I think the individual favorites are well known, and though we'll touch on them eventually, it's getting pretty played. But the game isn't just about the individuals, it's as much if not more so about the teams. In a three week race with a variety of spoils (overall victory, points and KOM jerseys, stage wins, etc.), teams have to identify their desires and chances for glory, and focus a bit. Why? Because you can't win the points title, let's say, if it's just an item on a lengthy to-do list, when there are two or three teams who've devoted themselves to the task. So let's get a quick look at each team (rosters courtesy of the new Messiah of websites), and peek into what they might be up to.
Always focused on the overall title, to the point where it's hard to imagine them doing anything else. Granted, it's not clear who they're hoping will get the overall, defending champ Paolo Savoldelli or Tom Danielson, whose climbing suits the parcours better. But the support cast -- Beltran, Ekimov, Padrnos, Rubiera -- read like a classic Lance squad of climbers who can pull off a TTT when needed. This team is loaded for the general classification only.
After a glorious April, the squad is laying low, sending a B-team to a grand tour seemingly made for Alejandro Valverde. With a stable of climbers and nothing to lose on long breakaways, look for them to take a run at the climber's jersey.
Sprinter Paride Grillo is out, so that leaves the overall classification and maybe climbers jersey as the quarry, Emanuele Sella ranked top ten last year, and Julio Perez Cuapio was the original Jose Rujano in 2002.
One of the most conflicted teams... do they go all out for some revenge in the home-turf Belgian stages? Do they focus on points with McEwen? Do they try to elevate Wim Van Huffel (11th last year) in the GC? Chances are McEwen won't finish the entire race; the last week would kill him. So rather than the points jersey, look for some stage wins early (mano-a-mano with Milram), and for Van Huffel to hang around.
Francaise des Jeux
Brad McGee could make a dent in the overall, but more likely it will be Sandy Casar and Philippe Gilbert hunting for stage wins.
Robert Forster gives them a legitimate points jersey threat, not that he'll outkick Petacchi or McEwen head-to-head, but he'll be in the mix every day, and may even make it to Milan. If not, Stefan Schumacher and Ronny Scholz could sneak in a win. And Davide Rebellin is a prime favorite for pink before the race leaves Belgium.
I'm so fucking pissed they left Danilo Napolitano off the roster. Seeing him head-to-head with Petacchi and McEwen would have been great fun and drama. But no, they're resting the kid for the Tour. Actually, that's not a bad idea. All out for Cunego on GC, BTW, and with Patxi Vila for support... and maybe some of these guys can even time trial.
To support Danilo DiLuca in his quest for overall, the team has surrounded him in sprinters. Illogical, you say? No worse than Il Killer's decision to transform himself into a Giro rider.
Their best hope in the overall is if Rujano decides to ride for his future employers more than his current ones. Barring that, maybe Juan Manuel Garate can go for the climbers' jersey. And Bettini, winner of last year's points battle, will be the other prime favorite in the first week.
The Chicken, Michael Rasmussen, is around, presumably to repeat his historic capture of the polka dot jersey in France.
Simoni is a serious overall threat, and he'll have a united team to back him up. Until they don't.
Rujano will get all the attention in the high mountains, but with one foot out the team door, they'll be keeping a close eye on him.
A great team set up to win both time trials and the climbers' stages. Julich and Voigt are more than useful in both disciplines, and could pursue secondary goals if they wanted. But their work and everyone else's will be in service to overall favorite Ivan Basso.
They probably wouldn't mind changing into something more exciting, right? Too bad because it's all for one, and one for Petacchi!
Rogers? Ullrich? Pollack? Who the hell knows what they want.
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Stage wins, boys!