Saturday, July 10, 2010

2010 Tour de France- Stage 7 report; Chapeau Chavanel!

Stage 7 today ended similarly to Stage 2, with Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) taking the win and moving into the Yellow jersey after taking a gutsy solo win. Chavanel has bounced back from a terrible crash at this year's Liege-Bastogne-Liege to take two stage wins and the Yellow jersey twice in one Tour. French cycling fans must surely be naming their young boys Sylvain for the remainder of this year at least.

The stage was billed as something of a transition stage into the mountains. The 6 categorized climbs were all relatively "safe" on their own, but with the combination of the last 3 climbs each being category 2 climbs, life was going to be difficult.
Unlike stage 2, Chavanel did not spend the entire day out on his own, but executed a perfectly timed attack to chase down a break that had been out all day. His teammate and Mountains leader Jerome Pineau was in that break and solidified his lead in the Polka Dot jersey. Even though the stage was supposed to be "easy", for a mountain stage, several riders were put into trouble as their legs (or injuries) couldn't handle the intensity of the final climb speeds. In the end, Fabian Cancellara succumbed to the pressure and finished 14+min behind Chavanel. He now switches back to his main role at the Tour of support rider for his team leader Andy Schleck.

Chavanel's victory put him back in Yellow, but it is likely to be another short stay in the golden tunic, as the real Alps are looming ahead and the real race contenders are sharpening their teeth for the battle ahead. After riding smartly today, pre-race semi-favorite Cadel Evans moved into 2nd on GC and is certainly the best placed of the true contenders for the overall. Surprisingly, Garmin's Ryder Hesjedal now sits in 3rd- and looked good on the climbs today... possibly another "Wiggins" in the making? With Schleck in 4th, Vino' in 5th and Contador in 6th, the GC is starting to really take shape. Lance is now up to 14th after looking supremely comfortable today, even when nearly completely alone towards the end. Wiggins sits in 11th, right behind Menchov (Rabobank) and just ahead of Kreuziger (Liguiqas). It's an interesting looking group...

It simply must be noted that Footon-Servetto rider Rafael Valls, a first year pro riding for the mostly forgettable Spanish team, fought bravely by himself to try to catch Chavanel and came within 57 seconds at the finish to grab 2nd and some great exposure for the team. Created from the ashes of the disgraced Saunier-Duval team of doper Riccardo Ricco, this humble team of unlikely riders came to the Tour as gigantic question marks. Valls just missed the win and true vindication for the team, but his effort was valiant and classy.

Tomorrow's Stage 8 promises to bring a lot of pain to the legs of anybody who has not quite recovered from their injuries of previous stages or from the efforts of today. 5 rated climbs, with two of them "only" being category 4 climbs, means that the hurt will last a long time. The final climb of the day- Morzine-Avoriaz- is a category 1 and 23km long, starting after 175km of racing... and the day before the first rest day of the race. Breakaways will certainly be going away constantly, but it is likely going to be the first real fisticuffs between the GC heavyweights. Astana, Saxo and RadioShack will likely all send attacks up the road to force the other GC rival's teams to chase. It was clear today that some of the GC support riders were holding back today, resting for stage 8... so the fireworks are likely to be impressive.

I expect to see Chavanel out of the jersey by the end of the day again... but who will take it from him? The final climb is one that could actually work well for Evans, since it is neither terribly long or terribly steep. It isn't really suited to the explosive nature of either Contador or Schleck, so they might not have much of a chance to get away. In the end... it's likely to be a good day for cycling fans.


Friday, July 09, 2010

2010 Tour de France- Stage 6 report

So, looks like Cav has gotten his head back in the game. After a pretty crappy season so far, Cavendish is getting up to speed and racking up the wins again. The sprints have come down to 2 wins by Petacchi, 2 by Cavendish and one by Hushovd... but that will soon change...

Stage 6 was filled with multiple rollers, including four category four climbs, but nothing was strong enough to disrupt the usual early Tour predictability; breakaway gets away and dangles off the front for much of the day, only to be swallowed up by the sprinters in the final kilometers.The stage's 225km played more of a role on the field than the course profile, especially with this weekend's stages bringing the first real taste of the mountains.

In the end, the break never had a chance and Cavendish was delivered brilliantly by his team to another stage win. Tyler Farrar, still nursing a fractured wrist, managed second on the stage with Petacchi 3rd. Petacchi is now on the heels of Hushovd and his Green jersey and Farrar looks destined to get a stage win.

The stage was made all the more interesting by the fight between Barredo and Costa, and McEwen's finish line crash. Some days it just doesn't make sense to get out of bed...

Stage 7 is the first real taste of the mountains ahead, but I expect some fireworks will be on hand. GC riders may or may not feel safe enough to let a break get away or may overreact and begin attacking each other right away, just looking for weaknesses in their rivals. With a category two climb just before the false flat finish, things could get more entertaining. All in all, it should be an interesting stage- it will be interesting to see who shows their cards...


Thursday, July 08, 2010

2010 Tour de France- Stages 4 and 5 reports

So I have two good reasons for missing my stage recap last night;
  1. Not much happened in the short stage, outside of Cavendish completely screwing the pooch in the sprint that shoulda been his.
  2. And this...

I think you can understand my situation.

(PLUS... I was speaking at my friend Becky Carroll's Marketing via New Media class at UCSD again last night. Becky is kind enough to invite me to speak to the class each year and share my Social Media experiences with them. As always, it was a great evening.)

Alright, you get a two-fer-one special tonight. Or, the inverse- double punishment.

Stage 4-
One of the shortest stages we'll see this year, stage 4 really shoulda been a slam dunk for Cavendish and Columbia. The short course was relatively flat- hilly, but nothing of major concern- and finished with little to get in the way of the sprinters teams. A small break dangled off the front for much of the day, but their chances were slim to none... there was really no way the sprinters were going to let this one get away. So the inevitable happened and the big thigh crowd got their wish and a sprint was set up. However...

... Columbia set up Cavendish for what should have been a victory celebration, but his sprint sputtered as Alessandro Petacchi took his second stage win with convincing speed. On his heels with Garmin's Julian Dean and then Boasson Hagen of Sky. Cavendish rolled across the line in a demoralized 12th... and later was seen firing his helmet out the door of the team bus in frustration, after refusing to speak to the press and heading to his quiet place immediately after the stage.

