Sorry but I’m not going to write a big Tour de France preview. They all say the same thing:
- Contador’s the favourite
- Andy Schleck’s his closest challenge
- Those cobbles could cost someone the race
- Can Wiggins go better?
- Eugene Christophe broke his forks in the Pyrenees
…I could go on, take a look at some of the excellent previews out there that cover the riders, the course and the history. There’s no point adding to it all.
Instead, here’s some quick analysis of the French teams. They all lack obvious GC candidates so it comes down to smaller battles. Like sampling lesser wines, the pleasure comes in the surprise find, not the prestige and perfection of a grand cru.
Unlike other domains, the French are painfully aware that they might have the best race in the world but that they don’t have the best riders. Nevertheless many in France don’t mind, they just want to see the French give their all.
Hope dies last
The French riders know their limits but will battle hard for their chance to win, going in near-hopeless breakaways. Why? Well first the TV coverage of the breakaway is a substantial bonus for the sponsor, plus the riders will be interviewed on TV afterwards and some will become near-daily fixtures for a comment on TV and radio. And a move will eventually get its chance, glory is possible.
Don’t forget that the French public will be keen to see French riders winning given the humiliation of the soccer world cup. The sight of a rider on €50,000 a year, not a week, slogging up a mountain pass whilst rain lashes down or heat dessicates the body is something many French citizens will admire.
What do they do? Consumer loans.
The Boss: Rein Taraamae has a big engine but has struggled to control it, dispensing energy mid-race rather than a precision effort in the final. I don’t see him going high on the overall but he’s a powerful all-rounder. His weakness is the heat.
He might surprise: Rémi Pauriol’s a clever rider with decent abilities. It’s time for him to bag a stage.
Last chance saloon: Amaël Moinard surprised some with a strong ride in 2008, but his bid for GC glory never worked in 2009. This so often happens, a French rider gets in a couple of breaks and climbs up the GC. No mean feat but the weight of expectations is like putting a brick in your jersey pockets, repeating the performance is near possible.
Remarks: a motley crue of stage win poachers, several riders are capable of the top-25 on GC. Not that this is the aim, what I’m saying is that these guys have above average sized engines. The team hasn’t won a stage since 2008, they ought to win now.
What do they do? Domestic broadband and mobile phone network.
The Boss: he’s not a natural leader but with the French flag on his back, Thomas Voeckler’s the team’s top rider.
He might surprise: Yukiya Arashiro should liven up the race. He’s gone from a media curiosity to a genuinely strong rider. I’d certainly like to see him win a race because he’s a nice guy.
Last chance saloon: two riders are sitting here. First is Pierre Rolland, he won the KoM jersey in the 2008 Dauphiné and since then has been talked about as the next big thing. Only he hasn’t delivered at all. Some say he’s not built for the Tour, he’d make a better classics contender but the French system means he’s been typecast as a Grand Tour hope. But he is getting strong and has a monster engine, he can deliver.
The quiet Pierrick Fedrigo isn’t under pressure but he’s talked about moving to a bigger team and this Tour will influence his career options.
Remarks: the team is run as a family, a band of brothers. Discipline doesn’t exist, fun and self-expression count for more than wins. It’s frustrating at times, you almost want them to try training with SRMs and to have a killer of a DS in the team car but that would make them boring. At times Team Sky get more publicity for their materials than their charisma-free riders.
The team’s still hunting for a sponsor for next year. The word is that a pre-agreement has been signed with a backer and that the actual sponsorship agreement will be signed during the Tour.
La Française des Jeux
What do they do? The French national lottery.
The Boss: Christophe Le Mevel. He cracked the top-10 last year but did this thanks to a breakaway, he was allowed to gain time and then he held on his advantage. Whether he can repeat this remains to be seen but he’s a hard rider who has been trained to perfection by Frédéric Grappe.
He might surprise: Anthony Roux won a stage of the Vuelta last year. Then a neo-pro he showed the ability to win but with the bunch chasing he masterfully played his breakaway companions like Gary Kasparov challenging people in a coffee house. Matthieu Ladagnous is a former pursuit champion, he’s also worth watching for a stage win.
Last chance saloon: Rémy di Grégorio was once tipped as the next Richard Virenque. That’s not the sort of comparison you might want for several reasons.
Remarks: the sponsor’s signed for more which is good news but the budget hasn’t gone up, leaving Marc Madiot hunting for a co-sponsor so he can swell the ranks.
What do they do? Top up health insurance.
The Boss: Nico Roche is the leader, a strong rider but one who lacks a speciality.
He might surprise: Rinaldo Nocentini had such a bad broken leg earlier this year that it’s a pleasure simply to see him back in the race. Nevertheless he is a talented rider with a a nose for the win, watch out for him.
Last chance saloon: John Gadret had a great Giro. He’s under pressure from the French media to deliver the KoM jersey and it’s possible. He was able to stay with the best in the Giro, he should be able to clip off in the mountains and bag some points, even if the jersey contest is fierce.
Remarks: I’d hate to be the team manager because selecting the team is hard work. With no obvious picks but plenty of strong contenders, it’s hard to see the stand out riders.
Omega-Lotto’s Mickael Delage is a strong rider, on the podium in the French national championships. He might take his chances given he has fewer duties.
Caisse d’Epargne have young Mathieu Perget and 39 year old Christophe Moreau, who will be on a final lap of France, eager to milk the audience, roadside and TV, for support.
Quick Step have the duo of Chavanel and Pineau. Both are strong riders and you’d hope one of them will bag a stage. Chavanel left French teams because he wanted to focus more on the classics instead of being under pressure to deliver in July. Ironically he know wants to shine in the Tour to compensate for a disappointing, injury-hit spring campaign. Watch out for him on a rainy day.