Tuesday, February 13, 2007

2007 Pro Tour Team Preview

Okay...since it's only mid-February, I thought now would be as good a time as any to take a look at the 2007 Pro Tour Team lineup. Many of the players are the same but there are more questions than answers for most of these teams heading into the season. I originally wanted to add some insight into the business of the sponsors but kind of got bored with that about halfway through. Regardless, 2007 looks to be an exciting year for bike racing and hopefully there are some tidbits about the teams and/or riders in here that are new to you. I'll look at the Tour of California lineup and US Domestic teams shortly but without further ado...here are your 2007 UCI ProTour cycling teams (in alphabetical order):

AG2R - France - Insurance Company:

Christophe Moreau, Cyrille Dessel, Martin Elmiger, Simon Gerrans

Moreau is known as "Le Chien”, French for "The Dog", as he always has his tongue out when under pressure…and has a canine IQ with regard to racing tactics and class while nipping annoyingly at the heels of the best riders. But he’s consistently the best placed Fenchman in the Tour…for whatever that’s worth. Despite a successful TdF last year…this team may have already had it’s biggest win of 2007 with Elmiger’s TDU victory over Ten Menzies.

Astana - Kazakhstan - 7 Industrial companies under the name of the nations capital:

Alex Vinokourov, Andrey Kashechkin, Andreas Kloden, Paolo Salvoldelli

Astana means “capital” in the Kazhakh language and the city has a population of approximately 500,000. Formerly known as Akmola, city officials changed the name in 1997 and predict that the population could rise to 1M within a decade due to a booming oil business among other industries. Contrary to popular opinion neither Borat nor Wu-Tang Clan are acknowledged sponsors. This is a super-strong team with a chip on its shoulder after numerous issues faced in 2006. They will contend for all three Grand Tours with Salvoldelli in the Giro, Vino and Kloden in the Tour and Kashechkin in the Vuelta. Don’t sleep on Kash…he’s for real.

Bouygues Telecom - France – Telecommunications:

Laurent Brochard, Thomas Voeckler, Pierrick Fedrigo

Voeckler’s nickname growing up in Martinique was “petit blanc” or “small white boy.” Nice. Brochard no longer has a mullet. Not nice. Also not nice is the fact that I don’t see many wins for these guys this year…at all. Maybe the French national championship but…that’s not great either. The best part about this team is when Bob Roll calls them "Booygee Telecom." That's fun.

Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears - Spain - French Savings Bank and Ballearic Islands Gov't:

Alejandro Valverde, Oscar Periero, Vladimir Karpets

The main islands of Balears are Majorca, Minorca and Ibiza. The islands were originally settled by a very mixed population, of whose habits several strange stories are told. In some stories, it is said that the people went naked or were clothed only in sheep-skins – replaced recently by latex…at least on Ibiza from what I’ve heard. Oh yeah, I almost forgot to mention that Valverde can pretty much win on any given day that he wants to (although I still don’t see him winning a Grand Tour this year) and Periero will never win another big race for the rest of his career.

Cofidis - France – Phone Credit Company:

Sylvain Chavanel, David Moncoutie, Nick Nuyens, Tyler Farrar

Cofidis will never live down its disrespectful handling of Lance Armstrong and Chavanel will never outlive his reputation as a punk in many people’s eyes. He has consistently been one of the highest paid riders and yet continues to race like a little scared child. His lack of courage in the 2005 Tour de France when riding to the finish with Chris Horner (who had been in the break all freaking day and was the only one with the…uh…guts to go with the Frenchman) was maddening to virtually all who watched. “Just Ride You Chump!!!!” I recall screaming at the TV. That was not the only time he’s done that either. Hopefully Nuyens will add some Belgian sack to the French Cofidis team along with the next American sprinting and Classics hopeful Tyler Farrar – both being on the tougher side of the spectrum than Sylvia Chavanel. Oh…sorry, Sylvain. Whatever.

Credit Agricole - France – Banking Corporation:

Thor Hushovd, Pietro Caucchioli, Mark Renshaw, Saul Raisin

CA is the largest banking group in France and the second largest in all of Europe. Go Euro! No one in their right mind will question the Nordic toughness that is Thor Hushovd and he will win some things this year but the rest of the team may be lacking. It is a French team after all. Caucchioli is good at finishing in anything but first place on most climbing stages and Renshaw has a lot to prove before being considered for many wins. Hopefully Saul Raisin will get back up to speed soon but CA may be looking to the Norwegian for virtually all of its results in 2007.

