30 June 2013

Tour de France 2013: Stage 2 Bastia-Ajaccio

If you are reading this opening paragraph it is because i haven't had a chance to see any news of stage one having spent yesterday at a wedding. As soon as I get a chance though I will post my thoughts in a separate post about the result of stage one.

Today's stage though takes the peleton diagonally over the isle of Corsica from Bastia in the North East to Ajaccio in the South West. As you can see this is tough old stage there will be hardly any respite for most of the day. After climbing the Col de Bellagranajo, the descent leads straight unto the Col de al Serra which gives only a short breather before the Col de Vizzavona. There is then 30km of descending sharply about 1000m so those dropped will have no chance of getting back on. but there is still a bit more descending to do before a final little kick of the  Côte du Salario with just 12km to go.

This is the sort of stage that might suit Peter Sagan if he can climb in the leading group over the high point of the day. With a flat finish at the very end he is liable to be the most explosive finisher who could get over this.  If Cav is in Yellow* and holding the green one question is will Omega Pharma - QuickStep try and contain any escapes in the first 33 kilometres to allow him to go for the only intermediate sprint before the race really starts to climb. If they do or if he is able to mop up the best points remaining for the pack it may well be enough to ensure he stays in Green* for tomorrow while giving up the Yellow*.

* Again this assumes that stage one, which I have yet to watch, pans out the way many including myself think it will.

29 June 2013

Tour de France 2013: Stage 1 Ponto Vecchio-Bastia #tdf

Today sees the start of the 100th edition of the Tour de France. If you follow me on Twitter I shall not be able to live tweet the stage today, as I am attending a family wedding. Indeed this year I shall not be tweeting most of the stages unlike the last three editions because unlike them I am working this year. But I do have all the ITV4 coverage getting recorded and so will catch up.

However, you'd think that after 99 previous editions there couldn't be anything new for the Tour to do. Well there is and the next three days put one of those right. One department of France had never hosted a Tour stage up to the end of the 2012 Tour. But today as the 198 riders role out from Ponto-Vecchio heading on a loop out south and then North up the coast to Bastia the Tour de France will have finally arrived in Corsica.

Of course not amongst those 198 is the man who should be wearing the number 1 as defending champion, Sir Bradley Wiggins. But then his team and Britain have back up in the man who came second last year Chris Froome. This year Froome has won the Tour of Oman, Criterium International and Tour de Romandie, before earlier this month securing a third successive British win in the Criterium du Dauphiné, after Wiggins two wins.

Two predictions for today, at the end of the stage the polka dot jersey will be on the shoulders of one of the riders in the first successful break to stay away. The reason being is that the only classified climb is Côte de Sotta some 45.5km into the 213km stage, rising to only 147m it is a 4th category climb. Now Belkin (formerly Blanco) have come to this Tour without a sprinter, deciding to leave both Theo Bos and Mark Renshaw behind so maybe they will try and get one of their men into that break in an effort to win a jersey at the end of day one.

Today's finish town of Bastia
The other prediction is that the break away will be hauled in, this is day one and the sprinters teams will want to stamp their authority on the line at Bastia. There will only be seven out and out sprinters finishes in this years Tour. And after his five from five in the Giro d'Italia Mark Cavendish certainly appears to have the form. The Manx man currently lies fourth in stage wins with 23 even in his worst year since his 2008 debut, last year, three stages would take him past André Leducq on 25. In his first four Tours he averaged five a tour which would bring him level with 2nd place Bernard Hinault. However, if he does win here today it would bring him to only 10 less that Eddy Merckx.

His rivals for victory today? Lotto's Andrei Greipel is always one to look out for as too is Argos Shimano's Marcel Kittel. FDJ's sprinter, Nacer Bouhanni, until last weekend was wearing the national colours of France, he did try and get the better of Cav in the early parts of the Giro last month before he withdrew. Orica-GreenEdge are another team who show they have the capability to establish a lead out train and will looking to deliver Matthew Goss to that line. As for Cannondale you can never rule out Peter Sagan wanting to get involved in the mix somewhere today.

25 June 2013

Tour de France 2013: The Teams15 - Astana

The Kazakhstan backed Astana had a crash in pre-Tour training in Tenerife on the 16th  that affected Jakob Fugslang, Andriy Givko and Assan Bazayev. Grivko was the worst affecting breaking his wrist. In the end caution was the better part of valour and Grivko is not going to be in the team which comprises 4 Kazakhs, 2 Italians, 2 Nordic riders and a Slovenian.

