Maybe not having the beacon of the all-white German Champ kit will temper his aggression just enough to get him the win he deserves.

Linus Gerdemann and Gerald Ciolek came over from Columbia after last season. Gerdemann will be Milram’s man for the GC and Ciolek their sprinter. Both could pull a surprise here and there—Ciolek more so than Gerdemann. Ciolek’s greatest asset is his endurance; he can last all the way to Paris long after other sprinters have gone home. Gerdemann will have Markus Fothen supporting him in the mountains as he shoots for the Top-10.

Finally, there’s a bevy of talented riders eager for stage wins including Peter Velits, Niki Terpstra, and Christian Knees. All have shown good form over the season so far, and they should be seen frequently off the front. It could be a very good Tour for Milram. It’s about time, isn’t it?

Quick Step
Quick Step’s full team has been confirmed with one major caveat: it has yet to be decided whether or not Tom Boonen will be allowed to compete following his positive test (out of competition) for cocaine. We”ll have to wait for Friday to get the final answer.

With Boonen, Quick Step’s goal is clear: win as many flat stages as possible while working to get Boonen the Green Jersey. Without Boonen, the team will take Allan Davis to the race. Davis is a capable sprinter, but he’s no Tom Boonen (understatement of the year?). He stands far better chances once the race gets closer to Paris and the pure sprinters have gone home.

Stijn Devolder will once again be trying his luck at the GC, but it’s all but been concluded that it’s not his cup of tea. He should probably just do his best for a stage. But Boonen notwithstanding, Quick Step’s best chance for stage success probably lies in the capable hands of Sylvain Chavanel. He was one of the race’s key animators last year, and he’ll certainly be motivated to win another stage in his home tour.

But let’s face it: it all comes down to Boonen for Quick Step. With him, 4-5 stages are possible, without him, maybe 1 or 2.

Denis Menchov and his Rabobank colleagues might be the team everyone fears the most. An accomplished Grand Tour rider, Menchov comes to the Tour straight from his Giro victory, the last race he’s entered. Menchov finished 3rd in last year’s Tour (following Kohl’s expulsion) more or less by following wheels in the mountains and making-up chunks of the time against the clock (Menchov’s one rider who might dispel my claim yesterday that only Cancellara/Garmin/Astana/Columbia will finish in the Top-10 in the Tour’s TT’s). This year the pressure will be on him to play more of an aggressive role; he’ll have to if he wants to win. Alberto Contador and Cadel Evans are much better GC riders than Danilo DiLuca; Menchov’s “me and my shadow” strategy won’t work as well in France as it did in Italy.

Rabobank brings a talented team with Menchov to Monaco. Robert Gesink will get his first stab at riding the Tour. He could prove to be Menchov’s biggest ally in the mountains along with Laurens ten Dam. Stef Clement and Joost Posthuma are two rouleurs capable controlling the flatter stages and adding firepower in the TTT. Juan Antonio Flecha will be seeking stage wins, as well as his compatriot, Oscar Freire. Freire’s always a favorite for the Green Jersey; Clement and Posthuma will help in that regard.

But in the end, it will all come down to Menchov. He’ll need a good mix of aggression and consistency if he hopes to win. If he does, he’ll join an exclusive group of riders who can say they’ve won all three Grand Tours.

That’s it for now. Keep coming back daily for coverage, comments, and more. It will be Pavé’s biggest month since April!

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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