Posted by: mdegeorge | July 1, 2011

Tour de France Preview: Part 1

The calendar has turned to July, which means barbeques, days at the beach and the Tour de France.

It’s the latter that concerns us today, as 198 riders saddle up and take on perhaps the greatest challenge in sports: a three-week, nearly 3500-kilometer test of the human body and spirit. It’s the kind of multi-faceted, drama-wrought, ever-changing spectacle that fans and analysts live for, and it lasts for almost a month.

So without further ado, here are the full start lists for all 22 teams involved, including past data on the riders and a breakdown of what might be ahead for them.

First up are the first seven teams in the start list:

Alberto Contador. Courtesy of Creative Commons.

Saxo Bank-Sungard 

Aberto Contador, Jesus Hernandez, Dani Navarro, Benjamin Noval, Richie Porte, Chris Anker Sorensen, Nicki Sorensen, Matteo Tosatto, Brian Vandborg

Tour de France stage wins: Contador 3, N. Sorensen, Tosatto

Other Grand Tour stage wins: Contador 2, C. Sorensen, N. Sorensen, Tosatto

Grand Tour GC Top 10s: Contador 6 (Won Tour in 2007, 2009 and 2009; won Giro in 2008 and 2011; Won Vuelta in 2008); Porte (7th in 2010 Giro)

Days in Maillot Jaune: Contador 17 (Stages 17-20 in 2007, Stages 15-21 in 2009, Stages 15-20 in 2010)

It’s all about the man wearing number 1, the man looking to win the seventh straight Grand Tour he’s entered and his fourth Tour de France. Contador is the best stage rider in the world until someone forcibly unseats him from that throne. He won the Tour last year despite not winning a stage. He was plagued throughout the winter by a still unresolved doping scandal over a positive test for banned bronchodilator, clenbuterol, which El Pistolero has argued is due to tainted meat he acquired in Spain. The controversy has really weighed him down this season; he’s only won six races – two stages each of the Vuelta a Murcia and the Giro, and one each at the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon and the Volta a Catalunya – plus the overall wins at Murcia, the Giro and Catalunya, and the points classification at Catalunya. Suffice it to say he’s ready. He has his trusty mountain lieutenants in Hernandez, Navarro and Noval, plus Porte, who proved himself a capable mountain shepherd in the Giro. Contador is surrounded by a capable team that in all likelihood will toast a Tour title in three weeks.

Leopard-Trek

Andy Schleck, Fränk Schleck, Fabian Cancellara, Linus Gerdemann, Maxime Monfort, Jakob Fuglsang, Jens Voigt, Stuart O’Grady, Joost Posthuma

Tour de France stage wins: Cancellara 7, O’Grady 3, Voigt 3, A. Schleck 2, F. Schleck 2, Gerdemann

Other Grand Tour stage wins: Cancellara 3, O’Grady, Voigt

Grand Tour GC Top 10s: A. Schleck 3 (2nd in 2009 Tour, 2nd in 2010 Tour, 2nd in 2007 Giro); F. Schleck 3 (6th in 2008 Tour, 5th in 2009 Tour, 5th in 2010 Vuelta)

Days in Maillot Jaune: Cancellera 22 (Stages 1-2, 4-7 in 2010, Stages 2-7 in 2009, Stages 1-7 in 2007, Stages 1-2 in 2004); O’Grady 9 (Stages 4-6 in 1998, Stages 3-6, 8-9 in 2001); A Schleck 6 (Stages 10—15 in 2010); Gerdemann 2 (Stages 7-8 in 2008); F Schleck 2 (Stages 15-16 in 2008); Voigt 2 (Stage 7 in 2001, Stage 9 in 2005)

The Leopard-Trek team was built for the Schlecks, by the Schlecks to enable Andy to finally shake his string of two straight second-place finishes and ascend the top step of the podium. This is about as strong a squad as you could ask for, with an astounding six riders who’ve worn Yellow before (there are only 11 such riders combined on the other 21 teams). Andy hasn’t exactly blistered his way through the spring, finishing a disappointing 8th in the Amgen Tour of California. His most impressive finish of the season has been winning the King of the Mountains in the Tour de Suisse. Frank has been on form, winning the Criterium International and the Luxembourg National Road Race title. The presence of just one individual time trial reduces the chances for stage wins for Cancellara, but benefits the TT-challenged Schlecks. If things break down, riders like Monfort, Gerdemann and Fuglsang will be able to pounce for stage wins.