Dane Jakob Fuglsang will be the leader after a falling out with the Radioshack team last season. Knee injuries kept him from being the leader of the Giro squad but he fell out with the management before the Tour and was excluded from both the other Grand Tours. Therefore his last GT appearance was when he came 11th in the 2011 Vuelta. So he wasn't able to wear the Danish national time trial jersey he won last June in any Grand Tours, although he did win the Tour of Austria while in dispute with his old team. This season with Astana he has come 6th in the Vuelta a Andalucia, 11 in the Volta a Catalunya and 4th in the Critérium du Dauphine. He will probably be aiming to beat the only Schleck who is in the race, Andy, to show that he should have been given more chances in the Radioshack team.

The first of the Kazakhs is Assan Bazayev who has been with Astana since their formation in 2007. This will however be his first Tour, though has taken part the Vuelta 5 times and the Giro twice, completing all but his last Vuelta. He has been the Kazakh national road race champion twice in 2008 and 2012. In 2010 he managed his best showing in the world championships coming 8th, he previously been 14th in 2008. The pale blue of Astana can usually still be seen in the mountains in numbers and Bazayev is one of those riders who can provide support in the early stages of the tough mountains.

Janez Brajkovič was the 2010 winner of the Critérium du Dauphiné while he was with Radioshack, his reward was selection for his first Tour in which he road mainly in support of Lance Armstrong. Last year riding for himself he managed 9th place in the Tour. He followed that up with 5th in the US Pro Cycling Challenge. His results this year having been anywhere near the standard of his Tour efforts last year, though his last outing in the Tour de Suisse did see him come in 14th. He'll be able to provide valuable support for Fuglsang if he gets his legs back.

Italian Enrico Gasparotto had a good time in the Ardennes Classics last year. He started by winning the Amstel Gold Race, followed by 11th in La Flèche Wallonne then a 3rd place in Liège–Bastogne–Liège. That Amstel win was particularly special as he attacked before the final ascent of the Cauberg and managed to hold off the fast finishing Peter Sagan, who finished third, and the rest from the pack who were approaching fast at the line. This year he again was top 10 in both the Amstel Gold and  Liège–Bastogne–Liège. He is another rider who is making his Tour debut although it will be his 10th Grand Tour.

Fellow Italian Francesco Gavazzi is appearing in his second Tour, his previous appearance being 2010. He has a Grand Tour stage win to his name having won stage 18 of the 2011 edition of the Vuelta. It came after the last big mountain stage and the escape was allowed to stay away from the GC contenders. Last year he came second in the Tour of Beijing but he'll be in this team to help the team leader as much as he can.

Andrey Kashenchkin was one of the Astana riders who tested positive after the 2007 Tour, in which he had been lying 8th when Astana withdrew the whole team after Alexander Vinokourov tested positive. Kashenchkin's positive test led to him being dropped by the team and when he returned after his two year ban he rode for Lampre. He was released by Lampre during the 2011 season and re-signed by Astana in time to ride in the Vuelta that year, in which he failed to impress. His best Grand Tour result was coming 3rd in the 2006 Vuelta. Since his return he has not shown the form he had before his doping offence.

Sweden's Fredrik Kessiakoff had a close battle last year with Tommy Voeckler for the King of the Mountain's jersey in what was his Tour debut. They both held it twice after Chris Froome gave it up, with Voeckler taking it on Stage 16 and not giving it up on the last day with big mountains. He went on to that the ITT stage in the Vuelta before coming 5th in the World Championship TT and 3rd in the Milan-Torino semi-classic. He has already completed this year's Giro so he is looking to complete his 4th straight Grand Tour.

Aleksey Lutsenko is just 20 years old and only Danny Van Poppel (VCD) is younger of those declared so far. The young Kazakh is the current under 23 Road Race World Champion and in 2010 won the Asian junior Road Race title and 2nd in the continental time trial junior champion. This season he was 5th in the Mountain Classification of the Criterium du Dauphiné.

Finally the fourth Kazakh Dmitriy Muravyev has been the national road race champion back in 2002 and Time Trial champion 3 years from 2003-5. When Astana was formed he was one of the original members and helped Contador and the team to wins in 2009. When Johan Bruyneel moved to Radioshack he was the only Kazakh to move with the director. He returned in 2012. This will be his 4th Tour.