The GC was left intact with Cancellara in Yellow and Hushovd firmly in Green. All the aching bodies from the carnage of stage 3 were likely very happy that the day had unfolded with so little excitement.

Stage 5- Cavendish Vindicated in Montargis! Manx Missile Launches!

Don't get me wrong- especially my friends in the UK- I like Cavendish as a sprinter. The kid has a ton of talent and speed. He's a cocky kid with a mouth bigger and faster than his legs, but he's been pretty effective at living up to his trash talking prior to this year. And, I've always respected the way he thanks his teammates and how he genuinely seeks them each out to thank them after every race he wins- since they are the ones who hand deliver him to those wins. BUT... I do think it's kind of funny that much of the cycling press, even the English speaking press, was bashing him for his stellar lack of results and now hail him as the second coming of Christ!

I could go on and on about it all, but I'd rather just get to the racing and the sprint- because they were both pretty good.

The stage was another relatively short and flat one, similar to stage 5. So, just like the day before, a break got away early... even with no chance of survival. After playing with the break, the way a cat plays with a captured mouse, the sprinters teams pulled the break back with the usual surgical precision with about 10km to go. Once the lone straggler was back in the field, Jose Ivan Guttierrez (Caisse d'Epargne), the blood was in the water and the sharks were circling... hungrily.

The finale was ready to be served, as Garmin and Lampre both battled at the front to set up their sprinters- Farrar and Petacchi. However, Columbia stayed focused with their men and it was Mark Renshaw who fought his way through the fray to give Cavendish an opening he was able to use to finish the job today. In a brilliantly timed jump, Cavendish sprang clear to handily win the sprint ahead of a strong Gerald Ciolek (Milram) and surprising Boasson Hagen (Sky). Farrar, who seems to be healing from his injuries pretty well, confessed to having messed the sprint up for himself- jumping to the wrong side of Julian Dean. Hushovd managed 5th and remains in Green... though Boasson Hagen is knocking on the door now with back to back 3rd place finishes in field sprints... from a TT and Classics specialist.

The GC is the same as yesterday, with Cancellara enjoying his final moments in Yellow with the mountains looming. Hushovd is eyeing the other sprinters because his Green jersey is safe... but only barely.

Cavendish's emotional celebrations on the podium today were clearly heartfelt. The pressure for him to perform this year, to the same or better standards as last year has taken a toll on the Boy Racer. His tears were genuine- now let's see if he has learned anything and can carry the obvious speed he has forward.

Stage 6 is going to be a long one- 225km- with four category four climbs to keep things from being "too easy". The last two climbs are near the end of the race, in the last 50km or so. This will keep things interesting at the end, but the sprinters will still be hungry for more... because the real mountains are looming large. "Breakaway" will be the word of the day and with the stage being so long, if the sprinters are lazy the break could stick to the finish. It's not too likely... but it could happen. Team like Katusha could use a win and they have the all day break specialists with all the Russians. It isn't hilly enough for the Euskaltel boys, so they'll relax and plan their attacks for the real mountains. Maybe B-Box will get active. Maybe even Ag2r... or Cofidis. Regardless, somebody will get away and stay away for a long time. The sprinters will want them to come back so that they can go for the win again... however the main GC guys might be content to let some riders low enough on the GC have the day so that they can relax before the bigger climbs arrive. Regardless... it'll be interesting.


Tuesday, July 06, 2010

2010 Tour de France- Stage 3 report... it gets messy

I'm not one to say "I told you so"... but...

Saxo Bank gets Fabian Cancellara back in Yellow, Andy Schleck puts time into all of his rivals (thanks to Fabian's help/ expertise/ experience), the team stamps its authority onto the race as possibly the team to beat... but also sends Frank Schleck to the hospital with a broken collarbone. Andy's brother was the main casualty of a brutally savage day at the Tour. Not unlike eysterday's bloodletting, today's stage changed the outcome of the Tour- one way or another. Andy will now have to face the rest of the Tour without the physical and on-the-road emotional support of his brother. The two brothers would have surely been a very potent one-two punch against both Contador and Armstrong, but now the Saxo script is being rewritten.

The cobbles of Northern France exacted a heavy toll and provided the Tour organizers with another day of controversial spectacle. Riders bounced around the cobbles, with crashes happening all over the route. The pace of the race was unrelenting as well, as riders and teams fought to get into position before each of the 7 sections of pain-inducing ancient road. Along the way, riders and equipment snapped under the pressure. In the end, the Tour was reshaped again, for the second day in a row.

The finish in Arenberg Porte du Hainaut, near the entranceof the infamous Arenberg Forest section of paris-Roubaix, saw Thor Hushovd sprint from a small break group and claim the win ahead of Geraint Thomas (Sky) and cadel Evans (BMC). Evans was the highest placed of the real GC contenders by the end of the day, moving up to 3rd overall. Andy Schleck now sits in 6th, with Contador in 9th and Lance Armstrong in 18th. The race is far from over, but with the way things have been going in this race, every second might become more important than in previous years.

Sylvain Chavanel began the day in Yellow, with a custom painted Eddy Merckx- signed by Sir Eddy himself- and nearly 3 minutes cushion. By the end of an horrendous day for Chavenel, he would slip to 5th after numerous mechanical issues and flats. Chavanel soldiered on as best he could, but the jersey was lost at the end of the day... as was the Green jersey that is now back on the wide shoulders of Thor Hushovd.

In all of the years that Lance has ridden the Tour, today was the first time he has ever experienced a flat tire... and it dropped him to 18th place due to the timing late in the race. Lance rode the stones as if he had been riding them for years, but in the end it was the fickle mmistress Lady Luck who forced him into a very defensive position. After flatting, he and his reliable lieutenant Yaroslav Popovych chased like hell to regain the group. Lance burned up Popo' and had to carry on by himself until reaching a 2nd chase group.

Alberto Contador once again proved that his head is as strong as anybody's in the elite group of multiple Grand Tour winners. AC stormed in to the finish, until flatting just a few hundred meters from the finish line, with the first chase group. Many predicted the ultra lean Contador would be eaten alive by the jarring of the cobbles, but he managed to prove that he is at this Tour to win again. Just as he was previously criticised for his TT abilities, which are now so good that he was able to win the Spanish TT title last year and then beat Cancellara at the tour, Contador has proven that he is a champion who can ride any type of surface.

