Switzerland and Austria brings a small contingent to this year’s Tour de France, but representatives from each are quite likely to fly his nation’s flag admirably.
For starters, BMC brings two Swiss time trialists, Michael Schar and Steve Morabito. They’re part of BMC’s roleur-heavy roster whose job it will be to help Cadel Evans gain time in the Team Time Trial and keep him safe throughout the flat and rolling parts of this year’s parcours. The first week in particular will be important – a top-class stage racer needs top-class teammates to protect him from trouble, stay near the front, and not lose time early on. Schar and Morabito are among those shouldering this responsibility for Cadel Evans – can they help him to a Tour podium?
Lampre is bringing along Swiss climber David Loosli. Loosli will be riding his seventh grand tour in service of team leader Damiano Cunego, who many have already written off due to his lackluster performance in the Italian National Championships. If the 2004 Giro champion wants a shot at placing highly in this years Tour de France, Loosli’s help in the mountains will be key.
The Main Main of the Swiss Contingent, however, is everybody’s favorite gladiator, Fabian “Spartacus” Cancellara. When he’s not busy tweeting in barely-comprehensible English – which can be forgiven considering his ability to conduct post-race interviews in three or four different languages – he’s modeling his noble, chiseled visage for granite sculptors, and still finds time to train enough to be a champion time trialist. Fresh off of his victory in the Swiss National Road Race, he enters the Tour motivated by a curiously disappointing spring, replete with a raft of Classics podiums though no repeats of his previous year’s victories. Can he grab a stage in the first week, holding off sprinters in some of the challenging finishes?
The lone Austrian of this year’s Tour is HTC’s Bernard Eisel. Eisel’s got some sprint and classics palmares, notably winning Ghent-Wevelgem last year and netting top ten rides in Ghent-Wevelgem and Paris-Roubaix this year. However, he comes ready to support HTC’s pocket rocket Mark Cavendish – expect to see his face suffering on the front of flat stages with about 1.5kilometers to go, ready to hand things off to Mark Renshaw who will catapult Cavendish toward the line.
Man of the Hour: Fabian Cancellara. Cancellara has won at least one stage in every Tour de France he participated in, save 2005. It’s hard to bet against him picking up another win, even with the limited number of time trial miles in their year’s edition.
On the Hot Seat: SchÃ¤r, Morabito and Loosli. If their team leaders are going to have any success this year, they’ll be indispensable. Failure to protect Cadel Evans on the flats, or pace Cunego in the mountains will leave their leaders without the support they’ll need to contend.
Up-and-Comer: Morabito and SchÃ¤r have but one prior tour experience between the two of them, though neither qualifies by experience as a newbie. Given the faith BMC and Evans are putting in them, it’ll be worth keeping an eye on their performances.