Le Tour: PopUp's Five to Watch

Jacob Fuglsang: Saxo Bank
In a contract year, it will be interesting to see how this 25-year-old approaches the 2010 Tour de France. Coming off of an impressive podium at this year’s Tour de Suisse and a win at Denmark’s National Time Trial, will it be hard for Riis to saddle the youngster’s ambitions? Or with this being his first Tour, will the ambitions already be saddled by lack of experience?

And what about the seeming end to Team Saxo Bank and the beginnings of Team Schleck. Does Fuglsang fancy himself a contract with the pending Luxembourg team, or will he be using this tour to prove his worth to countless potential suitors at the Tour. Bottom line is a good result could earn him a huge contract and leadership, whereas solid domestique work will earn him a good contract schlepping the brothers Schleck around the Tour for the next five years. What’s it going to be Jacob?



Thomas Lovkvist: Team Sky
Similar to Jacob Fuglsang, Thomas Lovkvist has a decision to make. Saddle his ambitions and ride for Wiggins or freelance if he thinks he’s got a shot to outride Sky’s designated leader. It’s been a disappointing season for the Swede on his new team, with only a second at Strade Bianche to write home about. Last season, he had two wins, a couple of impressive top tens and a short stay in the pink jersey.

Lovkvist left Columbia to ride for himself instead of for a sprint train. Now, he’s poised to be riding for a team leader with no real pedigree other than a blazing time trial and a fourth place on a comparatively easy TdF route. Although he may be saying the right things to the press (is he even saying anything at all?), I have to believe that Thomas thinks he is a better GC rider than Wiggins. I believe he is too.

Robbie McEwen, Team Katusha
After an early season win in Mallorca, the Pocket Rocket has been absent other than a podium at Schelderprijs. There are many reasons to doubt Robbie can win a stage at the Tour, chief among them the fact that he’s a 38-year old sprinter. A little long in the tooth for a fast man. Plus, chronic injuries and a team not really in position to help him in the sprints put the Aussie in a difficult position to try and steal a win from the other fast men. 

My suggestion to Robbie: Save your energy and try to make the break in a stage you know it will succeed. I have a feeling this will be the last time we see Robbie in the Tour, and maybe in the pro peloton.

Gerald Ciolek, Moo
If you look at the German’s palmares, they take a very familiar path of most athletes. A gradual buildup to a pinnacle, then a slow decline as the inevitability of getting old sets in. The problem, is Gerald is only 24, and he’s already seen the rise of his career in the amateur ranks, the peak of his career in his first year on a pro tour team and the fall of his career ever since.

Since 2007, Ciolek’s win totals have dwindled, and this year, he has only one tally at Bayern-Rundfahrt. Regardless of if it’s injuries or maybe he’s not as fast as we all thought, this tour is huge for the German, as the dissolution of Milram makes him a free agent. He’s been rumored to already have signed, and if he leaves the Tour with a bunch of 6th places, good for him for probably getting way more money then he’s worth. However, if he has not signed, he better perform or I could see his value dropping to that of a lead-out man.

Martijn Maskaant, Garmin Transitions
Does anyone need a win more than this 27-year-old? After an impressive debut at Paris Roubaix (4th) and Ronde van Vlaanderen (12th) in 2008, Maskaant has failed to take the next step. He hasn’t won since turning pro, and all of the great promise has fallen flat for the last two years. He appears to be on a doomed career path of putting all of his eggs in the Classics basket, but as long as he’s racing against Boonen and Cancellara, I can’t see him racking up any big wins.

So what’s his next play? He is a solid domestique and great on the flats in a Grand Tour, but for a rider with a couple close calls, he needs to figure out how to win, especially when he gets in a successful breakaway. Just ask Marcus Burghardt, who said that Maaskant was by far the strongest rider in the successful break the two drove in the Tour de Suisse. Despite the strength, Maskaant failed to win.

If he’s a vital part of the Farrar sprint train, and they get just one win, then Martijn’s selection will be worth it. However, if Cav is on form and dominating, and CVV needs help in the mountains, it will be a wasted selection. Even Bubble Boy may prove more beneficial to the team.

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