Fuglsang is out to prove a point in this season's race having sat out all the Grand Tour's last year. He has a good bunch of riders around him some of who have proven in the past that they can ride the mountains. The climbing ability of young Aleksey Lutsenko is something to be watched as far as the white jersey goes. If he can keep up with the likes of Rolland (EUR) and  Van Garderen (BMC) at least for some of the tough stages he may well be a future winner of that classification.

Tour de France 2013: The Teams 14 - Equipe Cycliste FDJ

After the National Championships at the weekend FDJ will be retaining the national colours on their team, even though the rider who had them last year didn't race in the Tour. They have some great young talents and two of the French stage winners from last year in their team for 2012.

Nacer Bouhanni is the young sprinter who shocked the French riders last year when he won the National Jersey. But he has worn it with honour this year without any commercial branding on his tricolour jersey. He will turn 23 in the week after the Tour, so may be chasing an early birthday present of a stage win on the Champs-Élysées. The only issue is that though is that since his debut in last year's Vuelta he hasn't completed either of the two Grand Tours he has started. In the Vuelta he has 3 top five finishes the best being 2nd on stage 10 to Sanxenxo where he was only beaten by John Degenkolb (ARG). In the Giro he also had three top five finishes a 2nd, 3rd (on the opening stage) and a 4th. But as will all sprinters in that race he lost out to Mark Cavendish (OPQ) on each occasion. He has however crossed the line five times first in that National Jersey which he has now given up to a team mate, including his first race in in Stage 1 of last year's Tour de Wallonie, as well as the opening stage of this year's Paris-Nice.

Thibaut Pinot was another of those French stage winners last year. It was a stage that included 7 categorised climbs and he was cheered home by his enthusiastic Directeur Sportive for a memorable final km. He was also the youngest rider in last year's Tour and it was his debut in Grand Tours. However, he ended up in 10th place, less than a minute behind the other young French hope Pierre Rolland. He comes to the Tour after a 4th place finish in the Tour de Suisse following 12th in the Tour de Romandie. If he shows the form of last year he will have the legs to challenge for the top 10 once again, though he will not be allowed so much leeway if he attack after his achievement last year.

Brazialian Murilo Antonio Fischer is the only non-French rider on this team. The 34 year came 5th in the 2005 World Championship road race behind Belgium's Tom Boonen. Having moved from Garmin this season the veteran sprinter will act as a lead out for the younger Bouhanni. It is his first time riding the Tour since 2008, and only his third appearance in the Grand Boucle. He has however taken part in 6 Grand Tours to date. His best finish in a stage of the Tour came in 2007 when on the stage to Montpellier from Marseille he came third behind Robbie Hunter and Fabian Cancellera. He will have a chance to relive that stage on 4th July.

Jérémy Roy was the most aggressive rider of the 2011 Tour, getting into many breakaways and attacking from within them. In that Tour he attacked on the first stage and again on stage 4 winning his first combative prize for a stage. On the road to Lourdes, stage 13, he went on the attack again to be agonisingly caught  with only 2.5km to go by Thor Hushovd and David Moncoutié, be had however picked up enough points to pull on the polka dot jersey. He attacked again on the final stage and spent a total of 700km more than a fifth of the race in breakaways. In 2008 however, he went one better coming second of stage 18 to Montluçon as part of the two men surviving in the break, losing out to Sylvain Chavanel in the sprint.

Pierrick Fedrigo is another of this team that will have the red, white and blue sleeves to his jersey having won the national title in 2005. He has four stage wins of the Tour on his palmarès the most recent last year when he beat Christian Vande Velde on the run into Pau on stage 15, one of the five won by the French last year (their best haul for some years). This will be his 10th Grande Boucle

Arthur Vichot shocked Sylvain Chavanel (OPQ) with a late attack in the last 2km of the  French National Road Race Championships of Sunday to keep the national colours within the team. His is another of the young talents in this team being just 24, but this will be his 4th Grand Tour. He is the nephew of a double stage winner of the Tour Fréderic Vichot. Last year he took the fifth stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné after a solo effort took him away from the remains of the six man breakaway before he struck in the last 6km. In the Tour du Haut Var earlier this season, a two day race in Provence, he won the GC, points and Young Rider classifications.

At Alexandre Geniez would normally expect to be one of the youngest riders on a team, but there are of course three younger than him in this nine. He arrived this season after three years on the Shimano team. In 2011 he was 2nd in the Tour of Luxembourg his best result to date. This season he was challenging Garmin's Dennis Rohan for best young rider in the Critérium du Dauphiné, he finished 12th overall to lose out to Rohan for that jersey. This will be his home Tour debut having previously taken part in the last two season's Vueltas. In 2011 he recorded a 3rd place finish in an intermediate mountain stage from Solares to Noja.

