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Tour de France: Teams Wrapup, Editorial Soul Searching, and a Word From Tourbecco


[File photo]

Well, you can't drive the nail in the coffin of a grand tour without looking back, rehashing some predictions, and inviting a cartoon goat to say something about the entire sport of cycling. So let's get started.

...Hm, Tourbecco seems to be running late. I'm sure it's nothing. Maybe this is a good time to type up a caveat or two. Grading system this time is just pass/fail, with a special third category for teams that don't fit the bill there, to be made up as I go along (shocking, I know). Also, I'm just one overscheduled, forgetful person, so if I have shafted any teams, or simply overlooked key details, please feel free to supplement this post. Indeed, if I hadn't missed any detail from a three week race involving 189 riders and assorted other characters, it wouldn't speak too well of, say, our family vacation. Or my day job. But like many of you I have survived another grand boucle with my job intact (I think), my kids intact (there's two of them, right?), and my sanity somewhere nearby. Anyway, Tourbecco hasn't shown yet, but he can jump in when he gets here.

Saxo Bank Sungard

Plan A: GC

Grade: Fail

Commentary: All things considered, Alberto Contador acquitted himself well enough to earn a little more respect from my grading system, but if you can't hold a guy who's won his last six grand tour starts to ridiculous standards, who can you? Icarberto flew too close to the Giro-Tour Double Sun, and got his wings singed a bit in the process. Even there the Cycling Gods were showing uncharacteristic lenience... possibly due to what they've got in store for him next.

That said, Contador may have at least improved his popular standing. His attacks on the Alpe d'Huez stage were just what all those boo-bird fans say repeatedly they want to see more of. Also, this being France, Contador's unpopularity surely said more about his success than his nationality or ethics (though neither was forgotten). Now that he's finally lost one, true Tour fans are gonna miss Bert when he's gone.

The rest of the team was neither seen nor heard from much, though in a mashup Tour like this perhaps that's for the best. Richie Porte's inauspicious Tour debut saw him placed as the second-best Australian on GC... a full two hours and change behind his more decorated countryman. Chris Anker Sorensen's stock as one of Bert's minders rose in value. 

Surprisingly Good/Alarmingly Bad Prediction: 

Riis does have Richie Porte to play the threatening foil role, so it's not all Bert and the Watercarriers.

Oops, I got my 2011 and 2012 Tour previews mixed up. Sorry bout that.

WWTS? Obviously this means "what would Tourbecco say?" The answer is, of course, something terrible, but I can't pretend to channel Tourbecco in any literal way. So instead I will nominate a Theme Song From Tourbecco If He Hadn't Gotten Stuck in Traffic*: Neil Young, Let's Impeach the President. When you're #1, everyone is out to get you.

[*Surely that's all this is. A little traffic jam.]

Rest of the teams, on the flip...

Leopard Trek

Plan A: GC, and some Cancellara first-week dominance.

Grade: Fail

Commentary: Cancellara got upstaged by Thor Hushovd, continuing a season-long trend of being awesome but not quite awesome enough. And then things went downhill...

As with Saxo, I am holding Leopard to a very high standard in calling this a failed Tour, but judging from the pictures at the end of the time trial I don't think they would disagree. This was a team designed to renew hostilities with Contador at the Tour, and win. Well, they beat Contador... I still harken back to the offseason changes. Six of the nine riders on Leopard were on the 2010 Saxo Bank Tour squad, minus Matti Breschel, the two Sorensens, and Bjarne Riis. And Andy finishes second to a far less threatening guy than Contador, a guy who rode a perfect race for the first two weeks (and then some) and didn't bleed so much as a second from his overall standing. Andy Schleck, meanwhile, came into the Alps down 1.24 to Evans and ended the race 1.34 down in Paris. Andy dropped 8" on the Mur de Bretagne, and most importantly 1.09 on the road to Gap. He never once put time into Evans with the exception of the Galibier stage. You can blame the time trialling, which is a forgivable human limitation, or you can blame the race management outside of the Alps, which is not so easy to forgive. I have no idea whether Riis would have made a difference; for all I know Nygaard runs an even tighter ship. But I have my suspicions.

Surprisingly Good/Alarmingly Bad Prediction: 

If Frank has a good Tour, Andy should have a great Tour. Might even win a stage race.

Will you give me credit for the implied corollary? I mean, Frank had a good Tour, but he didn't have a great last week.

Tourbecco-Inspired Theme Song: Lucinda Williams, Little Angel, Little Brother. If you haven't figured this out already, all songs are derived from my iTunes folder. This goes to one of the Tour's great touching moments, big bro Frank comforting Andy last Saturday. I criticise, because I can, but Andy raced his heart out in the last week, and his disappointment was palpable.