Another hero of the day has to be Ryder Hesjedal for was in the early break all the way to the finish. He finished the stage in 4th and moves up to 5th on GC. Hesjedal has enjoyed a fantastic season so far this year and today's result is proof that he's maturing as a rider for the harder racers.

It was a day of chaos and broken dreams. Tomorrow's Stage 4 should be the "easiest" of this year's stages- at just 150km and very little climbing. I am sure many sore riders from today and yesterday will be happy to have an easier day tomorrow to recover before things heat back up in the mountains. I'd expect to see the sprinters out in force. since things should be easier... but there are so many injured riders that nothing is certain. Thor should have a shot at a second stage, but I also expect Cav to be trying to redeem himself. Sadly, with his fractured wrist, Farrar may be out of contention, but somebody always seems to rise to the occasion... so we'll just have to wait and see who it is.

Footnote; This was on today after the stage and is a visceral reaction to the stage, given by everybody's favorite hard man Jens Voigt; it's something to think about.


Monday, July 05, 2010

2010 Tour de France- Stage 2 report

As if yesterday's crash-fest wasn't enough, today's stage in Belgium proved to be almost as catastrophic as what many fear tomorrow's Stage 3 will be. But we haven't even hit the cobbles yet...

Today's stage was marked by a few large happenings;
  • Sylvain Chavanel won the stage solo after initiating a break at around 15km into the race. Chavanel, who fractured his skull this year during Liege-Bastogne-Liege on nearly the same roads, came back strong with the goods and won a brilliantly fought stage. Chavanel is among the classiest of the French riders in the peloton and is purported to be an actually decent guy. His win, though helped considerably by the day's 2nd big event, is impressive for the courage and grit it took to survive and continue to hammer the pedals for almost 200km off the front.
  • The day's second big deal was the crashes, most notably the blood bath on the descent of the Stockeu climb. Francesco Gavazzi (Lampre), who was part of the break that joined with Chavanel, fell out of the back of the break and then crashed on the slippery wet roads of the Stockeu descent. That seemingly minor crash of one man set off a chain reaction of events that changed the face of the 2010 Tour de France. Reportedly, one of the TV motorbikes, in an attempt to avoid Gavazzi, fell over and began to leak oil across the road. By the time the field came chasing along, the road was slickened and more than just a little dangerous. The ensuing carnage and chaos was more like an actual battle scene as riders scrambled to their feet and looked for their bikes and checked their bodies. Nearly all of the favorites were involved in the crash (or crashes) and it looked very much like Andy Schleck's Tour might be over. After getting a bike from teammate Matti Breschel though, Schleck was back in action and chasing hard to regain the field.
  • The third major event of the day, and what truly cemented Chavanel's still impressive win, was a slowdown of the race by many of the riders- but most notably yellow jersey wearer Cancellara. Losing his jersey in the process to Chavanel, Fabian helped to orchestrate a neutralization of the race so that the chasing riders could regain the field after so many of the riders- estimated at over 60- came down on the slick roads. Even with this slowing of the race, many of the riders never regained the main field- regrettably including Tyler Farrar and Christian Vande Velde (who later abadondoned with two fractured ribs). Both riders completed the stage in great pain and covered in bandages from the race medics.
In the end, Chavanel still earned his impressive win and hardly anybody in the race felt that he should not have won. There were certainly grumblings in the field by those who thought they could've won- or should've- but the bulk of the race agreed that there had been enough bleeding for one day and out of respect for their fellow riders, the race should roll safely to the finish without anybody profiting from the day's carnage.

** And here is where I must have my rant; plug your ears if you are offended easily...**

There were many folks chiming in on Twitter after the stage, calling the riders wimps, pussies and whiners for protesting the race conditions today and neutralizing the finish to allow their fellow racers, teammates and friends to attempt to regain the group.

In my opinion, people who don't know what the fuck they're talking about should really just shut the fuck up. No, I've never held a pro license, but I have ridden with countless pros and have raced with and against many of them over the years as well. Protecting themselves and their fellow riders, or being vocally concerned, does not make them less of a man. These guys do this for a living- not because they chasing down a midlife crisis or because they have a point to prove to themselves or others. Racing is their job and their livelihood, not their hobby. Chris Horner was among those voicing concerns about the race today and I'd like to see some of the people talking shit today tell Chris he's simply being a whiny pussy. It'd be funny... believe me.

It's easy to sit in anonymity at your computer, or just snipe away from a safe electronic distance thinking you're so much better than the riders at the Tour, but until you've "been there and done that" yourself... shut the fuck up.

Alright... I'm done.

Tomorrow is likely to be an even bigger bloodbath than today- especially if it rains again. If the roads are dry, it's still likely to be brutal on the field. With just over 13km of cobbles in store for the riders in multiple chunks, Stage 3 promises to be very painful in a lot of ways; with so many riders starting tomorrow with injuries, it's only going to be worse. The chaos and nervousness of trying to avoid injury and mishap is only going to make things that much worse. With all the GC teams trying to protect their main riders, expect things to get insane at the approach to each cobbled section... and then to deteriorate immediately after.

Teams like Quick-Step, with Chavanel in Yellow, should do well since they are Belgian Classics specialists. Omega Pharma-Lotto should also be quite active, as well as Paris-Roubaix winner Cancellara and his fellow P-R winner/ teammate Stuart O'Grady. The main GC contenders have all scouted the course so that they have a little better idea of what to expect- and fear- so they will be relying on teammates and luck to get them to the finish safely and without losing time.

It is unlikely that the Tour will be won tomorrow, but it could certainly be lost. My only prediction is that there will be some really unhappy riders by the end of the stage... and possibly only one really happy one.


Sunday, July 04, 2010

2010 Tour de France- Stage 1 report

Narrow roads and a nervous peloton once again lead to several riders hitting the deck during the day's stage. An early breakaway, launched at the drop of the flag by Lars Boom (Rabobank), spent much of the day out on the roads getting TV time... with never a chance of success with the sprinter's teams hungry for a win.

As is almost always the case in the first few days of the Tour, the riders were nervous and fighting for position, which lead to a few riders getting to test the crash worthiness of their bikes, helmets and Lycra. The main "losers" on the day included Mark Cavendish, who was caught up in a crash a few kilometers from the line as he and Jeremy Hunt (Cervelo Test Team) fought for position... which also brought down Oscar Freire. Not long after that, Farrar was nearly taken down by Lloyd Mondory's (Ag2r) solo crash into Farrar's rear wheel. The French rider has something of a reputation for making less than stellar decisions in the chaos of a sprint and lived down to that reputation.

