Saturday, July 25, 2009

I just flew in from Australia and boy are my arms tired...

I can practically hear the crickets chirping around here. It's been a while since I've posted anything here, so I hope you'll forgive the absence.

I got back in to San Diego on Thursday afternoon and spent Friday trying to recover from the jetlag and what feels like some kind of head cold coming on since about Tuesday in Australia. I slept in yesterday and today until around 10:00- 10:30, which is well beyond rare for me. My head still feels all wonky from the travel and the possible cold/ sinus infection, but it was an excellent day today spent hanging out with my wife and daughter and then dinner with my mother and step-dad. It was a very relaxing day, over all. Tomorrow I will try to get out for a ride for the first time since Wednesday the 15th. My legs feel like hell from the lack of riding, but it's not like the first time I've tried to "come back"...

Anyway, on to Australia...

Myself, Jill Hamilton (Haro MTB/ Asphalt Brand Manager) and John Webber (International Sales Manager) flew to Australia to assist our distributor (Pacific Brands) with their annual trade show/ sales conference for their Australia/ New Zealand retailers and sales force. It was my first return trip to Australia after being there in March/April 2006 when I was there to take part in the official Masi launch for Australia. On that trip, I was in Australia for a bit over 2 weeks and visited Melbourne, Sydney and Brisband. This time around, the trip was much shorter and confined to just Melbourne... though I'm not complaining, believe me. John has been to Australia several times as the Int'l Sales Honch, but the trip was Jill's first to the land of Shiraz and incredible butter.

The weather in Melbourne had been quiet unpleasant before our arrival, but it was spectacular when we got there. Since it is winter in Australia, the temps were a good bit cooler and was pretty windy, but the sun was out nearly all the time and the rain held off until the last day and a half we were there. When we weren't at the magnificent conference venue, we were roaming the streets of downtown Melbourne and taking in the sites of the area along the Yarra River- which was simply gorgeous.

Our venue of "work" during our stay was The Flemington race track- home of the Melbourne Cup. The view of the race track was unreal and I can only imagine what it must be like during the day of the event as hundreds of thousands of spectators crowd the historic grounds. The bikes were displayed in the fourth floor terrace overlooking the track and I have to admit that it had me plenty distracted from the bikes. The winds were whipping over the grandstands with so much force that it did sound as if the entire building was likely going to be flying off to Oz to flatten the whicked witch of the West, but we managed to stay in Aus' instead (no witches were hurt in the production of this blog post).

I am known for being "passionate" or "efervescent" about the Masi line- I should be afterall... it's pretty much my life... but I have to admit that the first time the bikes are unveiled to an audience of impartial judges (retailers), I always hold my breath a little as the first unsolicited opinions roll in. I'm also known for getting pretty excited about the feedback we get for our bikes- which again I should- but I have to say that this was the most emphatically positive review of the line I have yet to hear in the nearly 5 years I have been the Brand Manager at Masi. Sincerely. The only complaint I heard- at all- was that retailers could not get enough of the bikes last year because the demand was higher tha nthe supply in Australia (which I am confident will not be a problem this year, as PacBrands have really beefed up their supply). Each of the new and existing models shown at this show recieved glowing reviews and the questions were mainly focused on "how soon" and "how many can I have". Since PacBrands does not distribute (for now) the entire Masi range, the only other dangling participle of a question was "how do we get them to bring in ___?" Needless to say, it made me one very happy Brand Manager. It's trips like this that make me believe that the work that the Product Manager working with me (Wayne Doran), our two graphic artists (Pete Demos and Rick Ortiz) and myself are doing the right things. Not to get to proud of ourselves, but it shouldn't be long before Masi has compeltely taken over the cycling world... I am fairly sure of it.

Jill, John and myself had a great time while we were in Melbourne and that was in no small part in thanks to the fantatsic hospitality of our hosts. The Masi line is guided by the capable hands of Roger Vandenberg at PacBrands, who was a gracious host as well as picked us all up from the airport when we finally arrived 2 hours late- thanks to a delay in Sydney. Jeremy Cooper is his equivalent for Haro there and he was a very gracious host as well and drove us to and from the venue a number of times... as well as got me addicted to Social Roasting coffees- phenomenal coffee and food. Seriously, some of the very best tasting espresso to ever pass over these very coffee-snob lips. All of the other fine folks at PacBrands, whose names I can't possibly remember all of, were also very kind hosts. Another person who does require mentioning though is Steve Paraskevas who is the Main Man and was also my host the last time I was in Melbourne. Again- many, many thanks to all of you.

