PavÃ© would like to thank Handspun and ClÃ©ment for supporting our coverage of the 2011 Tour de France.
This year Russia will be represented by a formidable contingent of successful attackers riders and breakaway specialists. The most accomplished stage racer without a pending doping appeal will not be racing this year, as Denis Menchov’s Geox team did not get invited to the dance. With Menchov’s absence there will not be any serious contenders for overall glory, but with an Olympic medal and recent one day race winners, Russia will be well represented nevertheless.
Katusha’s Vladimir Karpets is the most seasoned Russian stage racer at this year’s Tour, and with two top 10 Grand Tour finishes he’s likely to be Katusha’s anointed leader. That title will be in name only as he is unlikely to find himself in a position to fight for the top 10 in the final week, but he’s in his stage racing prime at 30 years old, and knows what it takes to finish a Grand Tour. Unencumbered by media pressure, he may find himself able deliver a top performance without drawing the attention of his competitors, which could work to his advantage. Finally, any mention of Karpets would be remiss without acknowledging he posesses the best mullet in the peloton.
The entire Katusha squad will be comprised of Russian riders (consolations go to Filippo “Pippo” Pozatto, left at home by manager Andrei Tchmil) and among them Alexandr Kolobnev is a strong contender for a stage win in an intermediate stage. This spring he featured in some of the Ardennes classics but is still without a win and will be motivated. With the worlds course being one for the sprinters he will be keen to vie for a win on a course that suits him, and that could be in France.
Pavel Brutt is another Katusha rider that could factor in long breakaways. Without the aforementioned GC threat Katusha will be motivated to put their riders into early breaks and to go after stage wins. Coming off of a stage win at Romandie his form is good and has he’ll have cards to play.
The young breakout rider in the Russian camp is Denis Galimzyanov, who had a strong spring in his debut season, with two wins at Three Days of De Panne. The competition will be much tougher than at De Panne, so he’s likely to be at the Tour for experience rather than in the hunt for a stage victory.
Man of the Hour: Based on recent form Pavel Brutt stands the best chance of a stage win. He has shown his tactical nous and will not have any reason to sit in the peloton or wait for the last 500 meters to lead out a sprint.
On the Hot Seat: Despite being completely and absolutely void of media attention Alexandr Kolobnev needs a big win this season. He seems able to time his form remarkably well for his chosen events, but without being inside Katusha’s management team it is tough to know how much pressure Andrei Tchmil has put on him. Kolobnev can win big, and Katusha needs a big win.
Also on the Hot Seat: Katusha team manager Andrei Tchmil. Tchmil’s rolling the dice by bringing an all Russian squad – a gamble that could pay off, or leave him red-faced at not taking experienced riders like Filippo Pozzato, Joaquim RodrÃguez and Danilo Di Luca to the tour.
Up and Comer: At 24 years old, Galimzyanov is just entering his prime. With his rookie season already a success he will not be pressured by management or the media. With that in mind, he just may surprise some people in the first week, although he’s unlikely to make it to Paris.
I think the one on the hot seat is not Kolobnev, it is Tchmil. He dispenses with ultimatums more generously than Finns on skis dispensed with Molotov cocktails during the winter war of 1939.
It will surely be fun to watch how Tchmil handles the pressure during the Tour.