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Tour de France Teams Preview... With a Special Guest

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Tour de France I am a bit behind on my Tour writing, thanks to our customary vacations timed to thwart my watching the Tour, but as the teams won't impact the race too much before Sunday, I thought ... oh my God. Hang on.

[What are you doing here? I thought you were dead!]

[What?! Really? God, that is so bizarre...]

[No, I promise, I won't say anything. Just act natural.]

Uh, sorry, I'm back now. And hey, guess what! I've recruited a little help with the commentary. Nothing to get excited about, just an old friend stopping by unexp... um, we planned this a while ago. All perfectly normal.

Please welcome back... Tourbecco.

Hi folks.Tourbecco_medium

Nice to see you again, Tourbecco. What have you been up to lately?

Yep, should be a great Tour de France this year.

Right... eh, OK, on to the teams. We'll do this in order of dossards. Pull up a cafe au lait. This won't be short.

 

Saxo Sungard

Label: GC squad

2010: Won the Tour. Well, some of them did.

Forecast? Contador remains the favorite, time loss on day 1 or no. And this may be the most single-minded team in the Tour. If they win stages, it'll be high mountain ones. Riis does have Richie Porte to play the threatening foil role, so it's not all Bert and the Watercarriers.

Tourbecco Says: Their lineup should do wonders helping the sponsor expand their mortgage business in Ibiza.

 

Leopard Trek

Label: GC squad (weeks 2-3); Cancellara's watercarriers (week 1)

2010: Either they didn't exist or they finished second in a closely contested GC, depending on how seriously you take labels.

Forecast? It's stage 1 as I write this, but by the time it gets to you Cancellara could be in yellow. It's nice that an all-out GC team can afford such diversions. But Cancellara doesn't require much help, and will repay the rest in spades later. If Frank has a good Tour, Andy should have a great Tour. Might even win a stage race.

Tourbecco Says: The problem last year was that they needed to race smarter. So they got rid of Riis. What am I missing?

 

Euskaltel-Euskadi

Label: Stereotypical Basque Squad, ergo GC, mountain stages, and name-butchering.

2010: No stages, alas, though Sammy Sanchez rode a terrific race and fought a riveting battle with Denis Menchov for third. Which he lost.

Forecast? Rapidly maturing back into a climbing powerhouse after some fallow, rebuilding years, I would expect a stage win to lift their spirits, even if Sanchez will be hard-pressed to challenge for the podium again. They're focusing a lot on the Vuelta (no Anton here, for example) so expect les Carottes to be even bigger players in 2012.

Tourbecco Says: It's been fun making fun of them for the last few years. Too bad it won't last. Can't they throw some cobbles in with the team time trial? Just for one last laugh?

Omega Pharma-Lotto

Label: Mix of GC ambitions, stage hopes, green threats and general Gilbert-ness.

2010: Jurgen Van Den Broeck's fifth place was the best Belgian performance in years. No whiff of a stage or other classification.

Forecast? Like Garmin, OPL have riders for each pathway to green, Gilbert being a favorite for the unconventional try while Greipel is their man for the pure sprinters' route. Hopefully his crash prior to the actual start of the Tour was his way of flushing the bad juju out. Just when I started getting on his case (SSR) he started being awesome, so I began writing about how he might be awesome, and he signs an awesome contract... and starts to suck. So I guess I'll believe in his Gorillaness when I see it. Gilbert is beyond doubting, but I'll believe he is planning to join the bunch sprints when I see that too. Otherwise... stages. And VDB shooting for top 5 again. Which is within reach, certainly. If anything, this is a better course for him than 2010, de-emphasizing the time trials.

Tourbecco Says: Gilbert is so going to win the Mur de Bretagne stage. After which he will slay a bear with his bare hands.

Rabobank

Label: GC squad with some stage threats.

2010: The light appears at the end of the tunnel. They whiffed on stages, but Denis Menchov nabbed a precious podium spot, and even better, Robert Gesink got sixth, setting the Dutch Masters up for a run of real hope, with homegrown stars.

Forecast? Here I go again, getting all worked up about Rabo, but Gesink is... no, I won't jinx him. Bauke Mollema is making his Tour debut, but should be good for some intermittent climbing awesomeness. 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.

