I don't have a lot to say about this race yet, but I do want to start having some fun with the World's Fourth Greatest Stage Race,* so as the road slowly starts tilting upward, let's look into who's here on business travel. Not all teams considered, just the interesting ones. Commentary by Tourbeccow... On the flip!
[* Reasonable minds subject to disagreement. And IP bans.]
1. Columbia-High Road
Remember when their extra name (the THR part) was just self-righteous policy spin? Now it apparently refers to their love of altitude, with wins in Europe's highest city (Davos, alt. 1560 meters, lower than most of Colorado, Utah, Idaho and Wyoming) and again today in Lumino after traversing the cat-1 Lukmanierpass (1940 meters). Cycling's Best Everyday Team continue to bring Bob Stapleton's original vision to life, with a steady diet of riders around the front, a variety of stage winners, and the unstoppable Mark Cavendish as the face of the franchise. Saturday they took spots 4-7 of the time trial. Yesterday they sent Tony Martin on a rather threatening flier before lining Bernhard Eisel up for a narrow win (and a pointed lecture from Oscar Freire). Today it was a little more straightforward, as Burghardt, Martin, Eisel and Hincapie shepherded Cav over the big stuff for an easy sprint win. Tomorrow is another weird stage that won't be easy to handicap -- an HC climb and another long one with a drop down to Stafa -- so look for the Everyday Boys to get at least three guys on the front, regardless of how it shakes out.
Tourbeccow says: I like a team with a strong communal spirit. And the straw-colored kits look pretty yummy too.
2. Saxo Bank
So... is it the hors categoire Gotthardpass, early tomorrow? Or will it be the long drag up to Sattelegg (of love?) later in the day? Or will it somehow not come about til the one-two gut-punch of the Albergpass and Serfaus climbs on Wednesday? My guess is that one of these junctures will mark the moment when team control shifts from Fabian Cancellara to Frank Schleck, but it likely won't happen until Tony has thoroughly combusted on the road. It's the feelgood story of the year: hometown hero comes back from a miserable year, wins a short time trial, and gamely hangs on through a pair of unusual stages that look selective at first blush but don't tempt out the big guns. I'm getting all tingly just writing about it.
But it has to end, or Cancellara will pass his form peak about a month ahead of schedule. Nevertheless, Saxo are loaded for the race, with both Schlecks and and Goose Larsson freewheeling along in the peloton. Riis' boys aren't off to the best of starts (if we can call five months "a start") this year, so if parading around with the jersey makes them feel better, I can think of a number of teams who would be happy to have them carry it right to the starthouse of the final ITT. Everybody wins, except for the final ITT, where only one does, and it probably won't be Frank.
Tourbeccow says: I know they give their best day in and day out. That's all you can ask for in life.
Obviously sitting pretty waiting to inherit the lead once Cancellara blows up, though with the top ten sorted out by mere seconds Kreuziger and his mates will have the ability to defer ownership of the jersey til maybe stage 5, at which point they will need to step up. Of course, there's some question about who "they" is, besides Kreuziger. OK, Oliver Zaugg is around, but here's a dilemma: do you leave Zaugg -- a fair climber but infrequent protagonist -- in the service of his leader, or do you just tell Kreuziger to follow wheels over the next few days and let Zaugg take a stage flier at some point? He's Swiss, so presumably this is a big deal for him, and the team would get a ton of attention if he pulled it off. Tomorrow would even be a good place to try... but Zaugg is too close to the lead to get free so far. Anyway, unless he dumps some time, the point is moot and he's Kreuziger's wingman.
Tourbeccow says: It is so refreshing to see young talent blossoming. I sure do like that Kreuziger.
Is it just me, or do others think the world's greatest stage racing team should, you know, win a stage race? Sure, Alberto Contador won the Pais Vasco and the Algarve, but not Paris-Nice and not the Dauphine. And he owns half of the team's 14 wins, with the rest a handful of small stages and Levi Leipheimer's exploits on US soil. More and more Astana are looking like Contador and Company, not the dynamic multi-pronged attack capable of sweeping the stage-racing world off its feet. There's much to love about Contador, of course, and the domestique squad (Horner, Popovych) is top-rate. But with that dynamic, what the hell do you do with Kloden, Brajkovic, Leipheimer and The Lance? Me, I farm them out to all of the races listed in my "what's the fourth best stage race" as well as the Vuelta and try to win everything in sight. Bruyneel seems to have all of them on track for some unnamed role in the Tour. Whatever, they may yet gang up on the Tour, but I'm not sure teams like Saxo or Cervelo or Rabobank should be quaking in their boots. Anyway, it just seems pointless to send Kloden to the Suisse without some more climbing support. Maybe Schar and Rast took up the extra spots...
Tourbeccow says: I think it's admirable that this international collection of racing stars have come together to help encourage cycling in places like Kazakhstan. Also, that Lance Armstrong ... I can't get enough of his Twitter updates!
For a team that has done so little all year and is tied with Tabriz Petrochemical Cycling Team in the victory rankings, the Milkmen look as though they may be poised to deliver something soon. OK, maybe we should ban the use of "milkmen" and "deliver" in the same sentence. Do people still even get milk deliveries? Anyway, I haven't studied the early stages, being away all weekend, so I will merely note that they have five guys within a minute of the lead, including Linus Gerdemann.
Tourbeccow says: There's something I really like about these guys, but I can't... quite... put my hoof on it...