Another crash just past the final kilometer mark- the "flame rouge"- brought down or haulted nearly all of the contenders and big hitters, including Cancellara, Contador and many others. Since the crash happened within the final 3km, all riders were awarded the same time as eventual winner Alessandro Petacchi.

Petacchi, using his powerful long distance sprint, timed his moe to perfection and was able to finish clear of mark Renshaw (Columbia-HTC) and Hushovd. Renshaw, who normally serves as leadout for Cavendish, was tossed into the spotlight as Cav's replacement after he became a non-factor due to his crash. Given Cav's recent spate of asphalt surfing sessions, Renshaw may get a few more chances to finish the job. Hushovd now steps a bit closer to his Green jersey, though it is now occupied by Petacchi, who has enjoyed a nice season this year. At 36, Ale Jet is a little older than he was the last time he won a Tour stage in 2003, but he's proven that he's still pretty quick for an old guy (sorta like me... huh).

Fabian gets to keep his Yellow jersey a little longer, though he'll be stiff tomorrow after his crash today. Contador looked to be unscathed, but will likely have a few bruises as well. Columbia's Adam Hansen hit the deck hard very early in the race and was off to hospital to check for possible fractures. So tomorrow's Stage 2 will see some achy bodies on the start line hoping for a slow start to the day's assault of some of the same roads used in the fabled Spring Classic, Liege-Bastogne-Liege.

Stage 2 will see the field hit lots of smaller, but punchy climbs all day. With a total of 6 categorized climbs (3-4's and 3- 3's), the day is likely to play out like an Ardennes Classic... Liege-Bastogne-Liege... so look for some of the potential GC guys to flex a little muscle to improve their position after a bad prologue... like maybe Wiggins (if he's smart) or Evans. Evans fought a tough LBL, with Vinokourov finally winning the race, so he is unlikely to be given enough freedom to do much tomorrow... but Vino is known for his brash moves and might make a go at trying to have another great day in the region this year. The last of the climbs finishes with less than 15km to the finish- which is slightly downhill- so expect things to get nutty if the field is able to stay together.

If things stay together, expect the main sprinters to be trying to get the win; Petacchi could do well again, but look for Cav and Farrar to really be looking to make a statement. Otherwise, look for a group to get away on the rolling climbs and fight for the finish on narrow roads again. Were he not a threat for the final GC, I'd pick Evans, but he'll be heavily marked. It'd be cool to see somebody like Horner, Boasson Hagen, Voigt or Stuart O'Grady get a day of it. BUT... I'm more expecting to see the Russian headbangers of Katusha flogging themselves, as well as guys like Nicolas Roche (Ag2r), Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto), Alessandro Ballan (BMC), Kevin Seeldrayers (Quick Step) or possibly even Damiano Cunego (Lampre) trying to get a shot at things.

Don't be surprised if you feel like you're having flashbacks to April/ May tomorrow... it could be a very interesting day.


Saturday, July 03, 2010

2010 Tour de France- Prologue report

Guess what? That huge Swiss dude, Fabian what's-his-name, sure seems good at those TT things. I'll bet he might have a future in the sport riding those funny bikes with weird helmets. I'm just thinking out loud here...

Tony Martin was really the only person who had a chance of challenging Fabian today. Tony has been riding exceptionally well and is an exceptional talent, but when Fabian has the pressure on him and is in the spotlight, he seems to nearly always come through with an exceptional performance.

The weather was certainly a factor for the contenders who chose to ride early in hopes of missing the rain that was supposed to come later in the day. The gambled and lost. The rain came earlier than predicted and made the course treacherously slick, resulting in a few nasty crashes- one leading to the exit of BMC rider Mathias Frank, who injured himself well enough to break a bone in his hand and severely hurt his thigh muscle... leaving Cadel Evans minus one rider already.

There were several shocking rides on the day, including Bradley Wiggins riding in the rain to finish well down on the day at 77th, 56 seconds down. Not a great start, for sure, but we're only beginning. But Andy Schleck finished a painful 122nd... so the mountains are already proving to be even more important for him.

Of the other main contenders- ie Lance and Alberto- the race story was a bit different as both had great rides. Lance showed that at 38 he's still a pretty good rider against the clock by finishing a very respectable 4th and Contador just 2 places back in 6th. So even though Fabian ruled the day, the two main protagonists of the race are almost exactly where they want to be... for now.

Notable rides were handed in by David Millar in 3rd and Tyler Farrar in 7th at 28 seconds out of Yellow. Garmin's leader, Vande Velde finished a less than stellar 92nd and 1 minute back... but he's a tough guy... even if fragile. Radioshack also did well to get 4 riders in the top 20- Armstrong (4th), Leipheimer (8th), Brakovic (13th) and Kloden (17th). Astana only managed to get Contador (6th) and Vinokourov (19th) in the top 20... so the pundit's tongues are all a-wagging.

Without a massive screwup/ injury, the prologue is largely pointless in regards to the final GC- usually- so this is really just an exercise in selecting the first classification leaders. However, with Mark Cavendish finishing a dismal 127th and 1:10 down, it looks like the only sprinter with a real hope of wearing yellow is Tyler Farrar... which makes tomorrow's stage important for Garmin...

Stage 1 goes through the narrow and twisty roads of Netherland into Belgium, to finish in Brussels. Netherland is famous for it's strong coastal winds and narrow roads, so you can expect the field to be hyper-nervous as they head to Belgium. The stage passes through Eddy Merckx's hometown in honor of his 65th birthday- so expect Belgian riders to be itching like hell to win the stage in his honor. BUT... it's gonna be an ugly day at 223km with a nervous field trying to minimize losses over the next few days as the race hits the cobbles in Stage 3. There's a short rise before the finish in Brussels, but the approach to the line is downhill. Expect breakaways ALL DAY LONG, but it is unlikely to work because the sprinters are going to be hungry and there are plenty of them in the race with a point to prove;
  • Farrar is looking for his first Tour win and a shot at Yellow.
  • Cavendish needs redemption after a crappy season so far.
  • McEwen is an adopted Belgian and needs to get a win for his large pride.
  • Allesandro Petacchi wants to show he's still fast enough to be called a Super Sprinter.
But... a wily sprinter like Oscar Freire could easily steal the show. Oscar does well in tough races and if it rains during the long stage, he's in even better shape. Thor Hushovd would love to open his Tour account early as well, since he's hoping to get another Green jersey.

