The 99th edition of the Tour de France, the second of the year’s three Grand Tours – and arguably the world’s biggest and most popular annual sporting event – kicks off on Saturday 30th June in Liege, Belgium with 198 riders representing the 18 WorldTour teams and four wild-card Pro Continental teams set to take to the start line.
Many fans will be familiar with the main riders in the peloton, but have you ever wondered about the mysterious sponsors whose names are plastered all over every available square inch of the riders and their equipment? If so, here’s the first of a two-part overview of the 22 teams, their title sponsors and main protagonists.
All team line-ups are, of course, subject to change in the final few days before the race starts, but are accurate to the best of our knowledge at the time of writing. Part two follows tomorrow.
AG2R La Mondiale
Overview: AG2R go into the tour with a multi-pronged attack comprising Nico Roche and Jean-Christophe Peraud, both hoping for a top ten finish, Hubert Dupont – probably the team’s most consistent rider this season – eyeing a stage win and Tour debutatant Mikael Cherel hoping to break his duck and, along with a number of other riders, to land the polka dot jersey. Whatever happens, expect them to grab plenty of airtime for their sponsor in breakaways with riders such as Maxime Bouet, Christophe Riblon and Blel Kadri, while Lloyd Mondory will be in the mix in the sprints. As in 2011, they’ll also be aiming for a podium placing in the team classification, with a squad the manager claims has 8.5 Frenchmen riding, since Roche is half-French.
Overview: The Tour team is going to mount a formidable opposition for the green points jersey with young Marcel Kittel who demonstrated his winning form, and the beating of overall winner Mark Cavendish – in the recent Ster ZLM Toer. He’ll be supported by a mix of experienced riders and another young German Patrick Gretsch, also making his Tour debut. The team will be led by the experienced Koen de Kort but the emphasis on winning sprint stages has prompted one of their promising – and non-selected – French riders Alexandre Geniez to bolt for the exit.
Overview: After a slowish start, Astana have had a creditable and successful past couple of months with honours being shared around the team. Their leader for the Tour, the waif-like Janez Braijkovic turned in a good performance at the Dauphiné before winning his home Tour of Slovenia. This will be team leader Alexandre Vinokourov‘s last Tour and we can expect him to launch one of his trademark attacks in search of a final stage win. Both are looking to make amends after they crashed out of last year’s race. Brajkovic – then riding for RadioShack – came down on stage six, injuring his knee and head. Vinokourov fractured his femur after falling on a slippery corner on the descent of the Col du Pas de Peyrol on stage nine. They’re bringing an experienced squad, a number of whom enjoyed success in their recent national chmapionships and only one of whom is a sprinter, Borut Bozic.
Overview: BMC will be mounting a stout defence of Cadel Evans‘ yellow jersey, fielding an even stronger team than last year, bolstered by the signings of Tejay Van Garderen, Philippe Gilbert and Steve Cummings. The defending champion has readily admitted that leading rival Bradley Wiggins (Sky) has had the better run of form this season but remains confident of retaining his top spot on the podium. It’s long been ackowledged that the 2012 parcours with its generous mileage in time trials should suit him down to the ground. George Hincapie – another one making a final Tour appearance – will be the team leader, hoping to complete a record-breaking 16th Tour. It’s likely Gilbert will be given the opportunity to win on the early stages suited to his capabilities but with Thor Hushovd riding in Poland, the team don’t have to support the ambitions of a sprinter though, as in last year’s Tour, Gilbert may well pursue the points jersey.
Cofidis – Le Credit en ligne
Overview: The team’s main man, the baby-faced Estonian Rein Taaramae, has had a chequered start to the season with both injury and illness putting a spoke in his Tour preparation but, having defended his national champion’s jersey in the individual time trial, he would appear to have found his form at just the right time and, if so, could legitimately aim for a place in the top ten. He’ll be ably supported in the medium and high mountains by Remy di Gregorio and David Moncoutie. After the team’s sponsor has publicly expressed dismay at the team’s paucity of results in 2012, expect the team to be active in breakaways with Luis Angel Mate, and the diminutive Samuel Domoulin in the sprint finishes, hoping to secure that all important airtime and maybe even a stage win to placate the man holding the purse-strings.