Tourbecco Says: That's the worst reverse jinx I've ever heard.

Garmin-Cervelo

Label: Hopeful GC squad; more legit Green Jersey threat. And stages.

2010: Ryder Hesjedal saved the squad from disaster, which struck on the infamous stage three when Tyler Farrar and Christian VandeVelde essentially crashed out of the Tour.

Forecast? I couldn't write fast enough to say something positive about their GC prospects; the whole squad already dropped two minutes to a wayward fan. But the maillot vert team performed fabulously Saturday, with Hushovd the only sprinter within earshot of Gilbert and Farrar bagging the intermediate sprint (post-breakaway). 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. Anyway, their GC hopes are looking dented but they should be big players in the points/stages chase.

Tourbecco Says: I predict they will win the team time trial.

Astana

Label: Vanity GC move; white jersey; stages

2010: Erm, won the Tour? Not sure what it did to glorify Kazakhstan, but a win's a win. [For now.] Vino bagged a stage too, probably more relevant here.

Forecast? Vino's GC hopes are pretty much nil, and Kreuziger surely will be worn down before long, raising the question about whether he can accomplish much. But a random stage isn't out of the question (Iglinsky?).

Tourbecco Says: 

Radio Shack

Label: GC squad; nostalgia project

2010: Chris Horner gave the performance of his life, dropping The Boss, Levi and the rest en route to a team-best 10th overall. Never a threat to win, the Shack wrangled a stage win from Sergio Paulinho and they bagged the team prize.

Forecast? 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? He just seems solid when Lance isn't around. I suppose their full house approach is bound to get one or two guys a high placing. But the smart money isn't on Brajkovic. Three weeks seems just a bit long for him. 

Tourbecco Says: Almost as long as this post. Are we done soon? The early goat special closes in 45 minutes.

Movistar

Label: Stages/Green & White Jersey longshots

2010: JJ Rojas was in the mix for green but a cut below the best. Christophe Moreau barely missed out on the spotty kit.

Forecast? More of the same. They're still Waiting for Alejandro, which seems like a silly way to run an organization, but you work with what you have. Benat Intxausti is looking to make his mark, getting after the White Jersey. Nice to see Rui Costa back in the mix. I like Ventoso for one of these unusual sprints as the highlight of their campaign.

Tourbecco Says: Green helmets make them look like some sort of insect,.

Liquigas-Cannondale

Label: GC squad; stages

2010: About the only major phase of 2010 where de Gaas didn't make a huge impact, having spent Basso and Nibali at the Giro. Basso competed, but Kreuziger was their best rider, finishing ninth.

Forecast? This is one of the most intriguing changes from last year. Liquigas chose correctly to send Basso after the Giro first following his layoff, but he's ready for a real Tour campaign. The course is ideal for him. He has a pretty single-minded squad with pacing studs like Szmyd and no competing priorities. 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. Oss might nab a stage (Gap?).

Tourbecco Says: I read this site a lot and I recall some preseason discussion of how Basso had no chance at the Tour. Shall I go digging up quotes? 

AG2R-La Modiale

Label: GC squad

2010: Riblon bagged a stage and two riders battled (each other) for a top ten. Sacre bleu!

Forecast? John Gadret and Nick Roche need to bury the hatchet, because no team has ever suffered internal strife and... and... never mind. 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. Dave Kadri has had a decent season in the sprints, though he's probably out of his depth in the Tour. 

Tourbecco Says: Blel. It's not that hard. It's like Bell with a typing spasm.

Sky

Label: Do-it-all squad, though GC is the real game.

2010: Growing pains. Bradley Wiggins' sucky campaign dragged down the team, along with Edvald Boasson Hagen's ailments. 

Forecast? Wiggo seems fine. 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. Still, Wiggo will be the focus, and who the hell knows where that'll go?

Tourbecco Says: The Tour is one of the world's great gambling opportunities. For example, I have "gout" in the pool for guessing Boasson Hagen's next problem.

Quick Step

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

2010: Chavanel saved their Tour with two stage wins, both of which got him the maillot jaune for a day. 

Forecast? 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.

Tourbecco Says: If Boonen's points effort goes nowhere, here's a suggestion: leadouts for Gilbert. Because the team's biggest win of all could be in the form of a signed contract.

