Pavé’s 2010 Tour de France coverage begins this week with our second annual Tour de France Team-by-Team Preview. As rosters are finalized, we’ll take a look at each team’s prospects for the Grand Boucle, highlighting several key riders as we go. To be fair, we’ll work alphabetically, skipping the teams with rosters still undefined until the final day. Come back daily between Monday and Thursday to get the complete scoop on what we expect to see over the coming weeks. On Friday, we’ll cover what we consider to be the most intriguing questions we hope to have answered by the time the Tour hits Paris a little more than 3 weeks later.
And with a little luck, we’ll be unveiling our new site design too!
So let’s get started!
Astana looks to win its second-consecutive Tour de France title this July with Spaniard Alberto Contador leading what is essentially a new-look team. Armstrong, Leipheimer, Kloden, Bruyneel, and Trek have all gone to Radio Shack; they’ve been replaced with a new supporting cast of riders (including Alexandre Vinokourov), new management, and a new bike sponsor—Specialized, Trek’s main rival.
Contador’s main support in this year’s Tour will come from a talented, but relatively untested group including Dauphiné stage-winner Daniel Navarro, Paolo Tiralongo, Benjamin Noval, and David De La Fuente. Maxim Iglinksy and Andrei Grivko impressed this spring in several of the classics; they’ll be on the attack during the dangerous first week, easing the pressure on the rest of the team to control the race.
Astana’s real wild card is Vinokourov. Will he be a trusted and loyal ally to Contador, or will he ride for himself if the situation presents itself? He and Contador have raced well together the few times they’ve shared a start list this season—few can forget Contador’s sacrifice for Vino in Liege-Bastogne-Liege, for example. The best case July scenario sees Vinokourov playing the role of dangerous lieutenant to Contador, thus easing some of the pressure on his captain and forcing team’s to think twice before keying-in on the Spaniard exclusively. If all goes well, look for Contador help Vino grab a stage win (and the polka dot jersey?) in the final week—if he has enough of a cushion to spare it.
After Vino, the biggest obstacle on Contador’s road to a third Tour de France title has to be Stage 3 from Wanze to Arenberg Porte de Hainaut. Including several sections of pavé—the last of which is quite rough and less than 10 kilometers from the finish line—this will be a day that several of Contador’s main rivals (especially Lance Armstrong) attempt to gain some time. Astana missed a good chance to get a feel for what they’re facing when they inexplicably skipped this spring’s Paris-Roubaix—although Contador did spend some time training with former Roubaix-winner Peter Van Petegem. Stage 3’s not a day when the Tour will be won, but it is certainly one in which at least one of the overall favorites will lose precious time. Contador and his team will need to ride attentively and confidently in order to avoid falling into an early hole—no pun intended.
Man of the Hour: Without a doubt, Alberto Contador, is Astana’s Man of the Hour. Despite wins and high placings in several other races this season, everything hinges upon Contador’s ability to take home his third Tour de France title—thus leaving him two shy of tying Miguel Indurain for the most wins by a Spaniard.
On the Hot Seat: Specialized paid a lot of money to get one of their bikes under Contador (first) and the rest of his team (second). With their flagship Tarmac SL3 under 2 of the race’s top three overall contenders and the new 2011 Roubaix SL3 under the riders when they tackle the cobbles on Stage 3, there’s a high ceiling on Specialized’s exposure this July. Anything less than a win will be a major disappointment for the American manufacturer.
Up-and-Comer: Maxim Iglinsky impressed many with several top rides this spring including a win in the tough Montepaschi Strade Bianche semi-classic. An aggressive rider who’s unafraid to ride himself into the ground for a win, look for Iglinsky to contend on several of the Tour’s transitional stages—if he’s not working for the sake of his team’s GC interests.
Just Happy to Be There: Alexandre Vinokourov might have been expecting it anyway, but he should be grateful to have a chance to return to the Tour de France—a race he disgraced in 2007. Vino’s riding in support of Contador—he says—but one can expect him to contend for at least a stage win or two and possibly the polka dot jersey.
Feeling Left Out: Oscar Pereiro would have given Astana two Tour-winners on their roster in this year’s race. Unfortunately, the form’s just not there for a man who should probably just be happy he’s on a bike and racing again following his grisly fall in the 2008 Tour.
