What's Cool In Road Cycling

Tour Contenders: The Magic 8-Ball Says…

Finally, July is here, and we can all let Tour fever run through our veins with reckless abandon. Time to dream of Alps and Pyrenees, yellow, green and polka dots, and of course, podium girls dwarfing riders. (Well Dave, go ahead and dream all you want – I’ll be there bucko! – RP)

– By Dave Aldersabaes & Richard Pestes –

Any sane man with even limited cycling knowledge knows that Texan Lance Armstrong, aided by his uber-team US Postal Service Presented By Berry Floors, is the odds on favorite. I think even Vegas has him at almost even money. But let’s not forget there are actually other cyclists in this race, some with other jerseys on their mind, some with individual stage greatness on tap. Time to prognosticate….

DA Says: Lance. ‘Nuff said. Barring injury causing crashes, illness, or act of god, it’s a given Mr. Armstrong will win. He’s on form, as proven by his dominance at the Dauphine, and his team is as strong as ever.

RP Says: Couldn’t agree with you more. This guy… he knows how to get it done at The Tour, you’d think by now a few other teams and riders would have figured it out a well. Lance appears to possess (or be possessed by) a driving force that nothing can stop – not even an unsettled homefront. How one rider can be so much better than everyone baffles and awes me at the same time, I hope he makes it five, but come on guys – can’t we make it a race this time?

It’s a short list, but it’s certain that among the following names it is an understood fact they’re racing for 2nd place:
Tyler Hamilton (Team CSC) Lance’s second banana for years, who wouldn’t love to see Tyler earn his place on the podium? His creds are great – 2nd in the ’02 Giro, Wins Liege and Romandie this year – he knows the roads, the race, and has a super team, the rest is up to him.

Joseba Beloki (ONCE) They say good things happen in 3’s. Or is it bad things? Either way, Joseba knows how to hang in when it counts. Can’t score him high on tactics, all he does is stay in the race – but then with Lance in control that’s about all we can say of anyone! Look for a change in Podium spot # 3 by the end of this Tour.

Levi Leipheimer (Rabobank) We love this guy – Levi. Nice guy. Okay, he hasn’t done much since blasting onto the podium in the ’01 Vuelta (3rd place), but then last year was his first Tour and he got some big-time tummy trouble later in the season. He was there on all the climbs, just didn’t have it at the end. I’d have to call him a dark horse for a Podium spot this year – but really, really hope he makes it!

Santiago Botero (Telekom) The man with the style of “a boxxa” – as Paul Sherwin said – showed us some real guts winning two stages – one TT and one mountain – and finishing 2nd in the ’02 Tour. He just looks fierce on the bike, but has been conspicuous by his absence this year – has he been seen anywhere – am I missing something? Maybe I’m in a cave, but I’ve got no sense of what to expect, so I’m placing no bets on Senor Botero.

Jan Ullrich (Bianchi) I’ve been cheering for Jan for years now and get nothing but disappointment. If it’s not one thing, it’s another… I say one of two things will happen: 1. He’ll have a great Tour, because it’s in his blood, and he’s so rested from not racing that he’ll come out fresh as a daisy and ready to ride. 2. He’ll squander around the mid pack, get blown on the first big climbs, then retire quietly with some sort of “problem” – simply because his year has been one of such turmoil, (new team, no team, what team…) that he’s had no peace to get on with the business of racing. You don’t win a race like the Tour just by showing up. Come on Jan – you’re better than this!

Iban Mayo. (Euskeltel) New kid on the block? The Euskaltel boys have been building up strength the past few years, sneaking into position, picking off stage wins, and then this year – the Dauphine – BAM – one rider emerges to challenge the throne of the King! Maybe it’s because he hasn’t been beaten into submission by the invincible Lance (like so many others), or maybe he’s got the stuff of a champion – I’d say put some Euros on this guy for a podium spot.

Gilberto Simoni (Saeco) Now here’s a little “new blood” (Saeco red?) that just might be the ticket to a race we can sink our vcr’s into… “Gibo” is hot – just won the Giro in a most convincing manner – destroying all comers in the mountains. The race itself was a its dull due to his dominance, but then hopefully this bodes well for a real challenger to Lance – Hey, it’s gonna happen someday…

And others? Dare we say Basso? Or even Mr. Unpopular, Moreau?

DA Says: Tough one to call now, in the absence of one Mr. Jalabert. Perhaps some of the other non-GC contenders will try to follow Jaja’s lead and go out on early suicide attacks to rack up mountain points. It’s easy to think that it all comes down to strategy. Do some of the better climbers give up on the podium or good GC position just to snag the polka dots? Or do some of the lesser teams make it their mission? I don’t think anyone remotely threatening to the GC, like Hamilton or Mayo, will be let go down the road with the Posties keeping watch, so I look for a surprise here. It’s wide open. I’ll take a stab at it, and pick Virenque. He can’t compete for the overall, and I look for him to mimic Jaja’s tactics.

DA Says: Does Zabel have enough to get in green early on? Maybe the pocket rocket Robbie McEwen will come away with the goods….it’s hard to say here as well. O’Grady finally to come good? The first week will be a crap shoot, with any and all sprinters duking it out early and often. Why not? They will suffer when the mountains come and struggle to make it in inside the time limit, so why not ride as though there is nothing to lose in the first week? I think it will swap around for a bit, but I’ll go on a ledge here and pick Stuart O’Grady to have the green jersey on his shoulders in Paris.

RP Says: And let’s not forget Giro wunderkind Alessandro Petacchi – the first rider to beat the mighty (and handsome! – it’s what he says…) Cipollini. He’s young, fast, and it’s time to change the guards in Green.

So we agree on at least one thing – that Lance will again wear Yellow in Paris – and why not? If he can beat them again, there’s no more deserving a champion.

What Do You Think?
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