A.K.A The Non Unibet Invitational
Ok, that might have been unnecessary but count me as one person who thinks they're getting the Ned Beaty treatment in Deliverance, but from two hillbillies instead of one.
The official website can be found here
It's offers a nice overview and profile of each stage, along with all jersey breakdowns, news, history and such. I wish more websites were this straight forward and easy to navigate.
As for the teams, they fluctuate between "just happy to be here, thanks for the invite" to fully loaded "we have every intention of winning stages, the overall, best team, or all of the above." I'm not going to pick individual stage winners, as I may ask Chris to throw a link to the day's profile for each live thread, and that should get conversation flowing in earnest. But for now, the team / rider breakdown.
JP Nazon will be their sprinter, Cyril Dessel and Jose Luis Arrieta will be their breakaway guys, and Simon Gerrans will be the wildcard. If they get anything more than 3 hours camera time for their sponsors they'll be ecstatic.
If they get 90 minutes of face time they'll be ecstatic. Even if Nicolas Jalabert believes him, he's still got to be pretty pissed at Floyd. From the penthouse to the outhouse in one off-season.
Clearly their B team. I recognize one guy, Benoit Joachim (from the old Postal nee Discovery team). That's not exactly good news.
I'm guessing Thomas Voeckler is going to be their captain, with Didier Rous (isn't he almost 50?) and Andy Flickinger as his lieutenants. Looking at the race profile it would not seem to favor Voeckler until you realize there is only one uphill finish. Depending on his form, if he can hang on during the worst of the uphills he can finish with the front runners. He needs to show something this year and start winning some races.
They have a variety of 3 and 4 name Spanish riders but lunch is almost over and I don't have time to run them down for current results. I'll say that they should be in there to contest a few stages.
Sylvain Chavanel can climb a bit (when he feels like it) and Tyler Farrar is coming off a terrific 9th at KBK. Tyler can sprint too but it's unknown if he'll get into the mix on the flat stages. I personally hope he does, as it would be nice to have another youngster (22) on the up and comers list.
Thor has been left at home so my guess is they'll be riding for their climber, Alexandre Botcharov.
The first and biggest of the fully loaded teams coming to win everything: Levi, Danielson, Alberto Contador, Vaitkus, Matty White, Popo, Paulinho, and Devolder. I believe every one of these guys already has race miles in their legs, and some have already shown winning form (Levi, Contador), or very good form (Vaitkus, Devolder). I'm guessing Popo and Danielson are under pressure to show that they're on track for May and July too.
EUSKALTEL - EUSKADI
Everyone for Sammy Sanchez
Same as above but for Philippe Gilbert
Not sure who's going to be captain, Rebellin or Bernard Kohl, but the course suits both depending on how the rest of the team rides. And yes, they actually have a guy named Heinrich.
Fabio Baldato might be an opportunist, but I'm guessing they'll set up Daniele Bennati for some head banging with Boonen. That could be a great underlying theme to the race.
No Killer, no Pippo, but there is the Talented Mr. Paolini to watch. Very underrated rider.
Another pretty loaded team: Aerts, Evans, Horner, and Bert Roesems (last seen stringing everyone out for a long time last weekend in Belgium.) Horner is on form from ToC and if he's supported enough, he could pull a Bobby Julich circa 2005. Bears watching.
Another loaded team looking for stage wins: Boonen, Steegmens, Tosatto, De Jongh, Tankink. Yes they'll work for Boonen, but Steegmens should get his chances as well. He would love to be this year's QS version of Pippo. The guy can flat out motor.
Strong support cast working for Juan Antonio Flecha. I just love watching that guy ride, he's the Spanish Jens Voigt.
David Millar, and everyone's favorite condiment Iban Mayo. While watching the 2006 Vuelta last night (courtesy of Ruthann - thanks!) Phil and Paul were discussing Mayo's propensity to collapse on the first hard climb of (insert Tour name here), following that up with Paul's suggestion that he see a sports psychologist and Phil's prophesizing he'd be riding elsewhere in 2007. Classic!
A pretty strong if understated team: Mike Barry, Roger Hammond, Jakob Piil and Axel Mercx (older as they are), all supporting Patrik Sinkewitz. I'm interested in what sort of shape he's in with April up north not too far away.
Super loaded team #2: Both Schleck brothers, Dave Z., Christian Vandevelde, and Bobby Julich. I know Julich wants to ride another year, but this could be his last crack at a smaller stage race win. Also depends how strong Frank Schleck is too.
I'm wondering if Igor Astarloa can return to his former winning self? Or is Brett Lancaster from Oz ready to show somthing?