BBox Bouyges Telecom
Like past years, BBox Bouyges Telecom comes to this year’s Tour de France hunting for stage wins and enough publicity to guarantee the squad’s existence for another year or two. In last year’s Tour, the team won two stages with Thomas Voeckler and Pierrick Fedrigo taking wins on Stages 5 and 9—a successful haul for any French squad. That said, this year’s team has already surpassed its win total from 2009, taking impressive wins in the Critérium International, 3-Days of DePanne, the Giro d’Italia, the Critérium du Dauphine, and both the French road and time trial national championships.
Voeckler—the French national champion on the road—and Fedrigo lead the charge, hoping to add to their impressive Tour résumés. Voeckler seems to shine more from breakaways during the Tour’s flatter stages, while Fedrigo wins more transitional mountain stages on days after the favorites have exerted themselves.
As for the rest, look to see the bulk of the squad’s roster in a breakaway at some point during the 3-week Grand Tour. For example, Nicholas Vogondy won the mountain stage to Rasoul in this year’s Dauphiné—the former French road champion (and current time trial champion), is always a threat to take a stage victory. Otherwise, it’s tough to see anyone making a mark for himself in the overall classification—unless there’s a serious breakaway involved. This is a team built for stage success—and one of the best at garnering it.
Man of the Hour: Thomas Voeckler made a name for himself in the 2004 Tour de France when he escaped with a small group and took the yellow jersey. Battling valiantly before handing the lead back to Armstrong in the Alps, Voeckler came to epitomize the kind of national cycling heroes most fancied by French fans. Every year Voeckler manages to take at least one win to maintain his relevance in the hearts and minds of his countrymen—this year he did it again by taking his second French national championship. He hopes to continue the winning trend in July.
On the Hot Seat: Jean-René Bernaudeau is apparently close to finding a new sponsor for 2011 and beyond, but until the ink is dry, there’s always a chance for things to fall through. With another high-profile performance on the sport’s biggest stage, Jean-René and his team might just seal the deal.
Up-and-Comer: Pierre Rolland finished 8th and took the polka dot jersey as best climber in this year’s Dauphiné. Considered by some to be the next great French Tour rider, this might be Rolland’s last chance to show everyone he hasn’t been overestimated.
Just Happy to Be There: Yukio Arashiro is riding his second Tour de France, his second grand tour of the season after finishing May’s Giro d’Italia. Currently the only Japanese rider in the event, Arashiro is looking to improve upon the third-place finish he scored after a day spent in the break during the Giro’s fifth stage.
Feeling Left Out: Steve Chainel was one of the surprises of this year’s spring classics, taking several top placings to go with his win in Stage 1 at DePanne. While he might appreciate the time off to begin his build for the upcoming cyclocross season, there’s no doubt Chainel would have welcomed a chance to ride his national grand tour.
BMC Racing Team
It looks like BMC’s off-season upgrades had the desired the effects, as the squad was included on the list of invitees to this year’s Tour de France. Now the challenge begins as they attempt to find success in the squad’s first stab at the biggest race in the world.
Cadel Evans leads the team in what is likely to be the first grand tour where he’s not considered among the main favorites for the overall title. All in all, a stage victory in the rainbow jersey and a low top-10 finish in Paris would be a fine result for the Australian, setting him up nicely for the rest of the season.
As other teams before them have found, simply stocking a roster with talent is not all that it takes to find success in the Tour, but with several experienced and proven Tour winners on board, it could be a terrific July for a team eager to prove it deserves mention among the world’s best. George Hincapie, Alessandro Ballan, Karsten Kroon, and Markus Burghardt have all won stages in the past—they’re all hoping to win a stage or two while preparing themselves for important one-day races later in the year.
Man of the Hour: Markus Burghardt has been BMC’s most aggressive rider of late, taking two impressive stage wins in the Tour de Suisse. Look for the former Ghent-Wevelgem winner to be a main contender in next week’s cobbled Stage 3.