I expect it to be a messy day with lots of chaos and likely numerous crashes- hopefully Vande Velde avoids them and manages to get through safely... given his brittle nature and bad luck. I doubt that Farrar will get Yellow, since fabian is just too strong to lose 28+ seconds on the first stage. I think Farrar has a shot at the win, if Cavendish and Columbia-HTC can't get their act together. I'm pretty sure Garmin would love to get their sprint ace the win he's been hunting, as well as an early Yellow... since it might be their only hope of it being in the team this year.

Today, Fabian proved the motor is in his legs, not his bike. Tomorrow is waiting to see who the new motor is.


Tour de France 2010- here we go again, for the first time

Well kids, it's that time of year again- the Tour de France has arrived and now it is time for the cycling world to be up-ended with passion and controversy. In a few hours time, from the time I finish writing this, the Tour will begin with all of the cycling world's eyes staring at Rotterdam for the Tour prologue.

As this Tour begins, controversy again swirls and the ugly specter of doping is again in the news. Though I have not yet had the chance to read the full article, the Wall Street Journal has published a "bombshell" of allegations from Floyd Landis regarding Lance Armstrong and further unproven accusations of doping. Even before that, on the eve of the race, Cervelo Test Team suspended its rider Xavier Florencio- allegedly for breaking the team's code of conduct regarding the use of treatments containing banned substances... in this case, an ointment to treat a saddle sore. Seriously? The ass creme has so much ephedrine that he might fail a doping test? Is he bathing in the stuff or is the team A) so paranoid of bad press if something happens or 2) something more sinister is really behind this expulsion. AND we've now gotten so freaked out by drug doping that riders are resorting to mechanical doping and bikes are being scanned at this year's Tour!

Still one thing remains true; the Tour de France is quite possibly the gretest spectacle in all of sport and even with the sensational news and headlines, the next three weeks will be watched by cycling fans around the world with unmatched excitement as this year's race is arguably the most "open" it has been in several years.

We'll see what sorts of feces get tossed into the fan blades...

And now on to the teams and a few thoughts, comments and predictions.


The team of two-time winner Alberto Contador and former vampire- "no really, I'm totally clean now, this time"- Alexander Vinokourov. This is the team to beat, on paper. However, this could also be the team to have the most spectacular implosion as well. If Vino and Berto can work together and keep their team intact, then they should win the Tour. Contador is arguably the best stage racer of his generation, having already won all three Grand Tours... before the age of 30. Vino is about as predictable as a 10 year old after downing a case of Red Bull and chasing it down with one of those 3 foot long Pixie Stix. Some will say that Contador runs the risk of having to ride the race alone... but for those who do not remember the internal team polemics at Astana with Lance last year, he essentially won the Tour having to beat all the other teams AND his own.

If they keep their heads and actually work for El Pistolero, the race is his to lose.

1 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa)
2 David De La Fuente Rasilla (Spa)
3 Andriy Grivko (Ukr)
4 Jesus Hernandez Blazquez (Spa)
5 Maxim Iglinskiy (Kaz)
6 Daniel Navarro Garcia (Spa)
7 Benjamin Noval Gonzalez (Spa)
8 Paolo Tiralongo (Ita)
9 Alexander Vinokourov (Kaz)

Team Saxo Bank

Here's the team of Bjarne- "yes I doped to win my Tour, so you can have your t-shirt back"- Riis. He's an excellent director, which can not be denied, and gets awesome results from his riders. The team is stacked with talent- including the Schleck brothers who so consternated both Alberto and Lance last year. Andy is a very good climber and can stay with Alberto when at his best, but not when it comes to the time trials. Since there is only one real TT this year, Andy has a chance to challenge. With Fabian- "I'll show you my motor"- Cancellara on the squad too, expect some additional fireworks from the team, especially on Stage 3, when they hit the cobblestones. He and Stuart O'Grady are both roubaix winners, so you can expect them to be pushing the pace and making the skinny climbers soil their petite chamois. AND with Jens- "that doesn't hurt"- Voigt, Saxo will certainly make the race hard for other teams.

11 Andy Schleck (Lux)
12 Matti Breschel (Den)
13 Fabian Cancellara (Swi)
14 Jakob Fuglsang (Den)
15 Stuart O'Grady (Aus)
16 Fränk Schleck (Lux)
17 Chris Anker Sørensen (Den)
18 Nicki Sörensen (Den)
19 Jens Voigt (Ger)

Team Radioshack

Well, what do you say about this team other than, "Lance is trying to win number 8"? Bruyneel- the team director with the most Tour wins to his credit- is a tactical genius and his biggest ace up his sleeve is Chris Horner. Horner is like a second Director on the road and in the race. He's supremely gifted at reading races and riders, so he'l; be an incredible asset to the team during the race. Lance is once again surrounded by the strongest team in the race. Love it or hate it- nobdoy else has the depth of Radioshack... aka The Shack. However, only Andreas Kloden has also had a foot on the Tour final podium and has proven his ability to be powerful all the way to the end. Levi- "I'm not actually a Hobbit"- Leipheimer is a totally likeable dude, but he's proven fragile- especially with his bones (will somebody give that boy a glass of whole milk and a block of cheese).

It is a given that nobody wants to win this race more than Radioshack. But can they? More importantly- can Lance?

21 Lance Armstrong (USA)
22 Janez Brajkovic (Slo)
23 Christopher Horner (USA)
24 Andreas Klöden (Ger)
25 Levi Leipheimer (USA)
26 Dmitriy Muravyev (Kaz)
27 Sergio Paulinho (Por)
28 Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr)
29 Grégory Rast (Swi)

Sky Professional Cycling Team
How do you become a Tour contending team over night? Money. Lots and lots and lots of money... and a ruthless pursuit of riders. Sky is a high profile team with great riders who were all purchased with the goal of winning this race. There is a lot of great talent on the roster, but their hopes on pinned on the affable Brad Wiggins. I like Brad because he races on the track, but was his 4th place last year a sign of things to come over the next 3 weeks or was it a happy co-inky-dink? He's proven he's got the goo between the ears to make himself ride well. Can his team support him for the duration of the race if he does have the ride of his life? Of the "contending" teams, Sky raises the most questions for me- they didn't exactly have a stellar Giro and have been erratic all year.