I have to give a big thanks to each of the retailers I spoke with as well. I wish I could remember all the names- especially the guy who is a fellow track racer and Masters World Champ who I had the excellent track racing conversation with. Thanks again mate. But each shop that came to visit the Masi booth and allowed me the chance to talk about our bikes helped to make the trip to Australia that much more enjoyable. Sincerely- I am beyond flattered and humbled by your very kind words of enouragment and support for the Masi brand.

Another notable mention has to go out to Malachi of Spoke(n) in St. Kilda. Malachi is a British ex-pat who runs a fantastic little shop. The uber cool retro vibe is more than just a new thing to try out and the Malachi and the crew there know there stuff. The shop left me with goosebumps (and not because it was cold and raining) and the conversation with Malachi was just "spot on". Seriously, I felt very much at home and really have to thank Malachi for allowing us to visit and steal so much of his time. If you're in the St. Kilda area, you couldn't ask for a better shop to visit and purchase a Masi from. If you do go in there, tell them I sent you... and hopefully they won't throw you out!

In the end, it was nice to get home, but my time in Melbourne was very well spent and I look forward to getting back to Australia again. Maybe this time it won't take another 3 years to do it.

Now for some pictures!

The partial view of the race track... from behind the glass in the 4th level grand stand. It was a lot better looking than this terrible picture shows.

A very happy Brand Manager with a SoulVille SS in the wild at BSC Bikes in Melbourne! (Check these guys out too for some really cool bike brands... including Masi of course. Very nice staff there as well.

The front of the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne- they have a Dali exhibit that looks incredible from what I can tell from the information I saw. Wish I woulda had time to go give it a look...

I love street art/ graffiti. These little gems were in an alley heading to the river. The whole alley was pretty well coated with really cool art.

John and Jill being a tourist like me! I couldn't resist the chance to get a picture of them... before they got one of me doing the same thing!

The only view of Sydney I had... well, accept for the view from inside the airport terminal.

A wall of Masi bikes at Spoke(n)! They also had a SoulVille display right inside the front of the store as you walk in the door. (I nearly cried.)

Dig the display of cool old stuff from Spoke(n) as well... I dig old stuff!

The Masi and "Biketopia" banners hanging proudly at the show. (It took all the restraint I had in me to keep from stealing one of each of them...)

Downtown Melbourne at night, from across the Yarra... truly a beautiful city. I hope to be back to see her again some day soon.


Thursday, July 16, 2009

Heading to Australia!

I'm sitting here on the plane and getting settled in for a 14+hr
flight to Sydney and then Melbourne. I'll see you all from Down Under!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Tour de France- Rest Day Wrap Up

Yes, I know... I've been terrible with my coverage of the Tour this year (again). Just trust me when I tell you the new catalog is the best we've done yet.

So here's a bit of race recapping for those who are playing the home game...

Stage 4; TTT- Astana wins... duh. Who didn't see that coming? Lotto implodes and Cadel can be heard grinding his teeth from Germany. Garmin securing second with only 5 riders was cool. Denis Menchov seems to have taken a page from the TT book that Rabobank must've given to Michael Rasmussen to read between blood transfusions... not pretty. Saxo did just enough to keep Cancellara in Yellow- tied with Mr. 7- and all the other contenders lost time. 12 of the 9 Astana riders were now in the top 5.

Stage 5; Thomas Voeckler finally actually WINS a Tour stage and lights all of France alive. Tghe much liked rider stayed away for much of the stage in a breakaway and then launched his solo bid for victory just around 4km from the finish after covering other attempts by his partners to get away. The "Little Engine that could", finally did- 5 years to the day since he'd taken the Yellow jersey at the Tour by being in a long breakaway. Score one for France!

