Time for another accountability moment. The info below takes my July 1 teams preview, replacing the predictions with an update on where each team stands. I'm done with power polls on this subject; if you haven't noticed that CSC is the best team, you should switch to watching TapouT.
Who's it about? Cyril Dessel mostly. Dessel did a terrific, if unexpected, job of hanging with the big boys on all the climbs of the 2006 Tour, landing in sixth place on GC in Paris. Vlad Efimkin, Tadej Valjavec and John Gadret will be useful allies in the mountains.
Can they do it? Have they done it? Amazingly, AG2R have owned second place in the team rankings for over a week. They're just over 9 minutes back of CSC (of course)... while third place Rabobank trails by more than an hour. Efimkin has been steady and a constant presence in the Alps. Too bad Riccardo Ricco and his magic potion temporarily hijacked Efimkin's win on stage 9. He and Valjavec have both cracked the top ten, though stiff challenges from Kim Kirchen and Andy Schleck could upset matters. Best of all perhaps, Cyril Dessel nabbed stage 16 off La Bonette, after being second on stage 9. Elmiger was pipped at the post for stage 11. Verdict: if they hang on Saturday, a huge success.
Who's it about? Then 23-y.o. Roman Feillu was just beginning to draw notice for keeping up with the Boonens and McEwens and Hushovds in the opening stages of the 2007 Tour, when he DNF'd in the Alps. He'll have Jimmy Casper, a former stage winner, on hand, and Christophe Moreau to either lend a hand or go after his own latest moment of glory.
Have they done it? Moreau is shrouded in ugly mystery, but Feillu saved the team's month by getting himself into yellow after a stage 3 escape. Casper disappeared in the Alps. Verdict: mezza-mezza. They could use a stage win pronto.
Barloworld... Part-time Challengers, Sprinters
Who's it about? For now, all eyes are on Juan Mauricio Soler, a candidate for a high GC placing or at least a successful defense of his KOM jersey. But for a GC team, they have a pretty sharp sprinter in Robbie Hunter, second for the Green Jersey last year to a guy (Boonen) who's not starting this time. After that, Soler is more or less on his own.
Have they done it? Only in the most child-scolding sense (e.g., "they've really done it now"). Soler crashed out early, sparing him the Duenas ugliness and disintegration of the team. On the bike, Hunter could use that stage win, ASAP, at least to help cement his next contract. They've been invisible in races except when Augustyn fell on the Bonnette. Verdict: merde.
Bouygues Telecom... Stage Hunters
Who's it about? Take your pick... Clement is a fine time trialist, though his opportunities consist of beating Cancellara on a modest course early on or hanging in til stage 20. Yuriy Trofimov was a revelation at the Dauphine Libere, winning the stage to Morzine and nearly bagging the KOM jersey. Thomas Voeckler will be on the loose somewhere.
Have they done it? Pretty nondescript effort to date. Trofimov had a go at stage 2 but didn't make it, finally dropping out before Hautacam. Voeckler's KOM jersey ambitions faded as soon as the climbs got serious. No stages. Verdict: unsuccessful; look for one last attempt at a break.
Caisse d'Epargne... Contenders
Who's it about? El Imbatible, natch. Alejandro Valverde's GC placing seems to be the only thing on the team's mind this year. No Vlad Karpets for the (scant) time trials; no Xabier Zandio for sprints. As far as I can tell, they're all in for the climbs: Arroyo, Lopez, Pereiro, Sanchez Gil... quality.
Have they done it? Valverde has crawled back up the GC ladder, and is looking better, but so far the highlight has been Luis Leon Sanchez Gil's successful escape to win stage 7. Pereiro's fall was a near-nightmare. Verdict: Can we go home now?
Who's it about? Sylvain Chavanel and maybe Maxime Monfort. DS Eric Boyer is downplaying expectations after putting four first-timers on the roster, but you have to think they'll send out some feelers for a top-10 GC finish. Leonardo Duque is the designated sprinter. David Moncoutie is the resident veteran stage-hunter, with a couple palmares in the last three years.
Have they done it? Monfort was in contention for the white jersey until the Alps. Chavanel has been active and briefly held the KOM. Moncoutie was seen among the giants on the Alpe, but only briefly. A stage win would help a lot, but the chances are basically gone. Oh, and Chavanel's moving to Flanders. Verdict: Disappointing.Forgot about Dumoulin's win. Also, now add Chavanel, though I wonder how it plays, the day after he signs with Quick Step?
