In advance of this Saturday’s start of the 2012 Tour de France, here’s the second part of VeloVoices’ overview of the 22 teams, their main protagonists and their eclectic mix of title sponsors! Only in cycling …
The final list of participants is subject to change in the last few days before the race, but these are accurate to the best of our knowledge at the time of writing.
Overview: The team will be riding in support of Vincenzo Nibali whose excellent early season form seems to have diminished in recent weeks, probably not helped by the rumours that he’s heading for the exit – and a big pay packet – with either BMC or Astana. The team will have been disappointed with Ivan Basso’s performance in the Giro – he’ll be plan B in the Tour – and be hoping for better from Nibali on a parcours that seems suited to his attributes as a rider. Fortunately for Nibali, the focus has been very firmly on prolific stage winner Peter Sagan – the Velvet Samurai – with many speculating on what he may, or may not achieve. However, his preparation has been geared towards the Olympic road race and so, after toying with the other sprinters, may not finish the Tour. He’s my tip to take the prologue and first yellow jersey.
Sponsors: The Belgian lottery and a Belgian window and door manufacturer.
Overview: Lotto-Belisol have confirmed that their team will all be riding in support of Tour hopeful Jurgen Van den Broeck, whose hopes of a repeat fourth place ended in a crash last year. He’ll be strongly supported by an experienced team which includes Lars Bak – looking for a stage win – and Jelle Vanendert - another one chasing the polka dot jersey. This would seem to imply that Andre Greipel will be going it alone in the sprints, which he’s more than capable of doing. Of course most fans are most looking forward to the daily Twitter exchanges between those masters of wit in 140 letters: Kiwi Greg Henderson - making his Tour debut at the age of 35 – and Aussie Adam Hansen.
Sponsor: A Spanish mobile telecoms operator.
Overview: Alejandro Valverde will be playing the leading man at the Tour but he brings with him a strong supporting cast of similarly dimple-chinned riders, including last year’s Vuelta winner, Juan Jose Cobo, Ivan Gutierrez, Ruben Plaza and recent Tour de Suisse winner Rui Costa. In addition he has his Russian heavies Vasil Kiryienka and Vladimir Karpets – surely the scariest looking rider ever – who’ll be riding tempo on the front of the peloton kilometre after kilometre. I suspect that, unlike last year, Jose Joaquin Rojas won’t be throwing his hat into the ring in the crowded points jersey competition. Team management believe that despite the time-trials, Valverde can still challenge for a podium place. We think he’d be better off going for the points jersey.
Omega Pharma-Quick Step
Overview: OPQS are still the team of the 2012 season and they’re coming to the Tour, for the first time in many a year, with a genuine Tour contender in Levi Leipheimer who demonstrated with his stealthy third place in the Tour de Suisse that he’s recovered from recent injuries and looking forward to jousting on a parcours that suits him. He’ll be supported by Tony Martin, again back from injury and coming into form, ahead of his tilt at the Olympic time trial title – he’ll be looking to shine in all three time trials. Bert Grabsch, a fantastic time trial performer, will be tasked with keeping the squad together on the flat stages. Levi will have further strong support from former Tour stage winner Sylvain Chavanel and Tour of Oman winner Peter Velits and his brother Martin. Not, of course, forgetting another one of Kitty’s chou chous, Dries Devenyns.
Sponsors: A conglomerate which provide chemicals and explosives for the mining industry and a wealthy Australian businessman.
Overview: The team will be hunting stage wins in its debut Tour de France with its team of nine opportunists, although Matt Goss is an obvious focus for sprint stage wins. Supporting Goss in the fast, flat finishes will be Baden Cooke, Brett Lancaster and Daryl Impey, the latter riding his first Tour. On other stages the squad will look to Simon Gerrans - the first Australian to win a stage in all three Grand Tours - Pieter Weening and Volta a Catalunya victor Michael Albasini for stage wins. Road captain will be Stuart O’Grady, who has appeared in every Tour since he made his debut in 1997. He has 13 finishes in 15 starts, two stage wins and nine days in yellow to his name. Please note, the team will be unveiling a new jersey at the start of the Tour.
Overview: Robert Gesink will lead a team loaded with burgeoining talent. He’s addressed two of his weaknesses – descending and time trials – as witnessed in the Dauphiné - and can legitimately be regarded as a podium condender. Gesink will be supported by Bauke Mollema, third-placed in Vuelta a Pais Vasco, and another Tour debutant, Steven Kruijswijk. Luis Leon Sanchez will be on the hunt for another Tour stage victory. Rabobank will also look to take points in the sprints with Mark Renshaw who finally appears to have made the leap from lead-out man to full-blown number one sprinter. However, looking at the composition of the team it seems as if he’ll be fending for himself a la Greipel.