William Bonnet is another sprinter who will be helping to position Bouhanni on those flat stages. This is his 5th participation in the Tour. In the 2009 Vuelta he came second on back to back stages 15 and 16, losing to Andre Greipel in the first, beating him the following day but finding Anthony Roux was ahead of him. His best finish in a Tour stage was 5th in 2011 on the sprint to Châteauroux, coming in behind the who's who of sprinters Cavendish, Patacchi, Greipel and Feillu. One of his biggest wins to date would be the win on stage two of the 2010 Paris-Nice.

Arnold Jeannesson wore the white jersey for best young rider for two days in the 2011 Tour, he ended up in 14th place on GC and 4th in the young rider classification (3rd best young French rider). He did not ride last year's Tour depite having been 6th in the GC of Paris-Nice in the run up to it, but instead rode the Vuelta and started this year's Giro. He had been showing form in the Giro including a 5th place on the tough finish to stage 4 before he was one of those riders who succumbed to the cold conditions.

There is a lot of young and proving talent on this team with some older heads to help nurture that. Bouhanni has been getting close on those sprints against the big names so might well steal a stage or two from under the noses of Cavendish and Greipel. Pinot and Jeannesson are some of the brighter lights in the young French riders who could push for high finishes in the GC but there are others who are very capable of taking stages. FDJ are certainly looking to challenge in all areas, not for over all leads but certainly on almost every type of stage.

Tour de France 2013: The Teams 13: AG2R - La Mondiale

On the eleventh the first five riders of AG2R - La Mondiale were named. The remaining four were only announced after the completion of the national championships at the weekend. With the final line up they have an all French line up.

The leader is Jean-Christophe Péraud who won a silver medal in the Beijing Olympics in the Mountain Bike race. The following year he was the surprise winner on the roads of the French national time trial championships which lead to him signing for Omega Pharma - Quick-Step for the following season before his move to AG2R - La Mondiale. In 2011 he was 9th the the GC. This year he finished third in Paris-Nice behind Sky's Richie Porte and Garmin's Andrew Talansky. He is 36 and only riding in his third tour.

Of the other four named in advance the first is Romain Bardet. The 22 year old Frenchman is only in his second season as a pro. But last year showed he could go on the attack in the mountains in the Tour of Turkey. He ended up 5th on the tough stage 3 and 5th overall. He finished his preparations for his debut Tour with a fourth place finish in the Route du Sud behind Tommy Voeckler (MOV).

Maxime Bouet will be taking part in his five consecutive Tour since his debut in 2009. This season he came third in the Giro del Trentino which was won by Vincenzo Nibali (AST) but two places better than Bradley Wiggins (SKY). His best result in a Tour stage came on stage 2 from Brussels to Spa when he led the pack home behind a Sylvain Chavanel (OPQ) lone victory. That day the sprinters were left behind due to a hilly end to the day.

Puncheur Samuel Dumoulin has returned this season from Cofidis where he had raced since 2008. That first year at Cofidis he won his only stage in the Tour when he was part of a four man breakaway on the road to Nantes on stage 3, he out sprinted the others to take the line.This will be his tenth participation in the Tour. He has regularly taken stages on lesser Tour including 3 in the Étoile de Bessèges and 3 in the Volta a Catalunya, in the latter in 2009 he took the points classification without winning a stage that year.

Blel Kardi was 8th in the 2011 Tour Under. But this year was part of a breakaway in the first hour of the Roma Maxima, with 40km to go he attacked and left his escape companions behind and held off the peleton to triumph in Rome. This year will be the 26 year old's 3rd Tour, he has completed both his previous circuits as he has his two appearances in the Vuelta. In that first Tour in 2011 he did manage to finish 23rd on the last mountain stage to Alpe d'Huez.

Hubert Dupont is a climber with some high finishes in Grand Tours. He was 11th in the 2011 Giro and 16th the following year. He was also 21st in the 2011 Tour and his best Vuelta was 17th in 2008. He's already ridden this years Giro but his climbing legs will be there to assist Péraud in the Tour. This season he was 2nd in the Mountain Classification of Étoile de Bessèges and 7th in the GC of the Route du Sud.

