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Le Tour Ultra-Power Poll!

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Letour-square-09_mediumA week ago I ran down the teams and their various ambitions for the month, with no ranking. Well, we're six riveting stages into the race, and a handful of critical subjects are starting to formulate a narrative. But this is no regular teams power poll. No, in the Tour everything is bigger, and only one format fits: the Ultra Poll! Here we run down the top ten teams in stage wins, GC, secondary jerseys, TV exposure, and fashion. Points are assigned in each category on a 0-5 scale, and added together for a total score. More points > less points. W/o ado...

1. Astana

Stage Wins: One to their credit, the TTT. More are inevitable. They may finish second only to Columbia in this regard, despite only winning stages on purpose when aero bars are involved. 4

GC: Quoth Russell, from the Terminator: It's what they do. It's all they do. And they will not stop... EVER! Until they are dead! [Or the race is over and they're celebrating, which is more likely.] 5

Secondary Jerseys: From time to time Bruyneel has had someone on hand to pursue the maillot blanc, but that's mostly coincidence. Same with the team comp. 2

TV Time: I spent a portion of last weekend trying to put into perspective the collective bitterness expressed by some Cafe members about the amount of TV time Astana get. Apparently the trend is similar in Europe. 5

Fashion: I finally understand their kit: it's like a challenge on Project Runway where Tim Gunn tells the designers "your challenge this week is to design a tasteful professional cycling kit..." (audible sighs and smiles) "...using (dramatic pause) the flag of Kazakhstan!" (Groans...) 2 Tourbecco_cropped_medium

Totals: 20 points!

Tourbecco's Verdict: "You're going to ruin this Tour tomorrow, aren't you?"

Settle in folks! More on the flip... 

2. Columbia-HTC

Stage Wins: The patrons of the controllable stage victories. I'd like to see them pull off something more difficult, however, rather than play the one-trick pony role in the bunch gallops. Honestly, shepherding Mark Cavendish to a flat sprint win has a degree of difficulty somewhere between cartwheel and belly-flop. 4

GC: Yellow is no longer realistic (was it ever?) after Rogers' crash. Good on him for simply staying in the race. Time for Kirchen and Monfort to start working the back end of the top ten. Two guys up high, and maybe Martin hanging around... at some point the secondary placings pile up enough for people to notice. 3.5

Secondary Jerseys: Two in hand at the moment, but Columbia should be grateful to take one home, as both the green and white jerseys are under serious threat. Cavendish needs to claw his way onto Hushovd's wheel over the few remaining stages that, like today, offer Hushovd a chance of stealing points while Cav gets shut out. Then Cav needs to take care of business the rest of the time. If Kirchen & co. crap out in the Pyrenees, I think you'll see them shift into break-crushing mode for a week, since the stage win nets the greatest differential in points over the guy behind you. As for white, I don't think they can protect Martin from Kreuziger or Andy Schleck, so he should enjoy it while it lasts. 4

TV Time: Cav is the second-most telegenic figure in the race so far, behind Lance, and that's one competition where he's not at risk of being displaced by Hushovd. 4

Fashion: Damage control time? Still in white shorts, and the fake abs seem to be morphing into the outline of a motocross helmet, which isn't exactly an improvement. But the green is nice and the new font is a step up. 1.5 Tourbecco_cropped_medium

Totals: 17 points

Tourbecco's Verdict: "Stage 3 was pretty cool, but 18 stages is a long, long runout."

3. Saxo Bank

Stage Wins: Seem to be a point of pride for Cancellara, and not merely the prologues or short TTs. Actually, I think he is planning a sneak attack on the road race rainbow jersey in Mendrisio. He seems to like wearing that special kit on more than just his skinsuit. Once he's out of yellow he can go stage-hunting again. 2.5

GC: Somebody has to put up a fight against Astana. Andy Schleck has kept his powder dry in a hairy first week, so while nobody is betting the farm, he's certainly where he needs to be for a podium finish. More than you can say for a LOT of guys already. 4

Secondary Jerseys: Schlecklet is a natural for the maillot blanc, barring bad luck or an inhuman effort from Kreuziger. 4

TV Time: Who doesn't love interviewing the Swiss Bear? He makes eye contact, looks good, speaks your language (in the case of English, with just enough trouble to sound cute). Being in yellow for a week doesn't hurt. 4.5

Fashion: Meh meh meh! It's fitting they're now named after a bank, since their kit is about as exciting as an annual report. 1.5 Tourbecco_cropped_medium

Totals: 16.5 points

Tourbecco's Verdict: "How much would you pay for Jens!-cam, 24-hour access? Riis could fund a whole second team on the proceeds from this."