Crédit Agricole... Sprinters
Who's it about? Hushovd, at least at the start. Big Thor has been the team's main Tour protagonist for years, highlighted by some time in yellow and a green jersey. I'm sure they have other riders looking to do something (Botcharov, Gerrans, Pauriol), but Hushovd's ambitions should take precedence.
Have they done it? Hushovd's green jersey campaign didn't translate well on the undulating parcours and never really got going til too late. But he got one stage, and Gerrans won a dramatic breakaway on the ride to Prato Nevoso. Verdict: not too shabby!
Who's it about? Haimar Zubeldia, Sammy Sanchez, and Mikel Astarloza, though there's some debate about what order. Gone from this year's Tour squad are guys who do anything but climb, like Koldo Fernandez. This is a pure GC squad, with potential for stages in the process.
Have they done it? Zubeldia has been a big letdown. Astarloza and Sanchez have been slightly better, but headwinds ruined his planned downhill assault on the field coming off the Bonette. Still, with a good time trial he could improve his already-solid 8th place by a spot. Fernandez hasn't been seen much. Verdict: Not the spectacle they'd hoped for.
Française des Jeux... Stage Hunters
Who's it about? Sandy Casar is the GC guy, or at least a top-flight stage hunter. Philippe Gilbert is another stage hunter, though his plans to defect to Silence-Lotto probably won't earn him much freedom in the team. Seb Chavanel can bag a sprint when things work out for him, and Rémy Di Gregorio could win the hearts and minds of the country if he puts his talents to work in the mountains. A KOM jersey would be a shrewd move.
Have they done it? Done what? Sebastian Chavanel just missed a stage sprint, and so far that ranks as the highlight of the campaign. Casar is riding near the front but hasn't much to show for it yet, aside from the distinction of being the top-placed Frenchman at 14th. Di Gregorio lit up the first Pyrenean climb, before falling back. Philippe Gilbert's attacking-all-the-time strategy predictably didn't pan out. Verdict: [yawn]
Who's it about? Robert Forster and Heinrich Haussler fill out the sprinters' ranks. Markus Fothen goes for a long-shot GC placing. No shortage of classics guys around to hunt for a stage (Wegmann, Kohl, etc.).
Have they done it? Mein gott! What a surprising Tour this has been. Kohl came from nowhere to bag the mountains prize and challenge for the maillot jaune, the most stunning result of all so far. He's clinging to a podium spot, and might get seriously exposed in the time trial, but the rest of his work won't be forgotten anytime soon. Sebastian Lang did a decent job climbing, and Stefan Schumacher has been spectacular. Verdict: beyond Holczer's wildest dreams. [Ahem... sponsors??]
High Road/Columbia... Contenders
Who's it about? Kim Kirchen, mostly, thanks to last year's 7th at the Tour and otherwise excellent riding everywhere he went. Kanstantin Siutsou and Thomas Lovkvist are two young longshots for a notable GC place. Hincapie plays the captain/uber-teammate role, while Cavendish and Ciolek chase sprint glory. Their glue guys are Eisel, Burghardt and Adam Hansen, if that's any indication of this team's depth of quality. [Hint: it is.]
Have they done it? Kirchen has slipped back in the overall rankings, though he's within hailing distance of the top 10. Their first week dominance, along with all the jerseys, then followed by the slew of stage wins (five so far), has given their new sponsor a vast, immediate payoff. Siutsou and Lovkvist didn't quite get the GC breakout the team might have liked, but they emerged as the preeminent stage team, dominating the race when they had a potential winner lined up. One more objective: Ciolek in Paris? Verdict: very successful.
Who's it about? Another simple one: Damiano Cunego. Unlike past years where Lampre have hedged their bets on the GC chase with (excellent) sprinters, this time around Bennati is gone, Napolitano has been left home, and the Kid has a raft of climbers in Szmyd, Marzano and Tiralongo to tow him around. Alessandro Ballan is a great teammate in the lowlands, and Lampre is intent on delivering Cunego to the high passes in one piece.
Have they done it? All you need to know about their Tour was summed up by -- as predicted -- the sight of Szmyd, Marzano and Tiralongo towing Cunego around today... 20 minutes off the back, bleeding through his shredded clothes. Apart from Ballan's occasional stage efforts, all they've proven is that Cunego can't cut it at the Tour. Verdict: an unmitigated, depressing disaster.