Stage 6; Thor Hushovd finally scores a win for Cervelo and proves he's still one of those guys you can't rule out... especially in crappy weather. Thor earned a tough win in less than perfect conditions and largely under his own power and wits- another reason to like the guy.

Stage 7; Now we climb into Spain and hit some mountains and a French guy wins, an Italian takes over the Yellow- riding for a French team- and Contador shows everybody that he's not just at the race to carry Lance's paella! I love Lance's comments about "that wasn't part of the plan"... but his break away in the crosswinds along the French coast was TOTALLY part of the plan on stage 3! I'm sure the ride in the team bus was a lot of fun. I can see Lance and Alberto talking things over while playing a little Wii boxing or something. Nocentini takes over the Yellow jersey and a young neo-pro and Tour rookie takes his first win as a pro... AT THE TOUR! Way to go Feillu #2.

Stage 8; Luis Leon Sanchez takes the win in front of Sandy Casar after a very long breakaway. Sanches is a class act as a rider and has shown great promise for years. He continues to impress with very skillful riding. Evyerbody and their brother takes a swing at Astana, but with all of their 9 riders in the top 3, it's tough to dislodge their stranglehold on things. But it's still funny to watch the icy stares between LA and AC... is it me, or is it getting chillier in France?

Stage 9; Disaster comes in 3's as Pierrick Fedrigo wins the stage in a well fought battle with Franco Pellizotti... ginving the French riders 3 stage wins in the SAME TOUR (somewhere, a cat and dog are curled up together, making pupittens/ kittuppys...) The two breakaways battled against the odds to stay away until the finish and Fedrigo managed to outsprint Pellizotti- who sprints like a wounded jack rabbit.

Today was the rest day and tomorrow looks to be a fairly painless stage to allow the sprinters another chance to get a win- expect Hushovd to be protecting his Green jersey from Cavendish. With the long downhill run to the finish and all the climbs at the beginning of the stage, Farrar might even be in with a chance to prove himself finally.

Stage 13 is where things start to get all kinds of ugly again, so expect the contenders to be watching each other and just trying to stay out of trouble until then... then all bets are off. Can Bruyneel keep Astana from imploding? Maybe... maybe not. Should be an interesting show at least.


Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Tour de France; Stages 3 and 4

Ok- again I'm falling behind on the stage coverage... but I've been pretty busy, I swear.

Stage 3; Wind? Big time splits? Drama? Yep... check on all three! What should've been a fairly boring stage with a sprint at the end became a fight for survival for many of the contenders and certainly added to the drama surrounding Astana's team leadership questions. To sum up- as predicted, the race blew apart when the peloton hit the coastal area along the Mediterranean and Columbia set a blistering pace into the winds. Borrowing from the Bjarne Riis playbook, Columbia smashed the field with a full-on assault (though it was claimed to be just a mild acceleration) into the headwinds. This caused a major break in the field that caught almost all of the GC contenders unaware- except for Mr. Armstrong. Speculation swirled about this lucky "co-winky-dink" when Lance and former teammate George Hincapie- now ridig for Columbia- were seen chatting for several minutes before the split occurred. One unhappy dude was Alberto Contador, who happened to lose 41 seconds on the day and dropped to 4th place and 19 seconds behind Lance. Bruyneel tried to play it off as just good tactics, since Lance and the two other Astana riders in the break were seen working at the front with Columbia once the gap was established. I'm sure Alberto agreed with that decision... totally. So even though Cavendish netted another amazing sprint win in the end, the talk of the stage was about Lance's move closer to yellow and Contador's slide away from it. Team drama? Nah- I'm sure it was a very light and jovial evening at the team dinner, the night before the very critical team time trial... totally...

Stage 4- Team Time Trial; TTT's tend to create tons of drama and action "just because", but this year, it's on another level. First, the organizers dropped the limit on the amount of time you can lose- meaning if you finish 5min down, you are 5min in the hole. In the most recent versions of the TTT, losses were capped so that non-TT teams would not be too smashed by time losses. Well, that charity is now gone. Second thing, you add Astana into the mix with too many chiefs and not enough indians, all of'em looking to establish the "pecking order" within the team. The mood was electric and the rift in Astana's camp was totally evident, with Lance and Alberto warming up for the race with at least one other rider between them at all times. Any logical team director would want the two "leaders" to be side by side finalizing and prefecting strategy on such a crucial day... but I have a feeling that might've been akin to taking a match and lighting a blow torch and then stuffing that into an open gas can in an enclosed garage full of kerosene soaked rags... or sumpin' like that.