FDJ

Label: Stages Stages Stages

2010: Sandy Casar got his annual stage win

Forecast? Sandy Casar will get his annual stage win.

Tourbecco Says: Can Sandy Casar win a stage?

BMC

Label: GC squad, Hincapie's team

2010: Evans blew a gasket but Hincapie finished, again

Forecast? 2010 was marred by an overactive spring in which the team made its case to the Tour for a wildcard. 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 doubt they'd love a stage win, with Hincapie being the sentimental favorite.

Tourbecco Says: Is there sentimental-ism at the Tour? This is news to me.

Cofidis

Label: Marginal GC squad; stage wins

2010: Tourists. Rein Taaramae's debut ended in some sort of pain (can't recall every DNF), and nobody else got away with a stage. Pretty much a complete dud.

Forecast? Taaramae has already hit a bump in the road, so it doesn't look like Cofidis are about to change their luck. 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.

Tourbecco Says: Has it really been six years since David Moncoutie's last Tour stage win? I feel old.

Lampre-ISD

Label: GC squad.

OK, I'm kidding. Stages and green.

2010: Alessandro Petacchi bagged two stages and won the green surprisingly. Damiano Cunego chased stage glory and KOM points. No real GC presence.

Forecast? 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. Lots of potential sneaky stage guys: Bole, Malori, Hondo gave it a shot already. 

Tourbecco Says: Italian teams seem to be taking the Tour pretty seriously these days. What's next, French riders trying to win the Giro?

HTC-Highroad

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

2010: Five stages sounds like a fantastic haul, but not for the illustrious HTC squad. Their top man on GC was Mick Rogers, over an hour down. Tony Martin had a disastrous campaign, with a crash messing him up.

Forecast? For all they do right, Die Mannschaft hasn't mounted much of a campaign for the overall since Kim Kirchen's 2007 run in yellow. Or since Andreas Kloden's 2006 podium. Take your pick. 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. This is a deep, loaded team with Goss and Renshaw helping Cav hunt stages and Tejay Van Garderen and Peter Velits beefing up the GC squad, but it's up to Martin to deliver that top-line performance, preferably starting yesterday.

Tourbecco Says: Geraint Thomas messes up Cav's sprint. Maybe not everyone at Sky is pining for the Manx Missile.

Europcar

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

2010: Two Pyrenean stage wins says just about all, but they were all over the other minor classifications as well, led by Anthony Charteau winning the KOM.

Forecast? I've been predicting that Voeckler would buckle down and chase the GC, so naturally he attacks three minutes into the Grand Depart. I get the we're-in-the-Vendee thing, and maybe he just had to get it out of his system. Hey, at least he missed the crash-fest. Pierre Rolland is a guy to watch.

Tourbecco Says: Wow, you made it through a review of Europcar without telling us again about the time you rented a nice car from them. Dude, you're slipping.

Katusha

Label: Stages, minor GC threat

2010: Joaquim Rodriguez rode convincingly to 8th overall, a big leap for him, albeit probably his ceiling. J-Rod's was the only stage win.

Forecast? Karpets is their only GC guy, and I'll be a tad shocked to see him challenge for the top ten. Galimzyanov is fast but presumably has to learn the ropes for a bit. Chances are their biggest splash will be the team announcement.

Tourbecco Says: Chances are their biggest... hey!

Vacansoleil-DCM

Label: Stages. Long-range attacks. Medium-range attacks.

2010: Changed planes in CDG en route to Tour of Austria.

Forecast? The Hoogie Suicidal Attack is one of the best parts of any stage race. Personally I'd love to see Leukemans on the top step for once. That and a Feillu sprint are probably about all you could ask for.

Tourbecco Says: I don't feel right, ever since I got bit by that strange-looking squirrel. 

Saur-Sojasun

Label: Under the radar for everything

2010: Left home.

Forecast? Hard to say. This all-French squad is young and I simply don't know terribly much about them. Jerome Coppel is the big name, and it could be fun to see how he's doing after a couple weeks.

Tourbecco Says: Hnnnnnrrrrgggg... young French riders, hope of a nation,.... young... salty... braaaaaaains...

This post is over.