Euskaltel-Euskadi

Samuel Sánchez, Egoi Martínez, Gorka Verdugo, Amets Txurruka, Rubén Pérez, Iván Velasco, Alan Pérez, Pablo Urtasun, Gorka Izagirre

Tour de France stage wins: None.

Other Grand Tour stage wins: Sanchez 5, Martinez

Grand Tour GC Top 10s: Sanchez 5 (7th in 2006 Veulta, 3rd in 2007 Vuelta, 2nd in 2009 Vuelta, 7th in 2008 Tour, 4th in 2010 Tour); Martinez (9th in 2008 Vuelta)

Days in Maillot Jaune: None.

As ever, the Basque team is one for the mountains. The big GC threat will be Sanchez, who will be looking to improve on a fourth-place showing in 2010. Other big guys in the mountains, like Igor Anton, will be saved for the Vuelta. Other than Sanchez, the orange jerseys should be a fixture in breakaways on any and all rolling stages. Martinez is a constant protagonist in the big mountains and will likely compete for the King of the Mountains, while any of the other experienced riders in the squad are likely to position themselves for breakaways whenever possible.

Omega-Pharma

Jurgen van den Broeck. Courtesy of Creative Commons.

Philippe Gilbert, Andre Greipel, Sebastian Lang, Jurgen Roelandts, Marcel Sieberg, Jurgen van den Broeck, Jurgen van de Walle, Jelle Vanendert, Frederik Willems

Tour de France stage wins: None

Other Grand Tour stage wins: Greipel 6, Gilbert 3

Grand Tour GC Top 10s: Van Den Broeck 2 (7th in 2008 Giro, 5th in 2010 Tour)

Days in Maillot Jaune: None

The Omega bunch is an interesting mix. For the sprints, they have the bona fide fastman in Greipel that they have lacked since the defection of Robbie McEwen. Greipel has five wins this season and plenty of flatland specialists to help with the leadout. Gilbert will be in the mix in any rolling stage or uphill finish, trying to build on a torrid start that includes wins at Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Amstel Gold, La Fleche Wallonne, stages at Tirreno-Adriatico and Volta ao Algarve, the overall at the Tour of Belgium and the Belgian Road Race title. The GC threat will be van den Broeck, who finally won his first professional race at this year’s Dauphine Libere as part of a fourth place overall finish. The supporting cast offers little in the way of aid, so it’ll be interesting how the limited resources are allocated toward these three prongs.

Rabobank

Robert Gesink, Luis León Sánchez, Carlos Barredo, Juan Manuel Garate, Bauke Mollema, Laurens ten Dam, Lars Boom, Maarten Tjallingii, Grischa Niermann

 Tour de France stage wins: Sanchez 2, Garate

Other Grand Tour stage wins: Garate 2, Barredo, Boom,

Grand Tour GC Top 10s: Garate 3 (4th in 2002 Giro, 5th in 2005 Giro, 7th in 2006 Giro); Gesink 3 (7th in 2008 Vuelta, 6th in 2009 Vuelta, 6th in 2010 Tour); Sanchez (10th in 2010 Vuelta)

Days in Maillot Jaune: None.

Without Grand Tour stalwart Oscar Friere, the Rabo boys are built around Gesink, who quietly had a stellar 2010 tour finishing sixth overall on GC. He’s started out well this season, winning the overall at the Tour of Oman – including a stage win in the individual time trial, so often a bugaboo in the Rabobank camp – and taking second at Tirreno-Adriatico and third at the Tour of the Basque county. He’ll have plenty of support from riders that have delivered high GC performances this season like Mollema (12th in the Giro, 9th at Paris-Nice, 5th at Tour de Suisse), ten Dam (6th at the Tour of California and 8th at Tour de Suisse) and Tjallingii (3rd at Paris-Roubaix). If the GC picture breaks down, there are always excellent stage poachers like Barredo, Garate and Sanchez for the rolling stages.

