So, there's this bike race in France. Seems that there's this guy there, he's won before but retired and is now unretired from racing. Problem is, he went back to ride for his old boss, but his old boss has new riders who have won some bike races too and think they should get to be The Leader of the team now. Even more of a problem here is that some other guys came to France to win this silly bike race too. THEN... as if that wasn't enough, there's this guy there with a little drug problem (seems to like the powdered stuff after he wins races... and he wins a lot of them) and it's creating a little "drama" along the sidelines and within the team.
There- that's about all you need to know!
Fine... there's more.
If you really just go by the headlines, this Tour should be one for the record books. There's so much drama and intrigue and tons of polemics and head games... it's as if this race was scripted by some cheeseball Hollywood hack who's had a few too many Red Bull/ vodkas. I mean... DANG!!
This race could either be completely lopsided, or it could be wide open. Certain teams- Astana, Quick Step, Silence-Lotto - could completely implode upon themselves. Dark horse riders could shock everybody and take the prize away from the bickering dimwits with bigger salaries/ egos. Or... we might just have a bike race where the strongest rider, with the best team and tactics, simply rides away with the victory and we all get to enjoy some fantastic cycling for the next three weeks... though that seems less and less likely all the time.
Here's a bit of a team by team overview... and hopefully nobody gets thrown out for a failed drug test this year...
Cervelo Test Team; This team is obviously all about returning winner Carlos Sastre, with Thor Hushovd as the Plan B guy if they find that the little Spanish climbing specialist doesn't have the legs. Hushovd will be vying for the Green Jersey of Best Sprinter- though the field is stacked with awesome speedsters. Sastre won last year's race with the genius guidance of Bjarne Riis... and without any other real contenders for the race in his way. Sure, Cadel Evans was supposed to win the race, but Cadel's about as aggressive as a tranquilizer darted elephant. Evans all but gifted the Tour to Sastre last year and had a stronger team to support him. Can Sastre hope for an equally charitable race this year? Likely not... which means the Cervelo crew will have one helluva time trying to get him into Yellow a second time.
Masiguy says- Look for Thor to get a stage win and the rest of the Testers to be in the hunt for chances to score a win as well- most likely with Haussler. Sastre could shock the hell out of me, but I have my doubts... even though I like the guy.
Silence-Lotto; Outside of Evans, this team is kinda devoid of heavy hitters. Sure, they have some excellent all around riders who will slaughter themselves for Cadel, but this Belgian squad is really more suited to the Spring Classics than they are to a three week stage race. With Evans likely to be isolated in the high mountains again, look for Cap'n Cranky to be complaining about how he dislikes the press more than actually trying to win the race... again.
Masiguy says- Greg van Avermaet is a young talent who could manage a stage win while Evans is trying to psyche himself up into actually trying to ride aggressively. Too bad they don't still have Chris Horner around to give them a little more spunk.
Astana; Damn, I almost even hate to mention these guys just because EVERYBODY talks non-stop about them! I promise you the other teams are bringing riders to this race too, yet all you hear about is Astana. Lance, Levi, Alberto, Kloden... each of the four have either won this grand tour or others, or have been on the podium of the Tour. Needless to say, the team has firepower and potent options... but they will possibly be hamstrung by ego and infighting. Rumors of rifts have been swirling since Lance announced his return and Bruyneeel welcomed him back to the team. Contador is arguably the best current grand tour rider around now- having won all 3 of them in 12 months. He's been riding into great form and SHOULD be the man everybody watches. BUT... there's that other dude- Mr. 7. Simply having Lance in the race means it will have a different dynamic to it- regardless of how he rides. Levi, bless his little heart and huge lungs, is possibly "too nice" to have the eggs to wage a war of his own and Kloden is not showing the signs of his former power- possibly from a lack of the T-Mobile "special sauce"... who knows.
Masiguy says- Personally, I expect the wheels to blow off this thing any second. With all the controversy that has surrounded the team with the riders, Lance, and the Astana funding- and now Vinokourov's announced return to the team whether they like it or not... too many rings in this circus and not enough room for all the clowns under this big top.
Team Saxo Bank; I don't know why I still love this team, but I do. Maybe it's because of Cancellara having the ability to just flog the crap out of other riders, or O'Grady's calm grittiness, or Voigt's "harden the f@ck up" attitude and willingness to go on suicide breaks, or the Schleck brothers sharing the same potential for awesomeness. I just like'em. Maybe it's because of Bike Toss Bjarne being the team owner/ director?
Masiguy says- I expect Riis is bringing one hungry team to the Tour. The Schleck's are chomping at the bit to be true contenders and not riding for another team leader. I suspect they are both going to be aggressive and a major pain in the arse for the other contenders. Evans could learn something from those two. Voigt will go off on a long break... or 12... and O'Grady can not ever be ruled out for a stage win. Cancellara is the man to watch in the TT's or any time he is near the front in the closing kilometers of the race. He's no GC threat, but the big Swiss Mister is a monster when it comes to tossing down the wattage.