John Gadret is another super domestique like Dupont. He was actually 3rd in that 2011 Giro. In 2010 he was 18th in the Tour a position he also achieved in the 2008 Vuelta. This season he has been been 3rd in the Route du Sud, 10th in the Critérium International and Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco. Despite making his Grand Tour debut in 2004 this is only his 4th Tour and he has failed to complete two of those he did start. He is distinctive because of his bald head.

Sébastien Minard will be taking part in his 5th consecutive Tour. He was 4th in this year's Tour de Picardie. In 2010 he won the semi-classic Paris-Camembert and event which some of the World Tour teams use a preparation from the Ardennes Classics which follow it. In 2009 he recored his best result in Tour stage when he finished 5th on stage 14 into Besançon, one of the 12 men who had stayed away together for most of the stage. He finished 5'20" ahead of the main field that day, but 16 seconds down of Serguei Ivanov who made a late dash for the line.

Finally there is Christophe Riblon who has spent his whole professional career at AG2R since turning pro in 2005. This will be his 6th Tour since his first appearance in 2008, his highlight was the stage win in 2010 to Ax-3 Domaines. He was part of the break that went clear 30km into the day, but he crested the penultimate summit  Port de Pailheres alone, he had a 2 minute lead at the foot of Ax-3 Domaines retaining about half of that as the main contenders did battle behind him.

Péraud has plenty of support in this team, plus there are a number of opportunists who in the past have made it into successful breaks. No doubt AG2R will continue to send people up the road when they can, there are a French team, full of French riders in the Tour de France, so having men in the break is good for their sponsors. Péraud is capable of a top 10 finish, the form he had in Paris-Nice if he can carry it through to here with the support of Dupont and Gadret in the mountains should keep him in contention.

23 June 2013

Tour de France 2013: The Teams 12 - BMC

Six of the team that BMC are sending to France helped Cadel Evans to his win in 2011. However, while there are places for the 2009 World Champion and reigning World Champion Philippe Gilbert there is no space for the 2010 World Champion Thor Hushovd. Thor has pulled out of the 2012 Giro and subsequent Tour which would have been his 12th is a row with a viral infection which was affecting his muscles, but has returned to form this season. So the team with so many rainbow rings of the sleeves is one less for this Tour.

Cadel Evans is the most recent of the three past winners to be taking part in this year's Tour now that the defending champion will not be there. It is his 9th consecutive Tour de France. But the only other time he did this on the back of a ride in the Giro in 2010 he finished a disappointing 26th, one of only two times he failed to finish in the top 10. He says himself that he was a surprise call up for BMC's Giro squad, but he ended up on the third step of podium. He has now been on the podium of all three Grand Tours, his 3rd in the 2009 Vuelta, his 2011 Tour win (plus his 2nds in 2007 & 2008). While his third in the Giro is good he ended behind Rigoberto Uran who was meant to have been riding in support of Wiggins and hasn't even made the Sky team for the Tour. Before his third in Giro there were some doubting his ability to still challenge for GCs in Grand Tours and indeed many felt he wasn't even the best GC hope in his own team. But maybe there is fight in the only Aussie to have won a Grand Tour.

The young American from Washington state Tejay van Garderen is still eligible for the Young Rider Classification he picked up last year when finishing 5th. There were many last year who felt that at times the younger rider looked stronger than his team leader and maybe spent too long protecting him in the Pyrénées, if he hadn't might he have finished higher in the overall. This year he has won the Amgen Tour of California and was 4th in Paris-Nice where he lost out on the Young Rider jersey to fellow American Garmin's Andrew Talansky. But he got the better of Talansky and only came behind the duo from Sky Froome and Porte in the Critérium International. It is yet to be seen if Tejay or Cadel will come top of the BMC riders this year. Also if Cadel gets into trouble will Tejay be made to wait and assist or will he get the nod to go for it.

Philippe Gilbert will be wearing the rainbow strips as world champion for all the non-time trial stages of the race. He is a classics specialist having won the Amstel Gold, Giro di Lombardie and Paris-Tours twice. In 2011 he became only the second person to win the three Ardennes classics Amstel Gold, La Flèche Wallonne and Liège–Bastogne–Liège. These three one day races occur within 8 days in April, but they were in the middle of a remarkable run as Gilbert had already won the one day De Brabantse Pijl and went on to win the Tour of Belgium and Ster ZLM Toer, then won the Belgian national road race title before taking the first stage in the Tour de France. It was a season that saw him win four more times after he arrived in Paris giving his the UCI Tour Championship. Last year was inevitably a bit of a come down but there are signs that he is back to his attacking best this season. It will interesting to see if he is allowed to go on the attack in the medium mountains.