Can they do it and bring the Tour's final jersey to England?

31 Bradley Wiggins (GBr)
32 Michael Barry (Can)
33 Steven Cummings (GBr)
34 Juan Antonio Flecha Giannoni (Spa)
35 Simon Gerrans (Aus)
36 Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor)
37 Thomas Lövkvist (Swe)
38 Serge Pauwels (Bel)
39 Geraint Thomas (GBr)

"No really, I didn't dope!" Ivan Basso just came off an incredible Giro win, his second, and is itching to finally win the Tour that was once thought to be his annointing as a true Campionissimo. Basso was once the guy Lance most feared in a race, but after serving a 2 year suspension for "nearly doping", he's now finally back but not as strong in the TT's as he once was. Then again, this Tour only has one real TT... so he could be in there still. BUT... his support riders at this race are not of the same level as his main rivals. They're good guys- you gotta like guys like Quinziato- but can they keep him in the hunt for 3 weeks?

We'll just have to wait and see what the boys of "leaky gas" can do.

41 Ivan Basso (Ita)
42 Francesco Bellotti (Ita)
43 Kristjan Koren (Slo)
44 Roman Kreuziger (Cze)
45 Alexander Kuschynski (Blr)
46 Daniel Oss (Ita)
47 Manuel Quinziato (Ita)
48 Sylvester Szmyd (Pol)
49 Brian Vandborg (Den)

Garmin - Transitions
Sweet Jesus... talk about fragile. Christain Vande Velde has bones made of balsa wood, or maybe posicle sticks. Poor guy... but he's tough as leather and still manages to ride hard against the odds. He managed to still make the top 10 last year, while riding support for Wiggins, after crashing and breaking a whole bunch of bones at the Giro. Still, you just have to love this team and want them to do well. Jonathan Vaughters may be a fashionable TT nerd, turned into a team owner/ director, but he's a good guy and his riders are all likeable. It's a strong team with tons of talent, so CVV should have great support, even with a contingent of the team there just to get stage wins with Tyler Farrar. Tyler is a good kid, who happens to be damned fast when he's at his best. He's now only missing a Tour win to complete his collection of Grand Tour stage wins. When you toss in Zabriskie, Hesjedal and Millar, the team looks like it can do a good job of playing potential spoiler if the main contenders spend too much time watching each other or updating Twitter.

51 Christian Vande Velde (USA)
52 Julian Dean (NZl)
53 Tyler Farrar (USA)
54 Ryder Hesjedal (Can)
55 Robert Hunter (RSA)
56 Martijn Maaskant (Ned)
57 David Millar (GBr)
58 Johan Van Summeren (Bel)
59 David Zabriskie (USA)

Française des Jeux
Well... long, long ago, in a far away galaxy, the French teams actually had a chance of winning the tour... or at least managing to get out of their own way. Managed by former Roubaix winner marc Madiot, FdJ is a perennial fan favorite. They sometimes manage to get stage wins, but their chances of winning the Tour are marginally better than my own. Made up of awesome support riders and breakaway workers, they lack a leader and can only pray that they are gifted a win. There are worse teams at this Tour, but only barely. I wish them luck because they're under dogs and I've met the owner of Lapierre- the bike sponsor- and shared an awesome dinner and conversation with him. It would be nice to see one of his bikes win a stage.

61 Christophe Le Mevel (Fra)
62 Sandy Casar (Fra)
63 Rémy Di Grégorio (Fra)
64 Anthony Geslin (Fra)
65 Matthieu Ladagnous (Fra)
66 Anthony Roux (Fra)
67 Jérémy Roy (Fra)
68 Wesley Sulzberger (Aus)
69 Benoït Vaugrenard (Fra)

Team Katusha
"I can haz vodka now?" Sponsored by a bunch of Russian companies and the Russian cycling federation, this is a team that is made of some great riders with lots of potential and some truly tough dudes. NEVER underestimate the ability of the Russian riders because only Jens Voigt can handle as much pain as they can. They eat broken glass with every meal and then chug down some good vodka to make them numb. Sadly though, they can't win the Tour with Vladimir Karpets. Vlad has dropped his famous mullet, which held the key to his power, and is not really a threat. The other Russians- Brutt, Ivanov and Kolobnev- are seriously capable of stage wins, especially if the field gets lazy and lets them escape. Robbie McEwen is a little long in the tooth for a true Tour sprinter... but the pocket rocket is one of the best riders in the world when things get dicey in the final meters of a race. Can he still win a stage? Maybe. The Green jersey... not likely.

Expect fireworks from this team and if that doesn't work, just hold on to your drinks at the after party.

71 Vladimir Karpets (Rus)
72 Pavel Brutt (Rus)
73 Serguei Ivanov (Rus)
74 Alexandr Kolobnev (Rus)
75 Robbie McEwen (Aus)
76 Alexandr Pliuschin (Mda)
77 Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa)
78 Stijn Vandenbergh (Bel)
79 Eduard Vorganov (Rus)

AG2R La Mondiale
No. Chance. In. Hell.

Nicolas Roche- sone of Stephen Roche- and Rinaldo Nocentini, who shocked folks by wearing yellow for several days last year, are the stars of this team of otherwise unknowns. Largely a team of French riders, they are possibly even less well equipped to win than FdJ. I'm pretty certain they can all ride better than me, but their chances are relegated to a hopeful stage win from the very classy Roche. Otherwise, they're chasing podium girls in Paris when things are all done.

81 Nicolas Roche (Irl)
82 Maxime Bouet (Fra)
83 Dimitri Champion (Fra)
84 Martin Elmiger (Swi)
85 John Gadret (Fra)
86 David Le Lay (Fra)
87 Lloyd Mondory (Fra)
88 Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita)
89 Christophe Riblon (Fra)

Cervelo Test Team
Carlos Sastre is an underappreciated rider and former winner of the Tour. He's a quite and humble guy- likeable in most respects- which dooms him most of the time. Can he win again? Not likely. Can he get away for a stage win and save his pride? Maybe. The other only real power on the team is in the tough speed of Thor Hushovd. Thor is a Norwegian sledgehammer and will crush most other riders in a sprint after a hard day in the saddle. He's won Green before and can do it again... if his other rivals don't win more consistently. The team is made of guys who are almost all capable of getting away in a break and then winning a stage. Well... except for the guy with the sore ass and plain ticket back to Spain. Will the team be distracted by the issue? I would guess a little, but they're going to be more focused on how they try to get some wins.