Rabobank; With Menchov's well-earned Giro win, Rabobank has to feel suddenly like a real threat. And maybe they can be... maybe. I'm not too sure they are fresh enough after the Giro. Denis Menchov is a much more confident man now, but he's gotta be tired. The rest of the team is pretty good too, with Freire being a constant threat in the sprints- especially the ones with a slight rise to the finish. Gesink could prove to be a true revelation as well. However, I expect the Dutch Boys will most likely be riding for stages and a top 10 place.
Masiguy says- My money is on the team to ride well enough to look good and maybe even into the top team spot, but I don't think they have enough juice in the batteries to really contend for the main prize... but I could be wrong.
Garmin-Slipstream; If you're an English speaker, then you are required by law to want to see this team do well. Jonathan Vaughters, the Nutty Professor, is totally likable and a quirky egghead that you just gotta dig. He's almost as fashionably weird as Gary Fisher- just less stoned. JV has a great team that seems to truly like each other and wants to get some wins. Vande Velde had the Tour of his life last year and the question is if he can do it again. It's a bit of an unknown after his crash out of the Giro. But, with the team also there to support Tyler Farrar's chances to get a stage win and maybe even challenge the other sprinters for the Green Jersey, these guys have a chance to do something cool. With the awesome TT power the team possesses, expect to see them challenge for the TTT stage win as well. With all the strength they have, they might actually be able to get yellow... but can they keep it?
Masiguy says- This is one of my emotional favorites and I hope to see them do something great this year. I think Farrar has a true shot to get a win during his first Tour, but he's gonna have his hands full. JVV is a nice dude and I would love to see him get to the podium, but I think many folks wonder if last year was a fluke.
Euskaltel-Euskadi; If you're Basque, you love these guys. If not, you probably have no clue who they are. Assembled with Spanish climbers with names using all the X's and Z's that the Belgians didn't use, these guys are collectively fast when the road starts getting vertical. Outside of that...
Masiguy says- These guys will make other non-climbers cuss and cry in the mountains, but when things really heat up for the GC and the contenders come out to fight, these goat cheese eaters will be wondering what hit them again. But you still have to love their spunkiness and bright orange kits.
Columbia-High Road; Does anybody think this team has a real podium shot? Kirchen and Rogers are great riders, but just outclassed by this stellar field of GC riders. Bob Stapleton has WAY more chance getting Cavendish in Green by Paris with a few stage wins. Hincapie is a guy you want to see win a stage, but can he do it? He's one of the stronger big guys out there and is a real asset to the team, but he's reaching that ever-near twillight of his career.
Masiguy says- With Cavendish being the THE sprinter in the peloton these days, it's a given that all eyes will be on him at the finish of the sprinting stages. Can he hold off a field of motivated guys looking to shut the cocky Brit up? Probably yes, but he'll have more competition than normal. Kirchen and Rogers will ride valiantly, for sure... but...
AG2R-La Mondiale; Well, they won a stage of the Tour of California this year. They ride nice bikes. The largely French team is full of guys who can ride well enough to be paid to ride at the Pro Tour level, so they're faster than me. That said, they don't really have much of a chance for too much success. Without any star riders, outside of Nicholas Roche- the son of Stephen Roche- they really can't be expected to do much more than ride suicide breaks for the TV time.
Masiguy says- Sorta like the Euskaltel guys, these guys are likely to fade out of contention for much of anything once the GC battle gets going, so their one chance is to do something early in the race.
Liquigas; These guys are great- tough stage racers with panache and talent. Pelizotti just rode an awesome Giro and Kreuziger is a real talent as well. The rest of the team is a group of great all around riders who can race for three weeks. They don't really look likely to challenge for a real GC spot, but they'll ride fast and look good doing it.
Masiguy says- Look for a stage win or two. Could be nearly any of the guys on the team, as they are all talented and clever.
Francaise des Jeuz; Another French team with talented riders, yet totally outclassed for GC. They can HOPE for a stage win and might even get one, but they are far from a given and will likely hover out front for TV time more than anything else. It's not like they can't win a stage, but they are going to have a tough time with the real GC riders doing all they can to protect themselves with such a heavy field of favorites. Don't be too sad when they get stomped.
Masiguy says- Sorry, but for all the FdJ fans, there isn't much hope of anything to get too excited about this year. Maybe an early stage win or a win in the final week when the GC riders are resting for the final TT. Maybe.
Caisse D'Epargne; Stacked with talent, but woefully unable to make it happen in a three week race. Pereiro is the 2006 Tour winner... thanks to the title being taken from Floyd Landis. Oscar has about as much chance to win this Tour as I do... and I'm still not at my climbing weight.
Masiguy says- Without Valverde, these poor souls don't stand a GC chance. However, with all the talent they have, they can have realistic goals of a stage win or two.
Cofidis; Nearly entirely French, this team used to have a nice mix of foreign riders to give them a chance to win something. Now they are looking like a ship without a rudder, just following the current and the winds. It's not like they can't ride well, but they don't really have any true firepower.
