Time to take a look at the twenty teams, one by one, hazard a guess at their overall goals for the next three weeksand try to analyze whether they'll actually accomplish any of them. Buckle in, this will take a few minutes, even before Tourbecco has his say.
[Aside: my wife works in a rather youthful office environment, and she informs me that the way to sound hip is to add the word "-sauce" to the end of various epithets. "Dorksauce" or even the more positive "coolsauce." Here at the Cafe we like to stay connected to the young folks (as long as they stay off my lawn), so please bear with me.]
Key guys: Cyril Dessel, Rinaldo Nocentini, Vlad Efimkin
Objectif: Stages; Efimkin's GC placing.
Can they do it? Sure, they've done it before. Efimkin emerged on the cycling landscape by taking the lead in the 2007 Vuelta for a while and reinforced his grand tour chops by finishing 10th in last year's Tour. For my money their double-attack where they ran Tadej Valjavec and Efimkin together to take ninth and tenth on GC last year looks more impressive than this year's solo GC approach, but they burnt out Valjavec this spring, and with a 9th in the Giro and 7th in the Tour de Suisse it looks like a good choice. Efimkin and Dessel have Tour stage wins among their palmares, and Nocentini makes a living at the business end of moderately hard bike races. The call: suavesauce.
Tourbecco's Team Motto: "Building a great French team, one Eastern European at a time."
Key guys: Maxime Bouet, David LeLay, Romain Feillu, Nicholas Vogondy
Objectif: Stages, Young Rider comp (Bouet).
Can they do it? The good news for Agritubel is their keenly tuned nose for the line in '09, resulting in an impressive 16 victories. Even better is the nice mixture of results: Feillu is the bunch sprinter, Bouet and Vogondy the climbers, LeLay the rouleur. The bad news is that the highest profile win was Bouet's success in the Boucles de l'Aulne. The worse news came last week when Bouet announced his future move to AG2R. Ah well... live for today, boys. The call: poseursauce.
Tourbecco's Team Motto: "Not just a farm club... a SUPER farm club!"
Key guys: Alancevi Contastrongheimer. Don't overlook Haimar Zubeldia either.
Objectif: Jaune! It's funny, I was trying to imagine how they could pursue stages as a way to distract people from simply locking on their wheels. But who goes for the stage? Andreas Kloden's next violent acceleration will be his first.
Can they do it? Oh, I guess. Not sure what more to say, except this: as volatile as the Contador-Armstrong dynamic threatens to be, I'm not really sure you can criticize any of the principals. Contador can't be faulted for wanting to honor his contract, coming as it does with at least some level of spoken support. Armstrong, once he decided to come back, had only one plausible place from which to launch his high-profile experiment in age defiance. Leipheimer has thrived under Bruyneel, no matter how much his fans would like to see him in the captain's role. And who was Bruyneel supposed to run off? The preeminent stage racer of the current epoch? The guy who made him his fortune? The other elite and yet strangely loyal guys? It may be a mess, but if it is, it was kind of inevitable. The call: powersauce!
Tourbecco's Team Motto: "We're Number One! And Two! And..."
BBox Bouygues Telecom
Key guys: Pierrick Fedrigo, Thomas Voeckler, Yukiya Arashiro
Objectif: Stages, Mountains Jersey (Fedrigo), face time.
Can they do it? Yup. Fedrigo is coming off winning the maillot pois at the Dauphine Libere, so you can bet he has given some thought to going after the bigger prize. The all-rounder is having a typical year, and won't dislike the Pyrenean stages, I'd guess. Voeckler is a well-known commodity at the Tour and can be counted on for some long attacks, unless his GC position tempts him to race for a top twenty or something. Bweeg may actually have two guys chasing the maillot pois. And imagine this... Arashiro is a very young, unknown bunch galloper and the only Japanese rider (besides the nondescript Fumy Beppu) to start the Tour. What if he steals a stage from a small group, say on radio-free day? How many Bbox audio players will they sell in Japan? I guarantee you Arashiro isn't the only person associated with Bweeg who's dreamt of this happening. The call: secret sauce.
Tourbecco's Team Motto: "Are those 25 rising suns on your jersey?"
Key guys: Rigoberto Uran, Rui Costa, Luis Leon Sanchez
Objectif: Stages, GC position, Young Rider comp
Can they do it? They have to be targeting the Pyrenees, where their climbers can probably get away without dragging the entire peloton. Both Arroyo and Sanchez are strong all-rounders with only the faintest GC dreams. Uran and Rui Costa are both starting their first Tour, and talent alone doesn't usually save you under such circumstances. But both are thought of as guys to watch for later, and Rui Costa has been on fire for the last two months. At least one of them should make a stab at the white jersey. The call: kidsauce.