4. Cervelo Test Team

Stage Wins: When they're on, they don't mess around. Thor is clearly riding the chicken now. Question is whether Sastre or Haussler (to the extent he has any skin left) can join him. 3

GC: What must a defending champ do to get some respect? He could start by not losing the better part of three minutes in six days. 3.5

Secondary Jerseys: One way to discount Hushovd's insurgent campaign for Green is that after five stages he was nowhere, and it only became a competition when he won and Cav couldn't bag secondary points. What's more likely, another day like this or another Cavendish winning streak next week? Still, you have to admire what Thor's doing. 3

TV Time: It's early, but they don't seem to be drawing much attention, save for the finale today. Maybe the network is worried that people will see their colorless kit and start adjusting their TV set. 2

Fashion: You could say this is exhibit A in why you don't mess with success, but I think they set themselves up for trouble with the all-blacks. Yes, they were very cool, and no, they weren't going to feel good in the hot French sun. Something had to give, and it did. 3 Tourbecco_cropped_medium

Totals: 14.5 points

Tourbecco's Verdict: "Can I continue my year-long streak of massively underestimating this team? Yes, yes I can."

5t. Garmin-Slipstream

Stage Wins: In baseball, a hitter in a slump will often start hammering the ball right at people, which is usually a sign that the slump is just about over. That's Garmin right now: after non-stop misery this year, they have missed out on four stage wins this week by irritatingly narrow margins: Millar by about 1.5km today; the TTT squad by 16", and Wiggins third in the opening ITT by a mere 19". Oh, and Farrar was second to Cav in Stage 2. It will come... 3

GC: Not unlike their stage chances, their overall hopes are too easily overlooked. In a Tour where maillot jaune contenders keep falling by the wayside, Garmin have Wiggins sitting in sixth and their main guy Christian VandeVelde in eighth, a mere 1.16 back. Yellow? Not likely, but a podium is close enough to touch. 4

Secondary Jerseys: Unless they have a secret plan to launch a KOM campaign, I'd say no way. They sit fourth in the team comp, but Farrar's hopes of green have been put on hold for a year or so. 1

TV Time: Thoroughly exposed, for good or ill. 3.5

Fashion: I still don't get it. The gold sleeves on the skinsuits are bad goombah "Real Housewives of New Jersey" nonsense. But otherwise it's OK. 2 Tourbecco_cropped_medium

Totals: 13.5 points

Tourbecco's Verdict: "Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!!"

5t. Liquigas

Stage Wins: Ah... no. And thank goodness; we had enough server troubles today without Daniele Bennati bagging a stage and melting down our entire network. 1

GC: In the thick of things for secondary positions. The guy I want to see more of later is Vincenzo Nibali. He's 24, has had a couple seasons for the shock to wear off, and although he isn't considered a contender it would be cool to see him make some strides in the massive final week. Kreuziger will continue serving notice that he's a serious threat for the 2012 Tour. 4

Secondary Jerseys: The better of Kreuziger or Nibali stands to inherit the maillot blanc if anything happens to Schlecklet, but I wouldn't count on it. 2

TV Time: For a team not launching insane breakaway efforts, they've been spotted up front pretty often. That, plus their model looks, should help continue the trend of positive coverage. 4

Fashion: Do people love the lime and blue? No, but it's in kind of a classic phase now. 2.5 Tourbecco_cropped_medium

Totals: 13 points

Tourbecco's Verdict: "Has anyone actually tried attaching a speedplay cleat to a pair of Ferragamo loafers? This must happen."

Other Notables (by category)

Stage Wins: Bbox Bweeg were not to be denied, and at least one more French win has to happen. I'll go with AG2R. And Oscar Freire will eventually help Rabobank stop clinging to their bitterness and Giro trophy.

GC: Regardless of what has gone down, you haven't heard the last of Silence (Evans), Milram (Gerdemann) or Katusha (Karpets).

Secondary Jerseys: Covered everything above except polka dots. Jussi Veikkanen, Stephane Auge and Sylvain Chavanel seem interested. I'm still waiting on Fedrigo too. But really, until tomorrow there's almost nothing to say.

TV Time: Besides the above, surely Katusha have quite a few long breaks on next week's duller stages in store, no? And of course Cofidis will prove their existence beyond a certain level of doubt on Tuesday.

Fashion: AG2R, what have you done? I like the boldness of going with brown shorts -- probably even more respectable than their former sunny, pleasant, but not overly daring kit. But can you think of a worse pairing than sky blue? Is this an Earth and Sky motif? However you slice it, it's a fashion disaster. Kudos to Caisse d'Epargne, though, for sticking with black in July, and putting fashion ahead of their GC hopes.