Overview: The team with the highest average age [it would have been even higher without Tony Gallopin - Ed] RadioShack, or RadioShambles as someone called them on Twitter [Tim prefers RadioSlack - Ed], continue their abysmal season. Andy Schleck’s cracked sacrum has left elder brother and Giro abondonee Frank to assume leadership of the Tour team along with stalwarts Andreas Kloden and Chris Horner - the last-minute replacement for Andy. Meanwhile Tour rejects Jakob Fuglsang and Linus Gerdemann are actively seeking new berths for next year. Harmonious it ain’t and therefore not at all conducive to a great Tour performance. We can nonetheless expect Maxime Monfort to ride strongly in support of the leaders and Fabian Cancellara to challenge in the time trials, while Jens Voigt - another rider making his Tour swansong – will regularly put the hurt on the rest of the peloton. At the other end of the age spectrum, young Tony Gallopin makes his Tour debut. Tour veteran and team general manager, Johann Bruyneel has wisely decided to skip this year’s race and inevitable press scrum after being embroiled in a possible doping case with the US Anti Doping Agency (USADA).
Sponsors: Two French companies: one promoting sustainable and durable development, the other a producer of soya-based edible products.
Overview: The team’s hopes will rest once again on the slender shoulders of Jerome Coppel, 14th last year, supported by a mixture of emerging talent and experience in the hopes of securing a top ten GC classification. The time trial-heavy, summit-light parcours should play to Coppel’s strengths and so this isn’t an unreasonable expectation. Brice Feillu, himself a former Tour stage winner, will be lending a hand in the mountains as will Fabrice Jeandesboz. [Surely the rider with the least editor-friendly name in the peloton? - Ed] Team leader will be the uber-experienced Quatre Jours de Dunkerque winner Jimmy Engoulvent while emerging talent Julien Simon will most likely be animating the breakaways in the hope of snatching a stage win.
Sponsors: A Danish and a Russian bank.
Overview: Same old, same old for the Contador-less squad, which sits in last place in the WorldTour standings. They enter the Tour with a largely journeyman team which contains neither a recognised GC contender nor a top climber although they do have experienced stage winners with Chris Anker Sorensen, Karsten Kroon and Sergio Paulinho. Indeed, team manager Bjarne Riis has said the squad shouldn’t be underestimated, and will be chasing stage victories and aiming to make an impact on the race with their mix of experience, aggression and different competencies – good, positive spin. [I suppose it beats saying "we're not very good and we'll take whatever scraps we can find" - Ed.] Aussie Jonathan Cantwell will be making his Tour debut. The announcement of a new co-sponsor – Tinkoff Bank – on Monday means that there’ll be a change of jersey for the Tour.
Overview: Sky’s Tour focus will be on winning the maillot jaune with man of the moment Bradley Wiggins, who’s the bookie’s hot favourite to dethrone Cadel Evans after his amazing triple of Paris-Nice, Tour de Romandie and Critérium du Dauphiné. He’s been looking awesome at 95%, come the Tour he’ll be at 100% and, barring a repeat of last year’s accident, will be the man to beat on a parcours which also plays to his strengths. He’ll be supported – as he was at the Dauphiné - by Chris Froome, Mick Rogers and Richie Porte. The line-up also includes world champion Mark Cavendish – with ‘minder’ Bernhard Eisel – who’ll be defending his green points jersey, but will primarily be chasing stage victories as he prepares for the Olympics. Wiggins could be in yellow after the prologue although it’s unlikely he’d worry about losing it before the week was out. Though he’ll want it back come Paris.
Sponsors: A European organiser of luxury camping holidays and a Belgian farm supply company.
Overview: The brave soldier of last year’s Tour, Johnny ‘barbed wire’ Hoogerland, has announced his intention to go for the King of the Mountains jersey. [There's going to be one heck of a competition for this jersey - Ed.] As a consequence, we can expect Johnny to be competing with Jeremy Roy (FDJ-BigMat) for the the most kilometres covered in breakaways. Leadership duties will be assumed by the Dutch pair of Tour de Luxembourg runner-up Wout Poels and newly crowned national time trial champion Lieuwe Westra. Neither will be chasing the final podium, however, as the team’s main aim will be to complete its set of stage victories at all three Grand Tours.
Tomorrow we’ll preview the five key stages of this year’s race.
VeloVoices Tour de France previews