91 Carlos Sastre (Spa)
92 Xavier Florencio Cabre (Spa)
93 Volodymir Gustov (Ukr)
94 Jeremy Hunt (GBr)
95 Thor Hushovd (Nor)
96 Andreas Klier (Ger)
97 Ignatas Konovalovas (Ltu)
98 Brett Lancaster (Aus)
99 Daniel Lloyd (GBr)

Omega Pharma-Lotto

Stage wins, plain and simple. This team is built around the Belgian classics, not stage race- which is why Cadel Evans left them at the end of last year. All of the riders are top notch and can do great things... but mostly in long single day races. Nobody expects more than stage wins from this Belgian super team... well, nobody who is familar with the team anyway. They are stacked with talent and will certainly be a factor in the race for stage wins, but not the overall GC. They lack a leader because 3 weeks in July are not as important in Belgium as the Classics months during the Spring.

101 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel)
102 Mario Aerts (Bel)
103 Francis De Greef (Bel)
104 Mickael Delage (Fra)
105 Sebastian Lang (Ger)
106 Matthew Lloyd (Aus)
107 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa)
108 Jurgen Roelandts (Bel)
109 Charles Wegelius (GBr)

HTC - Columbia
Mark Cavendish, Mark Cavendish, Mark Cavendish. Now you know the entire story of Columbia-HTC. Sure, they throw in Michael Rogers for good measure, but it's really all about the Manx Missile. Especially if you ask him. Tony Martin could win a TT stage again, but they just really don't have GC riders. Given that Cavendish won 6 stages last year and has had a crappy season this year, you can expect there to be a lot of pressure on the "Boy Racer" when things come to a field sprint. On his best, he IS the best sprinter in the world- period. I'd dare say, he's even faster than me. They have tons of talent built around Cav', so he should win if he's got the form. If not, they have enough talent to hunt other ways to win stages... but no chance to win the overall. None.

111 Mark Cavendish (GBr)
112 Bernhard Eisel (Aut)
113 Bert Grabsch (Ger)
114 Adam Hansen (Aus)
115 Tony Martin (Ger)
116 Maxime Monfort (Bel)
117 Mark Renshaw (Aus)
118 Michael Rogers (Aus)
119 Kanstantsin Siutsou (Blr)

BMC Racing Team
Cadel is only marginally better off with BMC than he was with Omega Pharma-Lotto. His best help will come in the form of George Hincapie. George has been around France a few times, even picked up his wife there, and has an impressive list of Tours he helped Lance win. Cadel will rely on his experience very heavily... well, if he's smart he will. Evans has been a class act this year as World Champion. He's been on the steps of the Tour podium before and has been tantalizingly close to finally winning a Tour for Australia... but there is always that "bad day" or similar implosion. If he can avoid the usual meltdowns, he's got the best support he's ever had and should have his best shot to date at winning. But can he? Can Cadel really win?


121 Cadel Evans (Aus)
122 Alessandro Ballan (Ita)
123 Brent Bookwalter (USA)
124 Marcus Burghardt (Ger)
125 Mathias Frank (Swi)
126 George Hincapie (USA)
127 Karsten Kroon (Ned)
128 Steve Morabito (Swi)
129 Mauro Santambrogio (Ita)

Quick Step
Like Omega Pharma-Lotto, this is a Belgian Classics team. And without Boonen this year again- though not because he likes a little cocaine, this time- the chances for wins are diminished. Again, like their countrymen, this team is stacked with awesome talent for single day races and stage wins, but they lack a leader capable of contending for 3 weeks. Look for them to make the racing hard, either with breakaways or just good old fashioned Belgian toughness. They need to win something... anything. Sylvain Chavanel- once the next great French hope- is still capable of doing some good things... just not winning the Tour. Ever. On this planet.

131 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra)
132 Carlos Barredo Llamazales (Spa)
133 Kevin De Weert (Bel)
134 Dries Devenyns (Bel)
135 Jérôme Pineau (Fra)
136 Francesco Reda (Ita)
137 Kevin Seeldrayers (Bel)
138 Jurgen Van De Walle (Bel)
139 Maarten Wijnants (Bel)

Team Milram

Here's another team you just have to like. A great team from Germany that has talented riders who can win races, especially tough ones, but they lack a leader who can contend for 3 weeks. Gerald Ciolek would LOVE to finally beat Cavendish in a head to head sprint at the Tour... but can he? So far... no. This is a hungry team looking to prove a point since they are losing their sponsor next season, so they need to win to help find a new paycheck for the team. I have several good friends who work for Focus USA, so I'd be happy to see the Moo Team win a stage or two. But who can do it?


141 Linus Gerdemann (Ger)
142 Gerald Ciolek (Ger)
143 Johannes Fröhlinger (Ger)
144 Roger Kluge (Ger)
145 Christian Knees (Ger)
146 Luke Roberts (Aus)
147 Thomas Rohregger (Aut)
148 Niki Terpstra (Ned)
149 Fabian Wegmann (Ger)

Bbox Bouygues Telecom
Another French team with no chance in hell of winning the race. None whatsoever. Thomas Voeckler was the gutty defender of the Yellow jersey several years ago during Lance's first reign of terror at the Tour. Now the team is far more likely to get a win out of Pierrick Fedrigo, who won a stage last year in grand fashion. Personally, I'd like to see Japanese rider Yukiya Arashiro win a stage- which is almost as likely as me winning. He's a good rider and he'd be the first ever Japanese rider to win a stage. Since I have lots of rfiends in Japan, that would be cool. Plus, I have friends at Colnago as well and would be happy for them if the team won a stage. Though this is a French team that is way better at picking a good wine or cheese than they are winning races, they don't appear to be jerks.

They've got that going for them.

