Friday, June 30, 2006

2006 Tour de France Preview (of sorts)...

Here we are just hours away from knowing who will be the first Maillot Jaune of the 2006 Tour and all anybody is really talking about is the widespread doping scandal that has rocked this year's event. To say the least, the remaining riders in this year's race will be riding under a cloud of suspicion and the "winner" will be shadowed by doubt. In contrast, the horrible situation of the 1998 Festina Affair is going to seem like a day at the park compared to this scandal.

I've already made many comments about ths doping situation, so I won't bother to make a bunch more here. Let's just leave it at this for the moment; this really sucks. For the riders. For the fans. For the sponsors. For the sport. For the industry. This really is "Black Friday".

This is really about the Tour de France, not drugs in sport. So on to the race...

Tomorrow's prologue should be interesting. Smart money is on Zabriskie to repeat his performance of last year, but what about David Millar? Are his legs fresh after sitting out for two years after his drug ban? Can he make the race happen after two years of not racing? Good question. Honestly though, I think he can. He's one of the best time trialists ever, even without drugs. He has to be considered and you know he wants redemption in the form of a yellow jersey.

But what about all the other guys who want to prove something? CSC is lucky enough to have Zabriskie's fellow Americans Bobby Julich and Christian Vandevelde. Both of these riders can TT with the best on the right day. Too bad Riis couldn't get Fabian Cancellara back now... Discovery has some great TT riders too; Savoldelli, Popovych, Hincapie and Ekimov. How cool would it be if "Eki" won the prologue? Pretty cool. T-Mobile still has World TT Champ Michael Rogers and specialist Sergei Honchar. Both of these guys could do it. Gerolsteiner has Levi Leipheimer with good legs and lots of motivation. Lotto-Domo has Cadel Evans and Chris Horner. Granted, neither are specialists against the clock, but Chris has won a lot of them over the years in the States (plus he's a former co-worker of mine and that has to be good for something). Phonak has Funky Floyd "Praying" Landis. I have to say that I hate the way his position looks, but the way he slaps folks around is pretty cool. Euskaltel-Euskadi has Iban Mayo. When he doesn't implode in fantastic fashion, he's a very good rider in a TT, especially for such a gifted climber. Cofidis has Rik Verbrugghe, who has won prologues in other races in the past. He could surprise a few folks. Liquigas has big, bad Backstedt. I know he's more of a Classics guy, but he can actually TT quite well with that gigantic motor of his (I feel a moral obligation to root for a fellow "big guy"). And my dark horse pick? The long shot with the most to prove? Michael Rasmussen. Come on, if anybody in this race would kill to win a TT at the Tour, The Chicken is the man.

So this Tour is going to be a much different race now, thanks to the drug squad expelling so many riders. I really feel for Alexander Vinokourov, of the expelled Astana-Wurth team. He really stood a chance to win- especially once Ullrich and Basso were tossed out of the race. Now he has to wait again...

What will this race turn into this year, outside of media circus? It sucks for the riders remaining in the event because they will have to live up to some unreal code of ethics during the race. The spotlight of inquiry will be bright and hot for the next three weeks. The winner of this year's race will have to live with people whispering about drugs and what-ifs. It is unfair, but that is sport.

So my real prediction for the prologue? That's a tough one... so I'll go with two people; Zabriskie or Landis. Not because they are both American riders, but because I think they both really want the win. Hopefully one of them does.

That's it for my prognostications for tomorrow. Now I'm moving on to the coolest news for me and this Tour. We will have a special guest/s for the race this year; Jessi Pacetti (Queen Bitch Kittie), the second half of Bobke Ink, will be lending her voice to things and will be sharing inside dirt straight from the Tour via Bob Roll himself. Bob might even provide a few words of his own when he isn't poking the French with a sharp stick. How cool is that?

So, to start things off, here is Jessi' first commentary for the race;

Is Cycling Ruined or Will US Cycling Overcome?

As I write this Basso and Ullrich are on their way home from France. I’ve been hearing from a lot of industry insiders and a lot of cycling fans alike. Some say that cycling is dead for two years- gone. Who wants to sponsor a “Crack Race”? Granted, not my quote, but it raises a good question. How are we going to get new sponsors to participate in something that’s hand in hand with doping? Of course, so many other sports are laden with known drug use with beer and hot dog companies still anteing up. Still, cycling has always been different. Prestigious, righteous, virtuous. I don’t think the crime here is that the drugs were done, but that our heroes lied about everything. That is the real issue here and that’s why the good ol’ boys were sent home, honestly.

Now US Cycling’s role? Well, there’s a darn good chance we’ll see a podium on July 24 that is largely if not all American riders. To tell you the truth, I don’t give a rip on which ones (though I have my favorite) but this could play a huge part in the blast of cycling onto the scene. Obviously, piggy-backing on Lance’s accomplishments and taking it one step further. As a person who pays the bills on the cycling industry, I would love to see this. This may be our chance, folks.

Call it optimism, call it existentialism, I think US Cycling is going to come out ahead and we’re going to gain from this. Keep your fingers crossed.

Not a bad start... thanks Jessi!

(Note; As mentioned before, things are kinda nuts in the office, so daily posts might be more like "nightly" posts a lot of the time. And, the last stages of the Tour happen during our National Sales Meeting, so I may be posting even later on those days. Regardless, I will do my best to maintain daily commentary of the race and will work on some additional "guest" speakers... you just never know...)

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