In the end, almost as could've been predicted, Astana took the convincing win and Lance came within fractions of a second of Yellow. Cancellara kept the jersey for another day, though it might only be for this last day. Saxo Bank managed to finish 3rd, keeping Cancellara in Yellow... but only barely. The real power ride of the day, in my opinion, came from Garmin-Slipstream- finishing second to Astana... but with only 5 riders! Seriously, they rode the TT of their lives to finish so strong with only 5 riders- though those 5 are some of the best TT riders in the world. After losing 4 teammates, they managed to stay focus on their jobs, worked incredibly well together and did not panic. That, friends, is not an easy feat and is something that they are getting far too little credit for. To that end, I say "KUDOS!"

Cadel Evans must've gone to bed grinding his teeth, since the Lotto team nearly imploded out of the blocks, losing Vandenbroeck in the early kilometers. You could nearly hear Cadel's blood pressure rising! His young, inexperienced team simply cracked under the weight of his GC hopes and the pressure of riding to support him. Sitting almost 3 minutes down now, his Tour has now become a much different one, as he now holds 35th place. Denis Menchov dropped down to 72nd at 3:52 down after having a disastrous TTT with the Rabo' squad. BBOX Bouygues Telecom completely ate dirt- literally- with 4 riders going off the road into a ditch. Lampre had some ripped skinsuits as well by the end of the day. The wind, as expected made a big difference on the day.

So now we have 5 Astana riders in the top 10 as the first week is drawing to a close and some of the first "real racing" is coming up. Can they continue to shell the rest of the field and walk away with the top 3 steps of the final Tour podium? It's beginning to smell like a possibility. The friendly rivalry between Columbia and Astana for the title of "world's best team" is looking a wee bit lopsided right now.

Tomorrow's Stage 5 is looking like it could turn into a repeat of Stage 3- crazy coastal winds could play havoc on the field, though I predict people will be a bit more attentive this time. It should end up in a field sprint, but it's hard to say who will have the better legs after such a hard day today. Maybe Farrar can finally get a stage win if Cavendish is feeling the TT aftershocks tomorrow. I guess we'll have to wait a little bit to find out...


Sunday, July 05, 2009

Need a cool shirt?

Looking for a cool t-shirt? Like all things bike related? Have I got sumthin' you should check out...

My friend Kathleen is an artist- a really good artist. See, she did these "scribbles" that got the attention of some guys who ride bikes- one is a high-profile cycling coach and the other is a 7-time winner of the Tour Day France. They liked her scribbles and other work so much that they commissioned her to do a mural of TdF cycling winners for some swanky training center they're opening in Colorado.

Well, because she's my friend, she gave me one of the shirts- and it's pretty rad!

She's had so much interest in the artwork and the shirts that she is now selling them. So, if you're a bike nerd like me and you like to show off your bike nerdiness (or you're cool and like art), I highly recommend you check these shirts out.

Tell'er Masiguy sent you!


Tour de France; Two down, 19 to go!

So we're now two stages into this Tour and we had an interesting race already- though as much from the off-the-bike dramas, as on the bike. That said, the predictable has happened, but the racing has been great just the same.

Stage 1; Cancellara wins the opening stage TT- no surprise there... I shoulda simply declared him the winner in my opening post... but alas. What impressed me most was the fact that Contador finished in 2nd, just 18 seconds off the time of the Olympic TT champ. Wiggins, of Garmin-Slipstream rode a respectable 3rd and then Kloden was 4th, Evans 5th, Leipheimer 6th and Sir Lance of Armstrong was 10th. You would think we have established something of a pecking order in the Astana camp now... but no... still rumbles of "who's the boss" floating around. Poor Carlos Sastre finised the day 1:06 down, but the plucky little climber can not be ruled out with so many climbs in this race- remember how he rode the Giro this year... Then there's Kreuziger, in 7th, who officially now carries the title of "dark horse", though since we're talking about him this much, it means the others are looking at him too. So maybe he's less of a dark horse and more of a not-so-dark-and-slightly-bright horse? BUT... can Liquigas support his efforts? Lots of talent, but can they defend a jersey if he gets it? I dunno... Oh yeah, Evans in 5th- surprised by that because he "looked" like he was going slow on the bike- his form and his pedal cadence seemed slow and labored, yet he came in very well for 5th on a day that did not really suit him that well. Could he be at the Tour to actually contend? Hmmm...