On the Hot Seat: Remember when Alessandro Ballan was considered one of the world’s best one-day riders? Well, after an anonymous spring and rumblings that he was one of the riders involved with the Lampre drug scandal, there’s no time like the present for Ballan to win something…anything. After a third-place finish in Saturday’s difficult Italian championship, it appears as if Ballan’s hitting his stride—let’s see what he can do.
Up-and-Comer: Brent Bookwalter seemingly came out of nowhere to place second in Stage 1 of the Giro d’Italia. It will be interesting to see if the talented young American can take another impressive result in the Prologue of his first Tour de France. Last year: Utah; this year: France—an impressive change of scenery, no?
Just Glad to Be There: Rumor has it that Mike Sayers didn’t like me too much when I was with Mercury in 2001—I think he saw me as a young, uninitiated American who did little to deserve his place managing one of the top teams in the sport. Regardless, I’m glad to see Mike has worked his way to the Tour he was promised but never received during his years with Mercury. Always considered one of the hardest working guys in the peloton; it’s nice to see Mike’s years of dedication and perseverance rewarded—even if he never liked me. Congrats, Mike!
Feeling Left Out: While it’s hard to gauge the behind-the-scenes politics of such decisions, I bet there’s a part of Jeff Louder that regrets being left-off the roster for this year’s Tour. Louder’s been racing in Europe for years as both an amateur and a pro, and is one of the riders to have been with BMC since its earliest days. For certain he would have appreciated a chance to be with the team in Rotterdam.
Cervelo Test TeamThe Cervelo Test Team once again begins a major phase of its season without the services of one of its most talented riders, Heinrich Haussler. After missing much of the spring with a knee injury, Haussler looked to be back to his old self with a win in Stage 2 of the Tour de Suisse. Then came his now-infamous tangle with Mark Cavendish at the end of Stage 4, and Haussler’s back on the disabled list.
A stage winner last year, Haussler will certainly be missed by a team appearing to need all the help—and wins—it can get this season. Thor Hushovd is healthy once more; he’ll be hoping to replace his new jersey as Norwegian national champion with a green jersey sometime within the Tour’s first week. With two trips to the professional podium in Paris-Roubaix (he won the race as an amateur as well), Hushovd’s another rider to watch on the pavé during Stage 3.
As for Carlos Sastre, he limps to this year’s Tour following a Giro d’Italia in which he failed to live up to pre-race expectations. With a squad built more around Hushovd’s green jersey campaign than Sastre’s bid for yellow, it appears the team’s confidence in the Spaniard’s hopes to repeat his 2008 victory is on the decline.
If I were Sastre, I would forget the overall, and shoot for a stage win or two in the mountains. On his day he’s perhaps the best pure climber in the peloton. Losing minutes early might lengthen his leash later on, perhaps freeing him for a win in front of his home fans in the Pyrenees.
Man of the Hour: Thor Hushovd put on quite a show in winning the green jersey last year, at one point attacking in the mountains to extend his lead. With Cavendish ailing and nearly a full team of supporters backing him, the stage is set for Thor to take his third maillot vert.
On the Hot Seat: I hate to pick on him, but Carlos Sastre’s 35-years-old and beginning the downside of his career. If he wants to remain a commodity he’ll need to reinvent himself soon—similar to what Richard Virenque did when he began to make his exit. Mountain stage wins and the polka dot jersey are now worthy goals for a man whose best days are behind him.
Up-and-Comer: Ignatas Konovalovas won the final time trial in last year’s Giro d’Italia; now the 24-year-old gets his first start in the Tour. While the jury might still be out on the young Lithuanian, he’s by far the youngest rider on a team chock full of veterans. Look for him near the top of the result sheet in Saturday’s Prologue.
Just Happy to Be There: Jeremy Hunt’s inclusion was sure sign that Cervelo’s all about Thor’s green jersey this July. Hunt’s been a professional since 1996, but this is first Tour de France. Good luck, Jez!
Feeling Left-Out: He rode this May’s Giro and likely had little expectation of riding the Tour, but here’s hoping Ted King gets a shot at the French grand tour one day. One of the sport’s most open and accessible professionals, King’s commentary would have been a worthy addition to the already impressive amount of first-person perspectives into the race.
Like many French teams, Cofidis comes to the Tour eager to animate the race and perhaps win a stage or two. If all goes according to plan, Cofidis will take its first Tour stage since 2008.