151 Thomas Voeckler (Fra)
152 Yukiya Arashiro (Jpn)
153 Anthony Charteau (Fra)
154 Pierrick Fedrigo (Fra)
155 Cyril Gautier (Fra)
156 Pierre Rolland (Fra)
157 Matthieu Sprick (Fra)
158 Sébastien Turgot (Fra)
159 Nicolas Vogondy (Fra)

Caisse d'Epargne

Can you remember the days when Moreau was supposed to be the next French Tour winner? Yeah... seems like it was a million years ago to me too. Well, he's old enough now that his usual implosion will seem less dramatic and even more expected. This French-sponsored Spanish powerhouse team is capable of making things happen with Luis Leon Sanchez Gil (WHY FOUR NAMES?). The team uses more letters in their names than all the other teams combined, which I am not sure is not somehow a race tactic- I just hear the team directors of the other teams trying tell their riders who is up the road in the break and finally just giving up when they can't say the whole thing! Like all Spanish teams, they do best in the mountains. Stage 3 and the cobbles should have them collectively dreaming of paella and sangria in Madrid or Barcelona, but hopefully they manage to stay upright... for a change.

161 Luis León Sánchez Gil (Spa)
162 Rui Alberto Faria da Costa (Por)
163 Imanol Erviti Ollo (Spa)
164 José Ivan Gutierrez Palacios (Spa)
165 Vasili Kiryienka (Blr)
166 Christophe Moreau (Fra)
167 Mathieu Perget (Fra)
168 Ruben Plaza Molina (Spa)
169 Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Spa)

Cofidis, Le Credit en Ligne
All French, all the time. This is a team that has taken losing races to an art form. So much potential, but so few results. All of the riders are French and they will be turning themselves inside out during the race... just to survive... in hopes of making something magic happen. And they need more than magic, they need a miracle. They also need a new sponsor next year, so expect them to be looking for ANYTHING to brag about in the sponsor hunt. The last time Cofidis saw a Tour podium up close was in 1998 when Bobby Julich stepped on the podium for third. Don't expect that to happen this year, unless 188 other riders drop out.

171 Rein Taaramae (Est)
172 Stéphane Auge (Fra)
173 Samuel Dumoulin (Fra)
174 Julien El Farès (Fra)
175 Christophe Kern (Fra)
176 Sébastien Minard (Fra)
177 Amaël Moinard (Fra)
178 Damien Monier (Fra)
179 Rémi Pauriol (Fra)

Euskaltel - Euskadi

Who doesn't love these guys? Seriously, they just try so damned hard! Olympic champion Sammy Sanchez is a classy rider who can win lots of races, but he's not truly likely to contend at the end of three weeks. Only the Basque can find a way to use as many X's and Z's in their names as the Belgians. These mountain-loving lung freaks are supreme climbers, as a team, but still manage to fall short at the Tour. On paper, in theory, they should "own" the Climber's jersey... but never seem to be able to keep things under control.

Look for the orange jerseys to be at the front on the climbs, at least for awhile. Well, if they manage to make it off the cobbles in stage three in one piece.

181 Samuel Sánchez Gonzalez (Spa)
182 Inaki Isasi Flores (Spa)
183 Egoi Martinez De Esteban (Spa)
184 Juan Jose Oroz Ugalde (Spa)
185 Alan Perez Lezaun (Spa)
186 Ruben Perez Moreno (Spa)
187 Amets Txurruka (Spa)
188 Iban Velasco Murillo (Spa)
189 Gorka Verdugo Marcotegui (Spa)

The Giro and Tour are two totally different races. Denis Menchov won last year's Giro and then was too gassed for the Tour. This year he has saved himself for the Tour in hopes of finally proving his right to be considered a contender. It's not a gamble likely to work, simply because he's not a rider for the steeper climbs and there are not enough TT kilometers for him to make up time. Still, this Dutch wunder team is likely to find a way to win a stage with riders like Lars Boom, Oscar Freire, Robert Gesink and a few others. Rabo' is another one of those teams that should have a Tour win to their name, but don't. They'd like to fix that problem with either Menchov or Gesink...

... but it won't likely happen this year.

191 Denis Menchov (Rus)
192 Lars Boom (Ned)
193 Oscar Freire Gomez (Spa)
194 Juan Manuel Gárate Cepa (Spa)
195 Robert Gesink (Ned)
196 Koos Moerenhout (Ned)
197 Grischa Niermann (Ger)
198 Bram Tankink (Ned)
199 Maarten Tjallingii (Ned)

Lampre-Farnese Vini

Alessandro Petacchi was once the best sprinter in the world and signaled the end for Mario Cippolini as greatest Italian sprinter of thier time. Damiano Cunego was once the next Coppi, after winning the Giro several years ago. Both are still capable winners, but the Tour is full of better riders this year. Cunego could get a win, but Petacchi is unlikely to be able to find a way to beat his younger rivals this year... but I won't count him entirely out because his rvials likely will and he can take advantage of that foolishness. Lampre is a team with great history and they deserve to be in the race every year, but they are not a team one should look at for more than a couple classy wins.

201 Damiano Cunego (Ita)
202 Grega Bole (Slo)
203 Mauro Da Dalto (Ita)
204 Francesco Gavazzi (Ita)
205 Danilo Hondo (Ger)
206 Mirco Lorenzetto (Ita)
207 Adriano Malori (Ita)
208 Alessandro Petacchi (Ita)
209 Simon Spilak (Slo)

Well, they have gold team kits and ride Fuji. That's about all anybody knows about this team of "what's his name" riders. No, they don't flat out suck and have won a few races this year, but they are kinda like Cofidis- a team of riders who have almost no chance of winning unless there is a serious confluence of luck. The team will certainly want to do something to prove they deserve to be in the race and the tour is often kind enough to reward the smaller teams with a little something they can be happy about. Maybe, just maybe, these guys will be "that team" this year. If not... don't say I didn't tell ya.

211 Eros Capecchi (Ita)
212 Jose Alberto Benitez Roman (Spa)
213 Manuel Cardoso (Spa)
214 Arkaitz Duran Daroca (Spa)
215 Markus Eibegger (Aut)
216 Fabio Felline (Ita)
217 Iban Mayoz Echeverria (Spa)
218 Aitor Perez Arrieta (Spa)
219 Rafael Valls Ferri (Spa)

And there you have it! The Tour starts in a few hours, so I am going to bed so I can see a little of the prologue before I go out and pretend I'm a Tour rider with a few friends with shaved legs and Lycra.

Prologue report is next on the menu.