American Brent Bookwalter is a time trialist. Sadlyin May he missed out just on both the American Road Race and Time Trial championships, second in both. But earlier this season he did record his first pro win with the first stage of the Tour of Oman. This will be his third Tour, the last being the one won by Cadel Evans in 2011. His best individual result in the Tour was in the 2010 Prologue where he finished 10th around the streets of Rotterdam.

Marcus Burghardt of Germany is a classics specialist but in 2010 he picked up the points classification in the Tour de Suisse and the Mountain's Classification in this year's Tour de Romandie. This is his sixth tour since his debut in 2007, he only missed in 2009, and he has made it around each time. He also picked up a stage win in 2008 when he and Carlos Barredo battled it out on stage 18 into St Etienne during his Columbia days.

France's Amaël Moinard must have had all the French thinking they had another man who might deliver that first Tour home since Hinault when on his debut in 2008 he finished 15th. But since then his best result in the other four Tours has been 45th. A lot of that great result in 2008 was down to him making a long lone breakaway that finally got swamped by a group of 11 but ended up over 14 minutes ahead of the main field on stage 11 to Foix. For that effort he was awarded the most combative prize on the stage.

Swiss rider Steve Morabito has already accompanied Evans around this years Giro, in which he finished 34th. This will be his third Tour again he was another of those on the BMC Team that helps Evans secure his title. His best pro result was 4th in the 2010 Tour de Suisse in which he was beaten by Frank Schleck by a mere 23 seconds, Lance Armstrong and Jakob Fuglsang.

Italian Manuel Quinziato was new to the BMC team when he was part of the support for Evans 2011 win. This will be the 8th Tour for the 33 year old. In 2006, his second participation he actually managed to come 4th on two separate stages of the Tour. In 2009 he came 9th in Paris Roubaix. He has mainly been a utility rider through his career, but in 2003 he came close to claiming his National Time Trial championship when he came second.

The final rider is 26 year old Michael Schar from Switzerland. He too was a part of that 2011 Tour win for Evans, when he completed his first Grand Bouclé. But that was his completion of the three Grand Tours since his debut just shy of his 23rd birthday in the 2009 Vuelta a España. He's ridden the Tours of Oman, Qatar, California, Tirreno-Adriatico and Tour de Suisse in preparation for the Tour this year. Hoping to once again lead a BMC rider to victory on the Champs-Élysées.

The big question for BMC is does Cadel Evans have enough in his legs to podium in the Tour after his podium in the Giro. That was a tough race to complete never mind complete in contention plus the last time he doubled up those two Tours he was off the pace in France. But he does have three of what he calls his guardian angels from that 2011 Tour around him once more Quinziato, Burghardt and Schar. There is the ready made back up plan with Tejay, the young American may well be the second American to be Tour de France Champion. It may not be this year with Froome, Contador and Rodriguez to contend with, but once he is installed as the Team Leader he will be hungry for that success. BMC should have at least one rider in the top ten of the GC come Paris, I'm just not sure that they'll have two.

* Now that Lance Armstrong's titles have been wiped from the record books.

22 June 2013

Tour de France 2013: The Teams 11 - Katusha

The Russian backed team are coming to this Tour with a proven Grand Tourist leading their team, a rider who may well bring a challenge to the Froome-Contador battle that many were not looking beyond.

Joaquim Rodriguéz has been in the top four of 4 of the last 5 Grand Tours (since he joined Katusha in 2010) he has contested and 7 top ten finishes since 2008. In the last two years he's been 4th then 2nd in the Giro d'Italia, and in 2010 and 2012 finished 3rd in the Vuelta a España. In both 2010 and 2012 he topped the UCI Tour ranking, winning the late season Giro di Lombardia being enough to overcome Bradley Wiggins outstanding year. This year he has already finished 2nd in Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the Volta a Catalunya. His lose in last year's Giro only came on the last stage time trial which is not his strongest suit, though he can be an explosive rider in the Mountains. The way he is riding recently is more likely to put pressure on the way Sky would have wanted to ride the mountains with Wiggins, though Froome has the sort of acceleration that might be able to respond repeatedly. With Contador not looking too sharp at times this year I think that Rodriguéz may well be the one challenging Froome for the title in what is only his second Grande Bouclé.

