Tour de France: Teams and sponsors (part 2)

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.

Liquigas-Cannondale

Sponsors: An Italian distributor of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and an American bicycle manufacturer.

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.

Lotto-Belisol

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.

Movistar

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

Sponsors: A Belgian pharmaceutical company and a Belgian laminate flooring manufacturer.

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.

Orica-GreenEDGE

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.

Rabobank

Sponsor: A Dutch bank.

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 KruijswijkLuis 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.

RadioShack-Nissan

Sponsors: A US electronics retailer and a Japanese automotive company.

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).

Saur-Sojasun

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.

Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank

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.

Sky

Sponsor: A satellite television broadcaster.

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.

Vacansoleil-DCM

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

Are you ready?

You know you’re obsessed with Le Tour when …

Teams and sponsors (part 1)

Link: Tour de France official website

Tour de France: Teams and sponsors (part 1)

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

Sponsor: A French life insurance and pension provider.

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.

Argos-Shimano

Sponsor: An independent Dutch oil company and a Japanese manufacturer of bike parts and accessories.

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.

Astana

Sponsor: A Kazakh business consortium.

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.

BMC

Sponsor: A Swiss bicycle manufacturer.

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

Sponsor: A French credit company.

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.

Europcar

Sponsor: Paris-based hire car company.

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.

Euskaltel-Euskadi

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.

FDJ-BigMat

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)

Sponsors: A US-based multinational manufacturer of GPS systems and a Japanese technology provider.

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.

Katusha

Sponsor: A Russian business conglomerate.

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.

Lampre-ISD

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

Are you ready?

You know you’re obsessed with Le Tour when …

Link: Tour de France official website

Tour de France preview: You know you’re obsessed with Le Tour when …

While the debate goes on about which of the Giro, Tour and Vuelta is the ‘best’ of the year’s Grand Tours – and here at VeloVoices Towers we can argue passionately on behalf of all three – there’s no doubt that the French race is the biggest in terms of media coverage, fan interest and prestige.

We’re hugely excited about the start of the Tour this weekend – some would say obsessive – but how do you know when you have tipped over the line which separates being a mere fan from being the sort of individual against whom Fabian Cancellara is forced to take out a restraining order? [No names mentioned, ahem, Kitty – Ed.] Here are 20 pointers to watch out for. Score one point for each.

You know you’re obsessed with the Tour de France when you:

Hands up if you know who Lampre and ISD are!

1. Can name all 22 competing teams and what business their sponsors are in without hesitation. [We’ll be able to help you out with that with our previews over the next two days – Ed.]

2. Have committed the start and finish towns, distance and profile of every stage to memory. [Ditto. Watch our for our day-by-day stage previews – Ed.]

3. Keep wondering how good you would look in yellow. [Answer: not very – Ed.]

4, Own a replica yellow jersey and think you look good in it.

5. Are looking forward to a three-week holiday based solely around your TV, laptop and Twitter.

6. Mentally assign a category number to every hill you encounter.

7. Routinely go everywhere with drinks stuffed into every possible shirt and trouser pocket.

The ideal place to practise your sprint technique?

8. Start following people in the queue at Starbucks really closely, hoping to nip out of their slipstream just before you hit the front.

9. Constantly check the road-side every time you pass a bus queue just in case someone wants to randomly hand you a bag of food.

10. Find yourself automatically throwing away empty Coke cans to the side of the road.

11. Think it’s okay to have obvious tan lines halfway across your thighs and upper arms.

12. Fret about missing a time limit whenever you get held up in traffic.

13. Start pulling up alongside cars and asking their occupants if they can do some running repairs to your bike while you cruise alongside them.

Toilets are for wimps?

14. Think it’s okay to relieve yourself while riding/driving.

15. Hope someone has lovingly painted your name on the road – by hand, obviously, not using a chalk-bot.

16. Wonder why not every motorbike has someone perched precariously on the back pointing either a camera or a chalk-board at you.

17. Keep looking up the road expecting to see the flamme rouge telling you that you’re 1km from your destination.

18. Automatically drink a big bottle of water at the end of the working day just in case you are asked to visit the doping control.

19. Expect a long rub-down at the end of every day.

20. Spend entire days creating ‘You know you’re obsessed with the Tour de France when …’ lists.

How did you score?

0-5: You do know there’s a race happening, right?

6-10: You’re a fan, but you’ve got the balance about right.

11-15: You’re a borderline obsessive whose friends tend to avoid you during the month of July.

16-20: You need help. Seriously.

VeloVoices Tour de France previews

Are you ready?