19 June 2013

Tour de France 2013: The Teams 6 - Radioshack - Leopard

With Chris Horner out through injury and Frank Schleck still under suspension until half way through this year's race the question for Radioshack was who would be their designated leader. Andy Schleck the 2010 winner is still on the road back from recovery following his broken pelvis in last year's Critérium du Dauphiné. In the end the team plumped for Schleck but there is a strong group of possibles who will be his Lieutenants but ready to step up as Captain if the form is not there. With Fabian Cancellara ruling himself out earlier this month so he can focus on the World Championships here is how the team finally shaped up.

Andy Schleck will be back at the helm of Radioshack-Leopard's team for this year's Tour. A crash in the Critérium du Dauphiné took him out at a cruel point of the season last year. His recent appearance in the Amgen Tour of California in which he only came 25th was poor by his past high standards but there were signs that progress was being made for his recovery. He would like to actually stand on the top step of the podium in Paris, that right denied him because he only won when Contador was exposed as a drug cheat. It was also the race of the controversial 39 seconds that he lost to Contador due to a mechanical, and was the gap at the end of the race on road time.

Haimar Zubeldia has been a top ten finisher in the Tour on four occasions 5th in 2003 and 2007 and 6th last year when he was the team leader. The Basque born rider obviously started his career with Euskaltel-Euskadi but after spending 2009 with Astana he has been part of the Radioshack set up. This will be his twelve appearance in the Tour a race that he has done better in that his native Vuelta through the years. He has surprising only had two career wins some 10 years apart the latter being the Tour de l'Ain in 2010. But he exploded unto the scene in 2000 when he placed second and best young rider in the Critérium du Dauphine, he's had three further top ten finishes in that race since. If Andy is not on form expect Haimar to take over the role of leader.

German Andreas Klöden has been second in the Tour twice, once behind Armstrong making him the top non-disqualified race) and also in the Tour that saw Floyd Landis DQed in which he was elevated to second.  He is lining up for his 11th Tour de France. He will be a key team mate in the mountain passes for the team leader. He finished just outside the top ten in last year's Tour so has the legs to help with pacing in the mountains before the attacks come in.

Belgian Maxime Monfort finshed 6th in the 2011 Vuelta a España making him the fourth member of this team who could have GC intentions of their own. He was 16th in last year's Tour rounding out not a bad trio of results for himself, Zubeldia and Klöden after Frank Schleck was expelled from the Tour. He is a good all rounder and has     been his nation's time trial champion. This year his best result was 4th in the Tour Méditerranéen.

Jens Voigt the 41 year old going on 42 will be the oldest starter in this years Tour which will be his 16th participation. It leaves him one behind George Hincapie and Stuart O'Grady (who is also starting this year) for most participations in le Grande Bouclé. The East German born rider has been in both the yellow (twice) and polka dots in his 15 previous Tours. But it is propensity to attack, up the tempo and keep the hammer down for which is legendary. In the recent Tour of California he was at it again on stage 5 in the wind. He formed an echelon which split the field with 55km to go due to the tempo he was riding. In the end he won the stage with a later solo attack of his own.

Belgian Jan Bakelants won the 2008 Tour de l'Avenir and although this will be his first Tour de France he has taken part in both the Giro and Vuelta in each of the last 3 years. His best GC performance when he was 19th in the 2010 Vuelta. He is another all round rider who will be able to support the team leader in the mountains. He was 5th in last season Grand Prix de Wallonie.

Laurent Didier will be the fellow Luxembourger in this team for Schleck in lieu of the leader's brother. He is another first time Tour entrant but with two Giros and a Vuelta under his saddle. Last year he the first person without the surname Schleck to be Luxembourg's national champion since 2008. He too followed the Tour of California, Critérium du Dauphiné route to the Tour, finishing 16th in the former 9 places ahead of Schleck.

25 year old French rider  Tony Gallopin picked up two best young rider prizes last season, in the Tour of Oman where he was third over all and in Bayern-Rundfahrt in which he was 6th. This year his best result was coming in 3rd on a medium mountainous stage 2 in the Critérium du Dauphiné. That plus being 7th in the short prologue of this year's Tour of Oman shows that he has a turn of speed about him.

Finally there is Spaniard Markel Irizar  to complete Radioshack's support. A Basque rider who started his career with Euskaltel-Euskadi he is a testicular cancer survivor. Although this will be his 10th Grand Tour it is only his second time in the Tour after a previous outing for Radioshack in 2011.

So Radioshack-Leopard have enough support there for Andy Schleck so that if the form is not up to him being a GC contender one of the others could slip into the role with Schleck maybe hoping to slip away and pick up mountain points or stages if he falls far enough behind not to be a threat. It is a cunning plan if your star rider hasn't yet returned to his best form.

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