Plan A: GC, mountain stages, and name-butchering

Grade: Pass/Do-Over!

Commentary: A funny thing happened on the way to another OK Tour... they went and changed the rules so that the standard consistent riding and stage effort you can expect from Euskaltel was good enough to put Sammy Sanchez in the world's coolest jersey (a status that is revocable when paired with matching shorts). As usual, we speculated about Sammy eating up the most notable descent on the course, and as usual events robbed us of the fun when Ruben Perez got up the road to Pinerolo, preventing his teammate from doing more than sitting in with Les Bigs. But he was fantastic coming off the Galibier to Alpe d'Huez. Anyway, all the boxes got checked, even the name butchering.

Surprisingly Good/Alarmingly Bad Prediction: 

I would expect a stage win to lift their spirits, even if Sanchez will be hard-pressed to challenge for the podium again.

I'll try not to strain anything patting my back.

Tourbecco-Inspired Theme Song: Leonard Cohen, Dance Me to the End of Love. I dunno, just follow me here, OK? Albertina will get it.

Omega Pharma Lotto

Plan A: Mix of GC, stages and green

Grade: Do-Over!

Commentary: Not sure how to rate their Tour. Obviously JVDB's collarbone trashed their primary ambition, and they didn't threaten Mark Cavendish for green in the end. But Gilbert got to wear a variety of jerseys, Jelle Vanendert spent several more days in spots, and Andre Greipel beat Cavendish in a sprint. One stage for Gilbert is paltry, but plenty of teams would be happy with three stages and some high classification placings. Particularly if one of those stages is on the Plateau de Beille. That was big.

This is probably a good place to say that I found the new points competition a bit disappointing. As someone who's always ready to care about another race feature, I can heartily cheer the changes to the intermediate sprints. But the mega-points drop for stage winners just returned any advantage back to the bunch sprinters, i.e. Cavendish, so in the end it just looks like Prudhomme rigged it for the Manx Missile. All well and good, it's not like Cavendish is undeserving, but the winner says a lot about what the competition is about, and surely some aspect of the Tour should be about celebrating what Philippe Gilbert does.

Surprisingly Good/Alarmingly Bad Prediction: 

I guess I'll believe in his Gorillaness when I see it.

Sold. The guy won a stage in his first TdF, and did hard work for Gilbert too. It's time to admit that he does just about everything well, and works his ass off in the process. He is inconsistent in the sprints and comes off as a bit prickly, but he's taken enough shit over the years to earn the occasional greip.

Tourbecco-Inspired Theme Song: Thievery Corporation, The Richest Man in Babylon


Plan A: GC, stage threats

Grade: Fail

Commentary: Blame the crashes, but even subtracting the injured Gesink from the equation it still didn't seem like Rabo had enough of a presence in the race. LuLu Sanchez won a forgettable stage victory -- so forgettable I had to look it up to make sure. French fans will have no trouble forgetting who won the stage to Saint-Flour, since Thomas Voeckler captured the maillot jaune that day, making Sanchez this year's Erik Breukink. The only truly memorable aspect of Rabo's Tour was our friend Laurens ten Dam soldiering on after bashing his face into the pavement. Expecting a podium place may be a stretch, but Gesink, Boom and co. have a few Tours under their belt now. It's time to make their impression felt.

Surprisingly Good/Alarmingly Bad Prediction: 

The rest of the team is made of solid complimentary parts, including guys like Tjallingii and Boom who have definite stage cred. So I am sure they'll disappear without a trace.

What, you thought I was being facetious? Making some lame reverse-jinx attempt?

Tourbecco-Inspired Theme Song: Velvet Underground, All Tomorrow's Parties. Rabo sort of strike me as the 2011 cycling equivalent of the Andy Warhol party set, looking fabulous and handing us soup can labels when we demand to know what they've accomplished lately.


Plan A: GC dreams; green and stages

Grade: Pass

Commentary: Go ahead and tell me I'm overrating them now. They won four stages, held yellow for days, took the team competition, and placed a guy in the top ten on GC. No other rider in the top ten could claim a teammate who made a big impression, except Voeckler. In other words, besides Europcar, Garmin were the only team to make a big splash in one area and put a guy high up on GC. And that was before they introduced the concept of fun to the podium in Paris.

Their green jersey threat never got off the ground, however, to the surprise of almost nobody. Farrar the bunch sprinter simply isn't as polished as Cav at getting in position for the win, day after day. Hushovd's insurgent campaign was never going to be as interesting as Gilbert's, and Gilbert lost to Cav by 98 points.