Daniel Moreno came from the same Caisse d'Epargne team as Rodriguez and found his way into each of his Grand Tour Teams since he arrived in Katusha. He will be the super domestique on this team, being 9th in the 2011 Vuelta and 5th last year just over a minute down on Chris Froome. He won this year's La Flèche Wallonne and was 3rd in the Critérium du Dauphiné behind the Sky double act of Froome and Richie Porte. In the Dauphiné he was riding better than Rodriguez, but that may have been down to the weather. However, he will be the second string to the Katusha bow in the stage and is capable of a top ten finish even if he does ride in support of Rodriguez.

The first of three Russians on the squad is Pavel Brutt a puncheur who will be competing in his second Grand Tour of the season having completed the Giro in May.  Indeed this will be his third consecutive Grand Tour. He was one of those who crashed out on the crash strewn stage 9 of the 2011 Tour, the last time he took part here in France. But in 2008 he was part of a breakaway  on the medium mountain stage 5 that stayed away and allowed him to win the stage. Sadly he was out of the race 4 stages later.

Norwegian Alexander Kristoff will turn 26 on the day the race heads to Albi on 5 July in this his debut Tour. Last year the sprinter took the bronze in the Olympic Road Race and this year took three stages in his home Tour of Norway. He has had three top ten finishes in the monument classics this year 4th in the Tour of Flanders, 8th in Milan-San Remo and 9th in Paris-Roubaix. So he has shown that he is somewhat more than just a last minute sprinter. In 2011 he was his national road race champion.

Aleksandr Kuschynski was the 2005, 2010 and 2011 Belarus Road Race Champion. In 2007 he won three stages and the GC of the Five Rings of Moscow. This will be the roleur's 6th appearance in the Tour his best stage result coming in his debut in 2007 when he was 9th on the stage into Marseille when he had been leading out Michael Albasini for the sprint. He's been part of a number of well placed Team Time Trials for Katusha in recent years so expect him and the team to place well again on stage 4.

Spaniard Alberto Losada moved from Caisse d'Epargne to Katusha in 2011 the year after Rodriguez, but has been part of each Rodriguez Grand Tour appearance since he moved. He will be a domestique for his fellow Spaniard. He was 11th in this year's Paris-Nice. This will be his first Tour after 7 previous Grand Tours since his debut in the Giro in 2007.

26 year old Latvian Gatis Smukulis is making his Tour debut. He was another rider who was part of the team that helped Rodriguez around the Giro and Vuelta last year for two top three finishes, in what to date have been his only Grand Tours. Earlier this week he won the Latvian time trial championship for the third year in a row and came second in their road race championships. His only pro win to date was in the 2011 Volta Ciclista a Catalunya.

Yuri Trofimov along with Brutt is the only member of this squad to have taken part and completed this year's first Grand Tour the Giro, as well as being another Russian. He was the top placed Katusha finisher in the Giro coming 13th. This will be his 5th Tour participation. He is a former mountainbike U23 world champion with stage wins in the Critérium du Dauphiné, Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco and Etoile de Bessèges, when he won a stage in the latter he also won the GC in 2008. He is liable to be another strong support for Rodriguez after his performance in this year's Giro.

The final Russian on the team is Eduard Vorganov who has worn the national jersey as Russian Road Race champion for the last twelve months, it was a jersey he won in an all-Katusha podium. Last year he finished 19th in the Tour in support of Denis Menchov. In 2009 he managed his best finishes in both the Giro and Vuelta 23rd and 26th respectively. He's ridden for both Rodriguez and Menchov as team leaders over the last few years so is well versed to supporting a leader riding high in the GC.

While Rodriguez is the de facto leader of this Kathusha team, Daniel Moreno is a good rider to have in reserve. There could well be two top ten rides in this team. Kristoff has a less than 20% success rate against Cavendish, Greipel or Sagan and only wins one in three against Kittel. It may not be enough for him but this will be a learning experience against so many of the world's fastest finishers in one race.

21 June 2013

Tour de France 2013: The Teams 10 Lotto-Belisol

Lotto-Belisol actually named their team yesterday but I didn't have time to write them up. They are lloking to do the same as last year and have one GC contender plus a guy going for points and stages in the sprints.

Jurgen Van Den Broeck has twice been just off the podium in the Tour, last year the Belgian found himself there once again after being elevated for 2010 after Contador was excluded. He has also kept just missing the podium of the Critérium du Dauphiné coming 4th in 2010, 2011 and 5th in 2012. He's been top ten in all three Grand Tours with 7th in the 2008 Giro and 8th in the 2011 Vuelta. This season he started with a 5th in the Tour de San Luis, 2nd in the Vuelta a Andalucia and was 7th in the Tour de Romandie. He didn't have his best time in the Dauphiné but then the weather affected a lot of riders. He could once again be thereabouts looking for yet another top 10 finish.