Masiguy says- Well, stranger things have happened at the Tour, so it's possible they could get a win on a long break that gets away- maybe on one of the days when the teams aren't allowed to use their race radios. I wouldn't bet the farm on it happening though.
Lampre; Another mostly-Italian team filled to the brim with talented riders and a very tough fighting spirit. GC hopefuls- no freakin' way! With guys like Furlan and Ballan though, they are almost assured of a stage win. Ballan is the current World Champ and has not had much chance to show off his stripes thanks to injury and illness, so I'd expect him to have something to prove if he's healthy again.
Masiguy says- Look for Ballan to do something if he's ready to race. If not, Furlan is a tough dude. With other great talent, these guys SHOULD get a win somewhere along the way.
BBOX Bouygues Telecom; Without Voeckler, the team is pretty void of big name riders. The French have a real talent for assembling teams of riders who are talented, yet somewhat outclassed. These guys can win races and have, but they will be chasing this race for three weeks. Unless Voeckler gets lucky, I think these affable guys are likely to be racing for the cameras and not the win.
Masiguy says- Hey, they ride hard and try a lot of crazy attacks. And, since they're French, if they actually win a stage you can expect to see tears of joy and see them eating snails at dinner that night.
Quick Step; Coke Nose Boonen got the legal ok to race just before the Tour was set to begin. That's great for him and all his fans, but will it prove to be a distraction for the team? Most likely, yes. BUT... they still have one of the best teams in the race- just not as GC contenders. The flat stages are going to be controlled by Quick Step looking to get Tornado Tom to the line for the sprints. With guys like Devolder and Chavanel, these guys have lots of chances to win.
Masiguy says- Well, if Tom stays out of the nightclubs and away from the drug dealers, he should have a great race. He might also see the back of Cavendish' wheels a lot too. Or Farrar's. With all the distractions of late, I expect to see him looking for his form to arrive, but if he rides into it he'll be dangerous. Look for Devolder and Chavanel to try to get a win too- especially if Party Boy is off the mark.
Katusha; Vladimir- the Mullet- Karpets and a bunch of other Russian hard men, plus Pozzato and Napolitano means that these dudes have a shot or two at stage wins. Karpets is the GC hope, but he's in way, way over his head... even with the mullet. Pozzato and Napolitano can win races and they are both likely to try something.
Masiguy says- Without McEwen, the chances for stage wins are a little lessened, though Robbie has been off the mark a bit this year. With the Russian contingent looking to do something and the Italian guys (2) looking to get a little fresh pasta as a prize for winning a stage- rather than potatoes and cabbage- these cats could win something. We'll see...
Agritubel; Who? Yes... exactly. With almost an entirely French roster and one Spanish rider, this team is likely to try everything they can to win a stage and get airtime on TV, but a win is not all too likely. Filled with spunk and cheese, this team is likely to get shelled out the back this year. With so many GC riders in the race this year, this little team is just destined to finish with hurt feelings.
Masiguy says- DO NOT BET THE KIDS COLLEGE MONEY ON THESE GUYS!!! Outside of that, can't really think of much to say.
Team Milram; This Teutonic bunch has a lot of talent and they are certainly capable of getting a win. Ciolek is the real deal and can win important races, but can he win in France in July? Since Zabel and Petacchi left the team, it hasn't really done all that much. However, they're a classy bunch and with that German efficiency, they just might surprise folks with a win. If nothing else, they'll have the best techno music playing in the team bus.
Masiguy says- The best shot they have is with Ciolek or Gerdemann, but the others are good riders too. The team is capable of winning in France, but they'll have a lot of more motivated GC teams to fight with and they don't have an uber sprinter anymore.
Skil-Shimano; Here's the token "small team" for the race. Every year the Tour organizers pick a team that gets a raised eyebrow from most people, but these guys can win races that look out of their reach. Without a GC rider, they will be hunting for stage wins and lots of TV time. Fumiyuki Beppu is one of two Japanese riders in the race and will certainly want to get into a break for the television cameras and the folks/ fans back home. He's a good guy, so it'd be nice to see. The Dutch contingency on the team will be working hard to prove they earned the right to be in the race and will likely impress. How they will hold up at the end of the race remains to be seen, but I suspect they will be fighting to finish.
Masiguy says- Here's your chance to make some real money with the betmakers. These guys are the long shots, even though they will likely smack teams like Agritubel and Bouygues around like their personal Barbie dolls.
So there it is! Now you know what's gonna happen... sorta. Or maybe you're even more confused now. Either way, I'm done until tomorrow.
Stage 1; anybody's guess! Most eyes will be on the main guys like Contador, Armstrong, Leipheimer, Vande Velde, Evans and Sastre. I think somebody else might get the win- somebody not an obvious choice. Or Cancellara will just anihilate the entire field and stomp off with their broken dreams dragging behind him. We'll find out in a few hours.