Surprisingly Good/Alarmingly Bad Prediction: 

Still, how does this work? Does Farrar do the bunch sprinting and Hushovd the odd stage attacks? I guess they both just chase after whatever they can, and if Cavendish is nearby they set up Farrar.

In other words, they had no plan for green. Maybe I wanted it for them more than they wanted it themselves?

Tourbecco-Inspired Theme Song: Grateful Dead, The Promised Land (Winterland '72). Up-tempo feeling-goodness for the team who may be best remembered for bringing a two-dimensional teammate up on the venerable Paris podium. And the geezer jerseys. Epic.


Plan A: Vanity GC threat; white jersey and stages

Grade: Fail

Commentary: Some teams have forgettable Tours, others just wish they did. Astana didn't bring much to the fight in the first place, and things only went downhill from there.

With Alexandr Vinokourov retiring from cycling, let me say this: the guy got his start in the Soviet Union sports system, followed the well-worn path to St. Etienne, worked his way up to prominence with little help, lost his good friend Kivilev, labored through the dysfunctional Telekom years, and ended his career slamming into a tree trunk in France. Yes, he took PEDs, but to the ESPN bobblehead mentality cheating in cycling equates to a magic carpet ride to victory. Not even close. Vino suffered a lot even by the standards of a sport which elevates suffering to an art form.

Surprisingly Good/Alarmingly Bad Prediction: 

Kreuziger surely will be worn down before long, raising the question about whether he can accomplish much.

Not the hardest call I've ever made. But as I've recently learned, it helps when your hand is intact enough to pull on the bars. Kreuziger is paying a lot of dues this year. Hope it's worth it someday.

Tourbecco-Inspired Theme Song: Big Head Todd, Tomorrow Never Comes. Astana seems like it will carry on, but you have to wonder what life after Vino looks like.

Radio Shack

Plan A: GC squad; nostalgia project

Grade: Do-Over!

Commentary: I blame Lance. All those years of not crashing. Karma comes around. It's genuinely too bad, because this was a great year to unleash a squad of veteran maybe-podium threats in a wave-like attack. There was no untouchable Contador to squash anyone's dreams. Dagnammit... I was finally starting to warm up to the Shack, which hasn't been easy to do.

Surprisingly Good/Alarmingly Bad Prediction: 

Actually I have a very good feeling about Levi. He usually falls off but... I dunno. Am I falling into the Tour de Suisse sucker trap?

I see a few hands going up...

Tourbecco-Inspired Theme Song: Modern Lovers, Dignified and Old. Speaks for itself.


Plan A: Stages/Green & White Jersey longshots

Grade: Pass

Commentary: When you set the bar low enough... JJ Rojas actually gave Cavendish a reason to stay on alert, displaying a solid combination of consistent sprinting and climbing to a few points which Cav couldn't get to. With a tad more finishing speed or a route that excludes the pure sprinters just a bit more, JJ could be in business.

Surprisingly Good/Alarmingly Bad Prediction: 

They're still Waiting for Alejandro, which seems like a silly way to run an organization, but you work with what you have.

Ya think?

Tourbecco-Inspired Theme Song: Waterboys, Has Anybody Here Seen Hank? Or his dog?


Plan A: GC squad; stages

Grade: Fail?

Commentary: I'm feeling a bit wishy-washy on grades, particularly w/r/t injuries. Leaning toward lenience for in-race crashes, but it sounds like Basso really Schlecked his season on Mount Etna. Too bad. I was starting to enjoy the Szmackdowns, but just when Basso seemed useful again (Galibier), he promptly went backwards on Alpe d'Huez. Waiting all year only to finish behind Damiano Cunego on GC? Bah! Still, congratulations to Fabio Sabatini for his shocking Lanterne Rouge win. Well done!

Surprisingly Good/Alarmingly Bad Prediction: 

So if Italy's greatest rider of the Aughts is to have a last hurrah, this would be a good year for it, since the competition is only improving and it'll be Nibali's turn soon.

Yes. This would have been a good year for it.

Tourbecco-Inspired Theme Song: John Williams & London Symphony Orchestra, Theme from Jaws. Will it be safe for Ivan to go back in the water next year?

AG2R-La Mondiale

Plan A: GC squad

Grade: Pass

Commentary: They finished sixteen seconds down on Leopard-Trek in the team GC competition. Sixteen seconds! And that's after losing John Gadret, potentially their top guy. They nonetheless flew way under the radar because it was such a breakout year for Europcar and a few other French riders, and they never bagged a stage or even a combativity prize. Hell, last year they at least made headlines when Gadret dissed Nick Roche.