Andre Greipel  was one of the three riders to win three stages in last year's Tour. The others being Mark Cavendish and Peter Sagan. This year of course the German will not just be facing Cavendish but Cav's team in support of him, like it was on stage 18 and 20 last year. This year he has secured three points jerseys: Tour of Turkey v Marcel Kittel (ARG), Baloise Belgium Tour v Philippe Gilbert (BMC) and Danny van Poppel (VCD), Ster ZLM Toer GP Jan van Heeswijk v Kittel and Lars Boom (BLA). But it is when he comes up against Cavendish that he often has to settle for second best. In Grand Tour encounters he has only been ahead 6 times to Cavendish's 11, 5 wins to 9. He will have to be on his best form and time his final kick just right to get the better of his former high road team mate. Update Greipel sprinted to the German national road race title on the Sunday before the Tour.

Last year Aussie Adam Hansen become only the second from his country to complete all three Grand Tours in a calendar year, joining an elite club of 32 riders. If he gets to the line in Paris he will have completed six Grand Tours in a row, good but still trailing Marino Lejarettta, who completed all three Tours from 1989-91. He won a solo stage in this year's Giro when he reached Pescara in the pouring rain on stage 7. He's an experienced domestique entering his 13th Grand Tour and in all likelihood he's going to get around.

Jürgen Roelandts will be one of the men tasked with looking after Greipel in the final kms of the stage. He's not a bad sprinter in his own right having won this season's points classification in the Tour Méditerranéen. This will be his 4th time in the Tour and he knows how to get around. The Belgian was 5th in the World Championship road race in 2011 behind Mark Cavendish, but he'll be working to get Greipel up to a speed that he might be able to beat the Manx Missile.

Marcel Sieberg is another carriage in that lead out train. Like Greipel and Hansen he has come through the HTC Columbia team. Indeed his best Grand Tour finish was 4th on stage 9 of the 2009 Vuelta in which he was also the 3rd best Columbia rider. So with that experience in Columbia he is used to being part of the most effective lead out train machine there was, but now some of those guys like Marcel are doing what they can to stop their former number one sprinter.

Gregory Henderson  is the first New Zealander to be confirmed for the 2013 Tour and is the third man assigned to be part of Greipel's train. He is another of the Columbia old boys, via two seasons at Sky. He has a Grand Tour stage under his belt in the 2009 Vuelta, but his sprinting form is another going to accelerate Greipel towards the end. He's twice won the points classification in the Tour of Georgia in 2005 and again 2008. He had a successful track career including being World Champion in the Scratch race.

Bart de Clercq is only a third year pro but this will already be his fourth Grand Tour, though Tour Debut. In that first year he actually won stage 7 of the Giro, before finishing the 2011 staging in 26th.  Last year he was 17th in the Vuelta after being 40th in the Giro. This year he has been 17th in Paris-Nice and 5th in the Vuelta a Andalucia. He'll be keeping an eye on Van Den Broeck in the mountains helping his leader stay with the GC contenders.

Lars Ytting Bak is taking back in his third Tour, after the last two and tenth Grand Tour. His first Tour found him as part of Cavendish's sprint train, so he can slot it if required to Greipel's. His another all rounder who has won an individual stage in the 2012 Giro by holing off the chasing pack and was 4th in one of the Tour last year. In 2011 he came 5th in Paris-Roubaix so may well be able to go on an attack at some point on one of the tougher stages. In 2005 he won his only Tour race the Tour de l'Avenir, he has been both the road race and time trial (x3) champion of Denmark.

The final member is another Belgian Frederik Willems he won the Étoile de Bessèges in 2006. He's appearing in his 5th Tour and 8th Grand Tour. He will be a utility rider for whatever type of stage is being faced on the day. He had a difficult 2012 but is back to form this season. He was involved in a crash on stage 9 of the 2011 Tour which also saw the end of Van Den Broeck's race as well as the infamous crash involving the French TV car which wiped out Juan Antonia Flecha and Johnny Hoogerland.

Lotto-Belisol are going for the same two prongs of attack as they did last year, with mostly the same personnel. The one they may find hardest to hit is getting Greipel the same number of wins. Kittel retired early last year and Cavendish was without dedicated support. But Van Den Broeck if he is on form should be challenging for top ten finish.