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Tour de France: Chris's Pick Five and Write!


I thought of going all-Russian, but Katusha beat me to it...

Rui Costa, Movistar

When it comes to managing his professional reputation, poor Rui Costa can't catch a break. First Carlos Barredo clubs him with a wheel. Then he loses his Portuguese national ITT title after a positive test for methylhexanasomething, only to be cleared of any wrongdoing (but not given his title back). Even his personal website is down. No doubt his dog has kicked sand in his face too.

On the plus side, Movistar have stood by the 24-year-old talent, and after sitting until April he's back in business. By May he even scored his first big stage race win in a while, the Vuelta al Communidad de Madrid, besting Javier Moreno, Jonathan Castroviejo and a motley crew of disgraced Gerolsteiners for the title. The boy can climb, but he hasn't shown the high-mountain ability on the big stage, so his maillot blanc propsects are behind a few of the pure climber types like Bauke Mollema. He's sort-of Kreuziger-in-waiting, and Movistar, lacking a GC threat, would love to stop waiting. Plan B might be the middle mountain stages. His crono is solid but after three weeks... ?

More, including picture boy...

George Hincapie, BMC

Time to pay our respects to one of the old warriors of the peloton. Hink makes his 16th Tour start, tying Joop Zoetemelk's record, which he plans to break next year. Not bad for a guy who makes his living at Paris-Roubaix. As for whether he can bring home any souvenirs, that comes down to Sunday's team time trial, where a BMC win could get George his long-sought moment in Yellow. The crono squad is good -- Evans, Bookwalter, Hincapie himself -- but if it doesn't happen, there are a few early stages in Brittany he could like. After that it's back to what he does as well as anyone: working for a yellow jersey contender.

Peter Velits, HTC

Back to the kids. Velits was an intriguing guy at the start of the season, coming off a Vuelta podium place and a strong Worlds appearance. Since then... [crickets]. Tour prep is like that sometimes, and Velits' Vuelta was no fluke, including a time trial win and consistently decent climbing. So it's reasonable to expect one of two results from him in France: solid support of team leader Tony Martin, or a stealth top-15 GC placing. Smart money's on the former since this is more of a pure climbers' course. Watch out for HTC in the TTT, as if you weren't already.

One other note, if the news turns bad on HTC's desperate sponsorship search, what's a Velits to do? Stick with the plan of working for Martin and hope? Or seek a stage win and theoretically enhance his value for his next contract, coming up rather suddenly? My guess is that DSs are smart enough to view the former with a keen eye, and the latter as a shiny object. Besides, it's not as if they don't all already know who he is.

Ramunas Navardauskas, Garmin-Cervelo

One of the more sensational team selections goes to the young -- and I mean young (22) -- Lithuanian. The seed was planted in a Peter Stetina diary where Ramunas was described as more machine than man. He had previously caught a few people's sharp eye with a leadout in the first big stage sprint at Tirreno-Adriatico, won by Tyler Farrar. Since then, results have been on the agenda, including some top-5 stages in Turkey, third overall in the Ster Tour behind Gilbert and Terpstra, and victory in the Lithuanian road race yesterday (plus second in the ITT).

The other sensations revolve around whose spot he may have taken. Dan Martin? Vaughters hinted pretty strongly this spring that Martin needed to stretch out his awesomeness at the Giro or Vuelta (answer: Vuelta) first. Johan Van Summeren? Tough, tough call. But while Summie is the poster boy for awesome domestique work in the Tour, Ramunas adds in that leadout position for the sprints and the ITT power needed for the TTT, a major Garmin-Cervelo priority. Stetina didn't get the call -- one more round for some of the long-time veteran climbers -- but hopefully the legend of Ramunas will grow on its own.

Thomas Voeckler, Europcar

I had a nice rental experience with Europcar last year, so I thought I'd shed some light on l'Armee Vendee Verde. This year they have two special things going, Tommy Voeckler's form and three days on home soil, the Vendee region, celebrated by the Grand Depart. CW says they go all-in for a home stage win, and Voeckler is the man for the job. Saturday is a vague possibility with a rise at the finish. Sunday is more of a day to not kill themselves in the TTT. Monday they're off to Brittany, and where's the special honor in that? So, yes, watch Voeckler on opening day. Twenty-one other teams surely will.

Then there's his GC prospects. It's easy to imagine Voeckler sticking to stage duties, maybe on a mid-mountain stage or the Pinerolo downhiller. It's equally easy to imagine him helping Pierre Rolland maintain his position more regularly, or even a maillot a pois challenge (he finished third two years ago). It's more smart than easy to imagine his tenth in the Dauphine as a red herring. But... the guy is on the form of his life. A top ten in the Tour would be huge for his legacy. If he's close after the Pyrenees and still feeling good, he has to try for the GC, just this once, right?

Photo by Spence Platt, Getty Images Sport