First off, when Cycle Sport claims to have produced the best Tour preview ever, it's no exaggeration. A bit juvenile, but not an exaggeration. They offer a pretty thorough rundown of the contenders, the route, the teams, some history, etc., one page at a time, and with lots of entertaining little sidebars. I'm not in magazine sales, but if you want one-stop shopping, this is it. And I say that as someone who routinely despises preview issues.
Anyway, I don't actually believe what I'm about to say... but Cycle Sport kind of hinted at it first, and lots of things are considered ridiculous right up until they turn out to be true. So why not?
Johan Bruyneel might just have a plan to stop Ivan Basso. A particularly devilish one at that.
First off, just as no betting person wagered against Lance the last few years in July, so too should one think twice before betting against JB. Maybe he had the ultimate weapon to work with, but Bruyneel showed time and again that he had the plan to deal with all pretenders to the throne, from the possum game in 2001 to the trademark psychological death blows the team handed out in the first mountain stage the last several years. And if you're not sure about all that, well, it's undeniable that he's the only DS in the game who's won the Tour lately.
Anyway, one line in CS kind of tips it off: they run a feature where they put a series of questions to each of their four primary reporters, and David Harmon opines that "Discovery have committed a lot of firepower to the Giro to force Basso to work far harder than he would like to."
There's also a quote from Lance where he says that leading the Tour is much harder than Basso and CSC realize, and that Riis just talks a good game and never delivers. Worse, Riis rises right up to take the bait, claiming he doesn't care what Lance thinks and asserting he has the best team ever.
Everywhere, the speculation is that the race is Basso's to lose... but that CSC will be expected to control things, despite the abundance of challengers and the long wait for the mountains.
The Harmon quote got me thinking... has Bruyneel been using the entire season to lay a trap for Basso and Riis at the Tour? Consider, the two biggest weakness for Basso are his never having been in yellow (and taken responsibility for it), and his need to expend himself in the Giro. For his part, Riis had never won anything much before this year as a DS, and had blown his first real shot at a grand tour in last year's Giro... to Discovery.
Next, everyone always says that you can't imagine how hard it is to win the Tour, and especially to take charge of it as a team. The pressure is enormous, the spotlight glaring, etc. So JB and co. would like nothing more than to thrust CSC into that role, let someone else bear that burden for a change. CSC have little experience doing anything of the sort, unless you count last month's Giro. But the Giro ain't the Tour.
All of this seems not so much like a convergence of circumstances as a calculated effort to crack CSC and Basso. Wear them thin in May (in the Lance years Disco never sent his lieutenants to the Giro); then heap the responsibility of the entire race on them in July.
Meanwhile, Discovery are being extremely cagey about their own plans, giving Riis no real target to aim at. They have four plausible leaders, with little leaks aimed at giving the impression that Hincapie is their first choice. Could they be playing possum again? Is Popovych -- whom nobody talks about -- quietly building his form for the real run? Did Savolodelli back off in the Giro, claiming "allergies," when in fact he was holding back from a futile effort to save some strength for the Tour, a course that suits him?
If CSC keep things under wraps until the Pyrenees, and Basso then puts five minutes into everyone at the Pla de Beret, then it will all be for naught. But while everyone is wondering whether Ullrich or Basso will win, Bruyneel is lurking in the shadows, relishing Discovery's "outsider" role, hoping nobody pays him much mind.