This is as good a place as any for an aside on French cycling. I've said this before, but with a little more evidence I comfortably reassert that the sport desperately needs French stars. The Tour will always be the Super Bowl, and extracting the French-ness from that event and from the sport at large is impossible. All these years of French non-competitiveness have set the Tour in a bit of a vacuum, but put Voeckler in yellow, clawing his way up the Galibier and the vibe at the Tour is completely transformed. The rising tide of home-nation interest lifts all boats. I am sure of this.

Surprisingly Good/Alarmingly Bad Prediction: 

Gadret looks like a guy spoiling for a different fight this year. Given their differing abilities inn the time trial, the course favors a top ten for Mr. Clean rather than Roche.

By Gadret I of course meant JC Peraud. So, nailed it!

Tourbecco-Inspired Theme Song: Edith Piaf, Je Ne Regrette Rien. Sort of our in-house theme song.


Plan A: Do-it-all squad, though GC is the real game

Grade: Do-Over!

Commentary: Wiggins' crash was arguably the biggest carnage story, given his high hopes and Sky's big investment in them, but as bad as that was, the revival of their other big investment has to soften the blow. Edvald Boasson Hagen won two stages, including a truly impressive ride to Pinerolo, capping the biggest splurge of Norwegian joy this side of the Ballard Seafood Fest. Given the terrible news of last week, perhaps it helps a bit to remember that there were happy times not long ago.

Oh, and Eddy Boss is 24. Just for reference, when Gilbert was 24 he was on FDJ winning things like Dauphine stages.

Surprisingly Good/Alarmingly Bad Prediction: 

Eddy Boss has shingles. Which makes Geraint Thomas's breakout all the more important. He's more of a poor-man's cheery, can-do Gilbert, and this Tour is decently stocked with good opportunities for him.

The answer is no, but riders could be forgiven for asking if they should get shingles too.

Tourbecco-Inspired Theme Song: Jackson Browne, Of Missing Persons. The singing stopped too soon.

Quick Step

Plan A: Stages, Green in the end, maybe Yellow early on?

Grade: Fail

Commentary: Name one aspect of the Tour that worked out OK. One! Apart from proving to Boonen that he needs Quick Step more than they need him, that is.

Surprisingly Good/Alarmingly Bad Prediction: 

Chava is better than ever, which is why I've included a turn in yellow as a team objective. But Boonen is spoiling for green again, or a stage at least, after three bad Julys.

Can we pretend this never happened? I must have dreamt about Belgian success at the Tour or something. This is why you shouldn't drink a whole Chimay Blu before bed.

Tourbecco-Inspired Theme Song: Where is Tourbecco? Damn, he would have been all over me here. Anway, Kruder & Dorfmeister, Original Bedroom Rockers -- for the team that did it so well back in the day, in the confines of their home, and now desperately needs a change of tune.

Francaise des Jeux

Plan A: Stages

Grade: Do-Over!

Commentary: Turns out the Casar stage hunt was a one-shot deal, or maybe two if you count the Pinerolo stage, but in any event Casar doesn't slip quietly into the ideal break anymore. They know who he is, and that he can't be towed to the line.

But Madiot is know fool, and he had plenty of guys enlivening things, culminating in Jeremy Roy taking home the overall combativity prize and the team spending five days in the red number. Also, 25-year-old Arnold Jeanneson was a very respectable 15th in his Tour debut. That has to be something to smile about.

Surprisingly Good/Alarmingly Bad Prediction: 

Sandy Casar will get his annual stage win.

Lord knows he tried.

Tourbecco-Inspired Theme Song: John Lennon, Working Class Hero. A combativity award winner is something to be.


Plan A: GC squad, Hincapie's team

Grade: Pass

Commentary: He did it! He finally did it! Years ago people were writing him off, saying he was finished. But George Hincapie proved them all wrong, completing his record-tying 16th Tour.

What? Oh, that guy. Yeah, he was good too.

Surprisingly Good/Alarmingly Bad Prediction: 

Things are better set up for them this time around, and Evans has looked good. But the course doesn't play as much into his crono strengths as he'd like.

No. It's not like he used the time trial to win the Tour or anything.

Tourbecco-Inspired Theme Song: Ice Cube, It Was a Good Day. In honor of their dream-like ride, against all conventional wisdom and experience.


Plan A: Marginal GC squad; stage wins

Grade: Pass?