Overview: The team are not expecting a repeat performance from Thomas Voeckler in this year’s Tour, largely on account of his recent knee injury which almost precluded him taking part. So pressure will shift to co-leader Pierre Rolland, winner of last year’s epic stage finishing atop Alpe d’Huez. These two will be ably supported like last year by Cyril Gautier, former French time-trial champion Christophe Kern, Yohann Gene and Vincent Jerome. Also selected are Japanese Yukiya Arashiro and the general manager’s neo-pro son, making his rookie appearance, Giovanni Bernaudeau. However, like the other French teams, expect to see their dark green shirts animating the race daily in breakaways.
Sponsors: A Basque telecoms provider and regional development agency.
Overview: Euskaltel-Euskadi’s leader will be Sammy Sanchez who won a stage in last year’s race at Luz Ardiden and the King of the Mountains jersey which he’ll be looking to defend. He’ll be surrounded by an experienced, strong, all Spanish-Basque team including riders such as Mikel Astarloza, Egoi Martinez and Amets Txurruka – a former Tour de France most aggressive rider. Typically we can expect to see those orange jerseys in the mix every time the road heads skywards and particularly in the Pyrenees where they’ll have their usual fanatical support.
Sponsors: The French national lottery and a chain of independent builders’ merchants.
Overview: The team have enjoyed their return to the premier division and a very successful start to the season with 11 wins, garnered largely in sprints. They’ll be looking for at least a stage win, probably from their vastly experienced Tour riders Sandy Casar and Pierrick Fedrigo, or maybe from last year’s most aggressive rider Jeremy ‘it’s not a break if I’m not in it’ Roy. Promising climber Thibaut Pinot will be making his debut but there’s no place for Arnold Jeannesson, 14th last year, who will miss the 2012 edition due to health issues. Essentially we can expect to see the team mixing it both in the sprints and the medium mountains stages. As is to be expected with all the French squads, they’ll be active in breakaways, looking to grab airtime for their sponsors.
Garmin-Sharp (formerly Garmin-Barracuda)
Overview: Heading back to the race where it shone last year with four stage victories plus a win in the team classification, the team will be led by Giro d’Italia winner Ryder Hesjedal, attempting the Giro-Tour double last achieved in 1998 by Marco Pantani. He’ll have strong support from the experienced duo of Christian Vande Velde and Tom Danielson, who will step up to the plate should he falter. Brummie Dan Martin will be making his Tour debut and he’s another one looking to secure the mountains jersey. Tyler Farrar and Robbie Hunter will be mixing it in the sprints while those time-trialling colossi, Dave Zabriskie and David Millar, will be chasing a result in the individual time trials. The team will be debuting its new jersey at the Tour.
Overview: Keen not to repeat last year’s disastrous experiment with an all-Russian squad, the team’s main man Denis Menchov – suspiciously quiet so far this year apart from winning his national time trial championship – will be supported by some Spanish and Italian firepower in the hope of at least gaining a stage win or two. While the team has had a successful start to the year their victories have largely been earned by two men who will be riding the Vuelta rather than the Tour, namely Joaquim Rodriguez and Daniel Moreno. Menchov generally performs well in the Grand Tours and we don’t expect this one to be an exception. Equally we should expect to see a number of their Russians heading up the road in breakaways and then, in the dying kilometres, time-trialling away from their companions only to be recaptured by the peloton before the finish line.
Sponsors: An Italian sheet steel manufacturer and a Ukrainian steel producer.
Overview: Michele Scarponi, who finished fourth in the recent Giro d’Italia, will lead the team with veteran and in-form Alessandro Petacchi – who recorded three Sagan-esque wins in the recent Bayern-Rundfahrt – hunting for stage wins in what is rumoured to be his last year riding in the professional peloton. Petacchi will have his loyal wing-man Danilo Hondo in attendance as well as Grega Bole. The team, which is aiming for stage wins, has committed to donating part of its Tour prize money – to be matched by an equal donation from the team’s owners – to charities helping those afflicted in the recent Italian earthquakes. This will no doubt give the boys in red hot pink and blue further motivation to perform.
Tomorrow we’ll take a look at the remaining eleven teams, from Liquigas-Cannondale to Vacansoleil-DCM.
VeloVoices Tour de France previews