Liquigas... Stage Hunters
Who's it about? OK, here's a pessimistic call, just to keep things honest. Their GC guys are Kreuziger and Nibali. Their sprinter begged off with injury and left the job to his modestly-decorated understudy. They also have a bevy of fine riders... for the classics. Translation? Stage hunting.
Have they done it? With the bar set low, OK sure. Nibali held the maillot blanc for a while, and Kreuziger served notice that he's a B-list contender at a future Tour. But their brand was further tarnished by the Beltran doping matter, and Pippo Pozzato just jumped to the new Russian team. Verdict: positives can't quite outkick the negatives.
Quick Step... Stage Hunters
Who's it about? Tom Boonen, and his absence from the team. Stijn Devolder is the GC guy until he explodes in the mountains. Steegmans and De Jongh would be prime stage candidates, with Vandewalle and Barredo looking for the right breakaway.
Have they done it? Devolder disappeared on the first Alpine climb, unable to shake off the effects of a poorly-timed virus. Barredo came closest of anyone to a stage victory (so far), and is probably still cursing Marcus Burghardt. Highlight so far has been signing Sylvain Chavanel. Verdict: You can't have everything.
Who's it about? Denis Menchov and Oscar Freire. More than any other team, Rabobank (true to its nature) has divided its attention between objectives. With the Chicken cooked and Dekker out, at least they're only chasing two jerseys and not four. Both guys have some solid protection, with Flecha and Posthuma on the flats and Ten Dam in the mountains.
Have they done it? Menchov is still barely in contention for yellow, though in all likelihood he'll time-trial his way to the third step of the podium, a Tour best for him and Rabo. Also, Oscar Freire is finally joining the Green Jersey fraternity of sprinters, somewhat by default but also by consistency. They've been active and relatively exciting to watch. Verdict: pretty big success, particularly if Menchov moves up.
Saunier Duval... Secondary Contenders
Who's it about? Ricardo Ricco, and by secondary I mean secondary jerseys, not Yellow. Leo Piepoli, if healthy, will look to reprise their Giro plan by launching 1-2 punches at their rivals on the biggest slopes. Plenty of potential stage winners on hand too, I suppose.
Have they done it? They almost ruined the Tour. Verdict: Va fa Napoli.
Silence! Lotto... Contenders
Who's it about? Cadel Evans, firstly. Robbie McEwen will go stage hunting, and he'll likely have Van Summeren and old friend Leif H\o/ste by his side. The rest of the team is all in for Evans. Yaroslav Popovych is the world's greatest teammate, in case you didn't know.
Have they done it? Not yet. Evans has left himself some unfinished business... maybe even a tad too much. The team came in for plenty of criticism for failing to help him in the climbs, but aside from Popovych there was only so much you could expect. To top it off, McEwen has rarely come close in the sprints, though he too isn't quite done, now that Cavendish went home. Verdict: Incomplete. The difference between total success and failure is currently 1:34... and by Sunday it will likely be the blink of an eye.
Slipstream/Garmin... Stage Hunters
Who's it about? Take your pick. Magnus Backstedt and David Millar are the big names, though they can only win in breaks. Trent Lowe and Christian VandeVelde will eye their overall placing, as long as they're doing well.
Have they done it? Yes and no. VandeVelde isn't likely to pull off the major upset and get on the podium; too many guys have to crumple Saturday for him to get there. But he was the other big surprise after Kohl, and rode gloriously throughout. Also, Pate narrowly missed a stage win, and Will Frischkorn had a nice breakaway as well. Verdict: no on results; yes on showing the jersey and proving they belong.
Team CSC/Saxo Bank... Contenders
Who's it about? In order, Carlos Sastre, Frank Schleck, and Andy Schleck, or so they're saying. This is a GC squad; no more fliers on JJ Haedo. All these guys can climb, or hammer, or both. Fabian Cancellara is the non-GC superstar patron of the time trials... CSC's only real distraction from the main goal of yellow.
Have they done it? You have to ask? CSC are a rolling advertisement for the value of teamwork, which can currently be priced at one yellow kit, one white kit, and yet another team classification. Riis was recently overheard saying "Christian Prudhomme? He's working for me now." Yikes! Verdict: huge victory already; with the ultimate victory in reach.
Team Milram... Stage Hunters
Who's it about? Zabel, I suppose. I like that Terpstra kid. Peter Velits too.
Have they done it? Not sure what to say. I've pled my case for a Zabel win before we're done. Friday offers a chance. Velits was heroic until about the second switchback of the Alpe. Verdict: what more did you expect?