Samuel Dumoulin took that last win for Cofidis in Stage 3 of the 2008 event, and if this season is any indication, he appears destined to at least repeat the feat. With six wins to his name, he’s clearly Cofidis’ best chance for a win from a breakaway or small group. But the list doesn’t end there, as Stéphane Augé, Julien El Fares, Christophe Kern, and Rémi Pauriol are all men unafraid to test their legs off the front.
Other than stage wins, Cofidis’ best chance for success—now and in years to come—might sit with the young Estonian, Rein Taaramae. Taarame’s been rising slowly through the ranks for the past few seasons, learning how to ride in smaller stage races before tackling his first grand tour in last year’s Vuelta. He’s had a bit of an up and down season, dropping-out of the Dauphiné before finishing 9th in the Route du Sud. That said, a top-15 or top-20 finish is certainly within reach, giving Cofidis a GC rider for the future.
Man of the Hour: Samuel Dumoulin’s been winning just about everything he enters this season—there’s no reason to think he’ll stop now.
On the Hot Seat: Stéphane Augé hasn’t taken a win since 2008—and he’s 35. ‘Nuff said.
Up-and-Comer: Rein Taaramae’s been on several “up-and-comer” lists for about a year or so. It’s time to see if he deserves the hype.
Just Happy to Be There: Remi Pauriol took two wins early last season before falling into obscurity. Either Cofidis thinks he still has something to show or they’re desperate for bodies—either way, Pauriol’s lucky to have earned the call.
Feeling Left-Out: Maybe I should call this one “Just Happy to Not Be There” as David Moncoutie’s chosen to skip his home grand tour in favor of the Vuelta, a race in which he’s fared much better as of late. Give Moncoutie credit for taking himself out of a race most Frenchman would give anything to contest.
With its usual mix of Basques and Spaniards, Euskaltel comes to this year’s Tour de France hoping reigning Olympic Champion Samuel Sanchez can contend for a spot on the race’s final podium. While not known much for it, Sanchez has ridden the Tour in the past, finishing 7th in 2008. And with five top-10 grand tour finishes on his resume, he deserves our attention. A talented climber, Sanchez has also proven to be not too shabby in a time trial, winning the final ITT in the 2007 Vuelta.
As is typical for Euskaltel, the team’s chances for a high overall placing depend largely on its ability to make it through the dangerous first week unscathed. Not known for riding at the front on flat, windy stages—the men in orange are often the first to be seen picking themselves up from the tarmac during massive Week 1 pile-ups.
That said, Sanchez could be targeting Stage 2 for an early shot at glory. The 201-km stage from Brussels to Spa tackles several of the climbs Sanchez knows from the Ardennes classics, a series of races to which he’s well suited. With the dangerous Stage 3 to follow, Stage 2 might be a good day for Sanchez to try and build himself a bit of a buffer for the cobbles to come.
Man of the Hour: Sanchez—there’s really no one else.
On the Hot Seat: With the several key stages in the Pyrenees including two days of the Tourmalet, the entire team will feel pressure from their sponsors and fans to take at least one stage in this year’s race. Euskaltel’s been supporting the squad since 1994—with 9 Tours and only 3 stages to show for it, now’s a better time than ever to honor their sponsor’s commitment with a victory.
Up-and-Comer: It’s tough to identify an up-and-comer as Euskaltel went for experience over youth with this year’s roster. That said, there’s a gorgeous new Orbea Orca ready to make its debut; let’s see how it fares!
Just Happy to Be There: Following his polka dot jersey in the Critérium du Dauphiné, Egoi Martinez has to be feeling good about his chances in the KOM competition in this year’s Tour. Last year’s second place finisher in the competition, Martinez would love to ride into Spain as the race’s best climber.
Feeling Left Out: He has no reason to be disappointed, but I’m sure Romain Sicard would have loved to race his country’s national tour this season. An impressive Dauphiné made the possibility all the more tempting, but in the end, cooler heads prevailed—Sicard will have to wait for the Tour of Spain to tackle his first grand tour.
And that’s it for Part 1 of Pavé’s Team-By-Team Tour de France Preview—come back Tuesday for Part 2.
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