Although a Czech has never won the Tour, their chances keep improving every season with the slow but steady rise of Roman Kreuziger. He already has two 9th place finishes in each of the last two editions and yet is still young enough to compete for the under 25 maillot blanc. It is even more impressive to consider that in both of those races Kreuziger rode in support of more established contenders on the stacked Liquigas squad.
Now racing for Astana his role will be to support team leader Alexander Vinokourov as an alpine super domestique. If Vino should falter the team could shift its support to Kreuziger which would afford him support which he has not had in previous years. On last year’s Astana team Alberto Contador was the clear leader, and Vinokourov showed that he was willing to ride in support when he was unable to win himself. If that same situations presents itself this year Kreuziger may benefit from being able to avoid scrutiny in the early part of the race yet still get full team support when necessary late in the race.
Slovenia is another nation not typically considered a cycling powerhouse, but Janez Brajkovic could change that. His win at Dauphine last year over some big names showed that he can compete on the big stage. Winning the Dauphine and winning a three week grand tour are very different, but if Radio Shack’s aging triumvirate of Leipheimer, Kloden and Horner should falter Brajkovic could find himself as the leader of one of the most successful grand tour teams in the peloton. It is unlikely that he would be able to get the better of his more established competitors at the tour, but should he end up as the protected Radio Shack rider in the last week then a top ten finish is possible.
Fellow Slovenian Borut Bozic is not a household name, but he is an active sprinter with sprinting success. Look for him to be active in the first week’s flatter stages- not only do they suit him as a sprinter, but he will be keen to put Vacansoliel into the limelight after last year’s non-selection.
Although Peter Velits is the lone racer from Slovakia he has bona fide grand tour experience and finished third overall in last year’s Vuelta. He will be riding for the multi-faceted HTC-Highroad squad and could be given some latitude to go on his own in the mountains, although he is not officially his team’s GC leader. He could factor in the battle for the maillt blanc against Andy Schleck and Roman Kreuziger, although he will need to do it without much support from his team.
Man of the Hour Kreuziger is likely to find some room for his own ambitions, although it may only be for a stage win. Depending on Vino’s position later in the race Kreuziger could challenge in the young rider’s or KOM competitions if a high overall placing is out of reach. Regardless of how the situation plays out he will have an opportunity to shine as long as he has recovered from his stellar Giro campaign earlier this year.
On the Hot Seat: Vacansoliel will be motivated, and Bozic is their fast finisher so he will need to be active the first week.
Young Up-and-Comer: Of all the young and improving riders profiled here Peter Velits is the one with the most yet to gain. The sprint-heavy HTC-Highroad lineup will not put him in an optimal position this time around, but like Kreuziger he has enjoyed GC success in grand tours and could be free to chase his own ambitions late in the race.