Garmin-Cervelo

Tom Danielson, Julian Dean, Tyler Farrar, Ryder Hesjedal, Thor Hushovd, David Millar, Ramunas Navardauskas, Christian Vande Velde, David Zabriskie

Tour de France stage wins: Hushovd 8, Millar 3, Zabriskie

Other Grand Tour stage wins: Millar 7, Farrar 5, Hushovd 4, Zabriskie 4, Hesjedal 2, Danielson, Dean, Vande Velde

Grand Tour GC Top 10s: Danielson 2 (6th in 2006 Vuelta, 9th in 2010 Vuelta); Vande Velde 2 (4th in 2008 Tour, 8th in 2009 Tour); Hesjedal (7th in 2010 Tour)

Days in Maillot Jaune: Zabriskie 3 (Stages 1-3 in 2005); Hushovd 2 (Stage 2 and Stage 4 of 2006 Tour)

Hushovd won points classification in 2005 and 2009

It’s a bit hard to place this Garmin squad. They’ll be great in the team time trial without a doubt. But they won’t determine a team leader until they get out on the roads. Danielson and Vande Velde went 3-4 overall in the Tour of California, respectively, while Hesjedal could also be in the mix. The sprinting picture is quite crowded, with Dean, Farrar and Hushovd. Farrar is presumably the guy with Hushovd as the insurance policy for stages where Farrar can’t pull himself up the hills, but we’ll see how willing and able the two-time Green Jersey winner Hushovd is to play the role of leadout man. The other head-scratcher to a degree is Navardauskas, the recently crowned road race champ of Lithuania. He comes in the squad at the expense of Johan Van Summeren, the surprise winner of Paris-Roubaix. It’s a team with great talent, but how the pieces fit is still uncertain.

Team RadioShack

Jani Brajkovic, Chris Horner, Markel Irizar, Andreas Klöden, Levi Leipheimer, Dmitriy Muravyev, Sérgio Paulinho, Yaroslav Popovych, Haimar Zubeldia

Tour de France stage wins: Popovych 3, Leipheimer 2, Paulinho 2, Kloden, Zubeldia

Other Grand Tour stage wins: Leipheimer 2, Paulinho

Grand Tour GC Top 10s: Leipheimer 7 (3rd at 2001 Vuelta, 2nd at 2008 Vuelta, 8th at 2002 Tour, ninth at 2004 Tour, 6th at 2005 Tour, 3rd at 2007 Tour, 5th at 2009 Giro); Zubeldia 5 (5th in 2003 Tour, 8th in 2006 Tour, 5th in 2007 Tour, 10th at 2000 Vuelta, 10th in 2002 Vuelta); Kloden 3 (2nd in 2004, 2nd in 2006, 6th in 2009); Popovych 3 (3rd at 2003 Giro, 5th at 2004 Giro, 8th at 2007 Tour); Horner (10th at 2010 Tour)

Days in Maillot Jaune: None

The oldest team in the race with an average age of 33 comes in with too many leaders and not enough followers. Sure, they did put two guys in the top 10 on GC last year. Leipheimer, fresh off a win at the Tour de Suisse, is the leader until someone proves otherwise. But Horner bested him at ATOC and is going in as a leader candidate, though he is 39 and a career domestique who has never led the way at a race anywhere near this magnitude. Quietly lurking in the shadows is Kloden, who has been solid in recent years without having the opportunity to lead a team and could easily be a podium contender. Brajkovic has also had an excellent season so far (7th at the Tour de Romandie and Paris-Nice) as had young Irizar (won Tour of Andalucía that included Leipheimer and van den Broeck) The curious part is that RadioShack is putting all its eggs in the GC basket, eschewing a pair of sprinters in Robbie McEwen and Robbie Hunter who could have brought home stage wins in a weak sprinter field.

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