Commentary: One of cycling's eternal questions: do you celebrate a narrow second-place or not? Pierre Rolland ambushed the white jersey field on the Alpe, and the two minutes he put into Rein Taaramae on the Alpe held up in the time trial, Taaramae's more advantageous discipline. Losing a classification by 46" has to hurt... but Taaramae is also just 24 and getting to Paris for the first time. Given the importance of time trialling, you have to like where he's headed so far. 

Surprisingly Good/Alarmingly Bad Prediction: 

One item of interest is the Tour debut of Tony Gallopin, whose career is off to a lovely start and who might make a play in the middle mountains next week.

Ah, nope. Gallopin' Tony sat in for some sprints. That's it.

Tourbecco-Inspired Theme Song: Graham Parker, If It Ever Stops Rainin. It's been a long time since they have been relevant. When does the Keukeleire era start anyway?


Plan A: GC squad.

OK, I'm kidding. Stages and green

Grade: Pass

Commentary: What the...? Show me someone who saw this coming and I'll show you a liar. Or a member of the Cunego clan. Or both. Good thing too, because they were a no-show in every other respect. Petacchi was uncharacteristically bad, missing several sprints, a poor way to defend his excellent effort in 2010.

Surprisingly Good/Alarmingly Bad Prediction: 

Is Cunego really talking up his overall prospects? Bah! Petacchi doesn't seem too involved yet, and the green comp will get away from him quickly if he isn't diligent.

One for two?

Tourbecco-Inspired Theme Song: Miles Davis, Someday My Prince Will Come. Apparently Gavia hums this to herself on long rides. Her beau is not amused.

HTC- Highroad

Plan A: Stages and green, for sure. Chasing the GC white whale too.

Grade: Pass

Commentary: I don't appreciate the way Prudhomme spoke out about how it'd be bad if Cavendish didn't win. Given the slew of green jersey system changes made, it suggests the comp was gamed for Cav, which diminishes his accomplishment. The guy has proven himself enough times.

Peter Velits: fourth on the Alpe, ninth on the crono. Just sayin.

Surprisingly Good/Alarmingly Bad Prediction: 

Now the pressure is all on Martin, with the team desperate for a sponsor and needing more than just sprint wins to polish the product.

Ninety minutes down. And still they go on, apparently. Maybe.

Tourbecco-Inspired Theme Song: Daft Punk, Harder Better Faster Stronger. Working harder makes us do it...


Plan A: Stealth GC squad (weeks 2-3); all-too-obvious stage hunters

Grade: Pass!

Commentary: Hoooleee crap! What a wild ride. I don't know what to add, except that it speaks pretty poorly of the team competition that Europcar had Voeckler 4th, Rolland 11th and Gautier 41st, and still finished a half-hour behind AG2R.

Surprisingly Good/Alarmingly Bad Prediction: 

I've been predicting that Voeckler would buckle down and chase the GC, so naturally he attacks three minutes into the Grand Depart.

Yes. Yes I was predicting this. I just need to find where. Ah, here:

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?

Sportswriting careers have been made on less insight than this. Just sayin.

Tourbecco-Inspired Theme Song: Ray Charles, What Would I Do Without You?


Plan A: Stages, minor GC threat

Grade: Fail

Commentary: Totally invisible. Except when getting busted for doping.

Surprisingly Good/Alarmingly Bad Prediction: 

Chances are their biggest splash will be the team announcement

If only...

Tourbecco-Inspired Theme Song: Justin Townes Earle, Been Burnin Bad Gasoline. And frankly they don't deserve this honor.


Plan A: Stages. Long-range attacks. Medium-range attacks.

Grade: Pass

Commentary: Tough way to get in the news. But Hoogie's bravery won the team the kind of goodwill that a marginal Pro Tour team needs when they slip back into wildcard status. Ruijgh showed some class too.

Surprisingly Good/Alarmingly Bad Prediction: 

The Hoogie Suicidal Attack is one of the best parts of any stage race.

Until he gets run over by a car.

Tourbecco-Inspired Theme Song: Pixies, Gouge Away. Pretty much the highest honor I can give.


Plan A: Under the radar

Grade: Pass

Commentary: I barely noticed them, but the fact is that Jerome Coppel overcame injury to finish 14th, and he turns 25 next week.

Surprisingly Good/Alarmingly Bad Prediction: 

Jerome Coppel is the big name, and it could be fun to see how he's doing after a couple weeks.

Yep, would have been fun.

Tourbecco-Inspired Theme Song: Unknown Artist, Track 02. Sounds cold, but that's cycling. There simply aren't enough headlines to go around. But next year should be different.

Now, where is that goat?