Tourbecco's Team Motto: No chasing GC fool's gold in '09... thank you CONI!"
Cervélo Test Team
Key guys: Carlos Sastre, Thor Hushovd, Heinrich Haussler
Objectif: Yellow and Green, in that order.
Can they do it? Don't bet the house. The Knights of é don't impress me on paper as an overall team, notwithstanding their incredible run this spring. This is the Tour, not Vlaamse Wielerweek. Apples and oranges... and I don't know if they can protect Sastre from the chippy little attacks Astana and Saxo will be launching all month. I do think they can make the green jersey comp a lot more fun, but as long as Cavendish is upright I can't see anyone else winning. I've been wrong about them all year, however, so don't listen to me. The call: oldsauce.
Tourbecco's Team Motto: "You liked us in black? You'll love us in white."
Key guys: David Moncoutie, Amael Moinard, Leonardo Duque
Can they do it? One note about French teams: their failure to excel over the last 20 years doesn't mean the Tour is a walk in the park for them. If anything, the pressure to do something is as high as ever. That said, I have no idea why Cofidis picked these guys. Sure, Moncoutie can be counted on for long escapes, and Moinard are plausible stage threats over a variety of terrain. But why no Julien El Fares? And why on Earth no Rein Taraame?!? The guy just won two national titles, a week after an extremely solid Tour de Suisse. What's so pressing about Stephane Auge's Tour ambitions to exclude their only plausible GC guy? The call: blandsauce.
Tourbecco's Team Motto: "Why try anything new or daring? It's not like we're losing our longtime sponsor or anything."
Key guys: Koldo Fernandez, Igor Anton, Mikel Astarloza
Objectif: Mountain wins, GC placings.
Can they do it? Nope. Too crowded. OK, Anton and Astarloza will be somewhere in the top 20, most likely, but that's it. The call: mysterysauce.
Tourbecco's Team Motto: "We're just here to train for the Vuelta."
Française des Jeux
Key guys: Yahueni Hutarovich, Sandy Casar, Jérôme Coppel
Objectif: Stages. No bones about it.
Can they do it? Casar might try for a GC placing, but his past suggests he would forego that for stages... maybe the maillot pois. Coppel isn't a great Young Rider threat, but you never know, and like the Caisse d'Epargne guys he's interesting to keep an eye on. But the Belarus Express, Hutarovich, seems like their best bet. Sprints will be crowded, but Hutarovich has five wins this year, including a national championship last weekend. The call: Belarusauce!
Tourbecco's Team Motto: "Keeping the dream of a French team in the CQ Top Ten alive!"
Key guys: Tyler Farrar, Christian VandeVelde, David Zabriskie
Objectif: Stages, and VandeVelde's top five GC aspirations
Can they do it? I dunno... nothing is going too well this year for the Gar-Men. Farrar isn't a great bet to win a stage on his first Tour, and with Cavendish patrolling the front. VandeVelde may find the going rougher this time around, with Lance and Alberto on hand. Zabriskie might be the best bet for a stage win, with the time trials shorter and more to his liking. The call: thinsauce.
Tourbecco's Team Motto: "Is it next year yet?"
Key guys: Roman Kreuziger, Daniele Bennati, Franco Pellizotti, Vincenzo Nibali
Objectif: GC placings, Young Rider comp (Kreuziger).
Can they do it? Italian teams traditionally (nowadays) come to the Tour with low expectations and patchwork teams, but not these guys. OK, their sprint squad is in shambles since Bennati can't stay healthy for more than five minutes, but even without Basso the Gassers are bringing some serious GC mettle to the race. Worst case: Pellizotti is gassed (and his aversion to racing the Tour turns out to be for good reason) and Kreuziger and Nibali can't hang in week three. But it's plausible that the modest Pyrenean route and the TTT will call on their strengths and give the 'Gaz a huge boost of confidence. And if Andy Schleck is in yellow, Kreuziger could easily be in white. The call: babesauce.
Tourbecco's Team Motto: "Come for the babe-age, stay for the wattage."
Key guys: Marzio Bruseghin, Alessandro Ballan
Objectif: Stages, some GC notice, showing the arc-en-ciel
Can they do it? Tiering off my Liquigas intro, this is a more typical Italian team: not much hope of making noise, though Ballan's rainbow jersey will serve as a reminder that in other arenas they are players. The call: irrelevantsauce.
Tourbecco's Team Motto: "You may remember us from such races as Varese '08 and the Giro di Lombardia?"