Stage 2; Cavendish wins the sprint with Farrar in second and Roma Feillu in 3rd. Feillu? A French rider in 3rd in a sprint... with other non-French riders in the sprint? Has that happened since Jimmy Casper or Jalabert? I was watching the footage wondering who the non-French guy on the French team was who was in the thick of the sprint. When I found out he was French, I almost fainted!

The day was slated and peppered with several small claimbs that kept things from being too easy, along with the heat. Peaking out at nearly 104 degrees on the road, you can bet there was lots of Evian being slurped down today. Well, some riders mighta been gargling Perrier Jouette, but none the less, people were thirsty. The big motor of Cancellara managed to stay in Yellow after all was said and done, but he was having to work a bit more than he woulda liked, simply due to the climbs and the heat. 4 riders got away and stayed out until around 10km to go- Stef Clement (Rabobank), Cyril Dessel (Ag2r), Jussi Veikkanen (Française des Jeux) and Stéphane Augé (Cofidis). At one point Clement became the new Yellow on the road, but Saxo Bank worked hard to close the gap and keep Fabulous Fabian in Yellow and then the sprinter's teams took over to set things up for the finish.

The break was caught about 10km out, then Mikhail Ignatiev of the Katusha team launched himself into a break of his own as the foursome was being caught and falling apart. He managed to stay out front and probably mouthed a few "hi mom" to the cameras, but was caught with about 5km to go. At that point, the big power men could smell the finish line and were super motivated to get to the front. Columbia- of course- had control of things largely- Cavendish IS the current uber speedster these days, after all. Milram, of all teams, was also up there- possibly trying to get Ciolek set up for the sprint, though I never saw him anywhere near the pointy end of things. Skil-Shimano got their guys up front as well- with most folks assuming it was to lead out Kenny van Hummel... which didn't happen. Cervelo Test Team scrapped it together for Thor Hushovd, who did manage to get 4th on the day. Amazingly, Garmin seemed to be NOWHERE to be seen in the closing kilometers and then- POOF!- showed up with less than 2km to go! Julian Dean deserves a medal for fighting his way to the front to drop Farrar into a position to look like he could try something. Tyler did manage 2nd in the sprint mayhem- which is admirable- but it was a forgone conclusion that Cavendish was going to get the win once his teammate Mark Renshaw pulled off the front and placed him into the driver's seat. He showed everybody a clean set of wheels as he sped to the line without ever having to worry about fighting his way past another rider. Farrar is proving to be a great talent, but is he coming into his best form as Cavendish is set to dominate sprinting for the next several years?

Stage 3; Tomorrow should be another fast finish with the stage being relatively flat. If the coastal winds pick up, look for Saxo Bank to employ its usual tactic of creating splits in the field that catch people in bad positions as the filed breaks into echelons. Riis is famous for employing this tactic, so it could come out of his playbook tomorrow. Barring anything happening, it should be a sprinter's day. With the Team Time Trial coming up the following day though, expect to see the real contenders for the GC trying to minimize losses on the day, as well as trying to stay out of trouble with crashes.

I'm gonna go out on a limb and pick Cavendish for the win. He's just too fast right now and it will take Garmin at least one more try to figure out how to fight against him and the teams with bigger sprint leadouts.


NOTE; It merits mentioning that Tom Boonen only managed to finish in 174th today. Could it be that the "gastrointestinal upset" mentioned yesterday is real? How fitting would it be that Quick-Step fought so hard to get Tom into the Tour and then he is unable to be a factor in the race? Poor Alan Davis- who was set to replace Tom; he must be pissed beyond belief.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

2009 Tour de France; here we go again

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.