Key guys: Shaggy Karpets, Pippo Pozzato, Serguei Ivanov, Danilo Napolitano
Objectif: Stages, GC presence (Karpets), stop the madness
Can they do it? Nobody is having a worse month than Katusha. Survivable, perhaps, but the PR hit they're taking from the ham-fisted effort to get their riders to sign an anti-doping pledge hasn't been pretty. Five times your salary is a hard pill to swallow for any rider, even in today's strict anti-doping environment. Consequently, Kenny DeHaes is out the door, and Gert Steegmans is home. So too is Robbie McEwen, who started the insurrection before relenting, but he's not fit yet. What could have been a multi-pronged sprint attack is now just the Eyebrow of Sicily and his more glamorous countryman. Karpets has some history at the Tour, though he's been much more dangerous in the Vuelta. Decent course for him, I suppose. The call: Jerksauce.
Tourbecco's Team Motto: "Who needs karma? Or a serious sprinter? Or a GC threat? Or..."
Key guys: Linus Gerdemann, Gerald Ciolek, Peter Velits, Niki Terpstra
Objectif: Stages, GC (Gerdemann)
Can they do it? The road back from complete oblivion is long, but I will happily say that Milram are on it. Young and dynamic may not be the pathway to glory at the Tour, but it sure beats old and one-dimensional. Ciolek looks like he needs a little more seasoning, but Terpstra and Velits have both notched wins in the last month, and will likely rule any small group that they can jump away with. Gerdemann could also repeat his Tour stage glory in the Pyrenees, though this year's peloton will have more like-minded riders than the 2007 edition did. A better result might be top 20. Hell, making it to Paris would be notable, since he's only done so once. The call: Friskysauce.
Tourbecco's Team Motto: "The train has left the station."
Key guys: Pretty much everyone.
Objectif: Stages, jerseys, GC placings.
Can they do it? Cavendish is a heavy favorite for Green. Kirchen should like this edition more than the last. Tony Martin has been on fire. If they don't win the TTT I'll go into shock. The Everyday Boys could set team records for wins, maybe even points. The call: Awesomesauce.
Tourbecco's Team Motto: "Every day, (almost) every way."
Key guys: Stijn Devolder, Sylvain Chavanel, the French Olympic Committee
Can they do it? Depending on the Boonen resolution, maybe. Davis would make the finale here and there, but a fit Boonen (is this even true?) would give Cav a better run for his money. Can't disrespect a former maillot vert. Devolder and Chavanel will be stage-hunting, both with pretty huge credentials. Chavanel on Bastille Day could result in a general strike. The call: Nervesauce.
Tourbecco's Team Motto: "Eleven months of house money a year."
Key guys: Denis Menchov, Oscar Freire, Robert Gesink
Objectif: Yellow and Green.
Can they do it? Not the favorite for either, but they are very, very relevant. Each year their plan becomes incrementally more coherent, to the point where the team now makes some sense. In previous editions they had the Chicken chasing KOM points, a freelancing distraction to Menchov's plans. Menchov himself didn't appear overly confident, which made their plans subject to change. Now, Menchov is a treble grand tour winner, and over some serious competition. Now guys like Gesink know they should fall into line behind the Russian and give their all. Even Freire's points drive is a pleasant distraction, if it's a distraction at all, since Oscarito needs little help and can lend a hand on the mountain stages. The call: Happysauce.
Tourbecco's Team Motto: "What's gonna work? Team work!"
Key guys: Kenny Van Hummel, Cyril Lemoine
Can they do it? I doubt it. Van Hummel is their star, but his special power is bunch sprinting, and he won't be the favorite in any of those. As a Dutch team their forte is riding the classics, so look for guys like Lemoine in all the breaks. But how many of these will succeed? And how many other teams are basing their season on making the same selection? The Tour is rarified air, for sure. The call: roadfurnituresauce.
Tourbecco's Team Motto: "Sean Kelly isn't walking through that door."
Key guys: Every last one of them
Objectif: Overall victory
Can they do it? Sure, though another step on the podium is a safer call. Riis has gone all-in for Andy this year; Frank's knee adds a little more clarification (and it's a little touching that Frank will carry on despite his knee -- we tease him but you know he wouldn't miss his little brother's coronation for anything). Nobody has more workhorses at his disposal than Andy. And just a guess but I suspect they're the first TTT squad featuring the Olympic gold and silver medalists. The call: Sweetsauce.
Tourbecco's Team Motto: "You can't stop us. You can only hope to contador us."
Key guys: Cadel Evans, Jurgen Van den Broeck, Greg Van Avermaet
Objectif: Stages, podium place.
Can they do it? Ah... nope. Well, Cadel could sneak onto the podium, but once again he hasn't got a ton of support, and he's only getting older (and seemingly less confident). Over the last four years or so he has occasionally looked like the world's #1 rider, but Cadel's not having a very interesting season, unless you consider losing his lead in the Dauphine interesting. No mojo, and the Dekker story only further depresses the mood. The call: white whine sauce.
Tourbecco's Team Motto: "Nobody understands me but my dog."