CSC - Denmark - Information Technology Services:

C. Sastre, F. Cancellara, D. Zabriskie, S. O’Grady, J. Voigt, B. Julich, F. Schleck, JJ Haedo

With CSC ranked only a mere 141st on the 2006 Fortune 500 list, it is either pretty impressive or kind of depressing that they have the #1 UCI cycling team in the world. The fact that it is an American company but registered as a Danish team makes me sad…even if they do hold their camps in Solvang. Sastre is no Basso but he should be able to contend more as a team leader in the Grand Tours. However, CSC’s strength seems to lie in one-day races and time trials and this is likely where they will see the most success in 2007. Hopefully JJ Haedo will show himself well in the sprints and Bobby J, Zabriskie and VDV will represent. Look for Cancellara to push Zabriskie and continue being a moped and for Schleck to stay very skinny and very fast. And let’s get Bobby J that Grand Tour leaders jersey for a few days huh? Maybe after the TTT?

Discovery Channel - Multi-channel Cable TV Network:

Ivan Basso, George Hincapie, Levi Leipheimer, Tom Danielson, Alberto Contador, Popovych

The Discovery Channel took the premise of the program “Overhaulin’” to extremes with the 2007 cycling team. Gone are many of the riders from the Armstrong era, replaced by the likes of Basso, Leipheimer and Contador. The latter had one of the most amazing sequences I have ever seen on film when he pulled out of his pedal during a descent of the 2005 Paris-Nice…or maybe Criterium International (I always get them mixed up). He was grinding out of a corner and completely pulled his foot out, coming within centimeters of plowing into a rock wall at 40+mph. He managed to keep it upright somehow but it was a startling sequence. Bob Roll was cracking up and said that Contador may have gotten nervous when word came that Vino was chasing him. I don’t know about that but I have heard that Levi is looking toward a potential Vuelta shot after Basso’s signing and that Hincapie has had his Paris-Roubaix stem and handlebar system dipped in titanium to avoid a crash like last year. I still cringe when I envision him sitting up on the bike and waving his hands in the air before eating it into the ditch. Brutal. I really hope he can get Flanders or Roubaix this year because time’s a wasting. I think that would be bigger than another American Grand Tour win.

Euskaltel-Euskadi - Spain - Regional Telecommunications and Basque Government:

Samuel Sanchez, Haimar Zubeldia, Inigo Landaluze

“Excuse me…I asked for no Mayo on my Euskaltel-Euskadi.” The orange-clad team from the Basque Country has finally lost/ditched its most famous rider as Iban Mayo defected to yellow-er pastures at Saunier Duval. Sammy Sanchez is a capable replacement for wins but has not shown the Grand Tour skills that Mayo once had. The primarily Basque team may have to take a cue from Sanchez’s success and start recruiting more mainland Spaniards and foreign riders if they are ever going to compete for a Grand Tour win or anything more than the occasional stage win or single-day race. If nothing else…they’ve got more T’s, Z’s and X’s in their names than any other Pro Tour team. So they’ve got that going for them.

Francaise des Jeux - France - French National Lottery:

Bradley McGee, Philippe Gilbert, Thomas Lovkvist, Sandy Casar

The team with my fiancee’s favorite jersey is pretty much the same as last year. Unfortunately, they were meager at best in 2006…so take that for whatever it’s worth. Look for Gilbert to cement his reputation as a great finisher and contender for stages and flattish one-day races but that will probably be the highlight of the year. Unfortunately, FdJ is also peripherally involved one of the most ridiculous stories of the early 2007, namely the fact that ASO has ignored the team sponsored by the French National Lottery and yet has required Unibet to remove its name from the team jerseys due to a conflict regarding gambling advertising in France. Yeah…lotteries aren’t gambling or anything right?

Gerolsteiner - Germany - Mineral Water Bottler:

David Rebellin, Stefan Schumacher, Fabian Wegmann, Markus Fothen, Bernard Kohl

Rebellin is still the headliner on this team despite Schumacher and Fothen’s success in 2006. The rider nicknamed “TinTinhasn’t done much since his remarkable Fleche-Amstel-Liege triple a few years back and will have to step up now that Levi Leipheimer is no longer there to pick up the slack in the win department. I don’t know where the nickname “TinTin” comes from (other than the book character) but I can guess how Schumacher got the nickname “JackAss” from George Hincapie and Dirk Demol after last years horrendous finish to the ENECO Tour. I know he didn’t mean to take GH out but he still should have been relegated. All in all, this is a very good, young team.

Lampre-Fondital - Italy – PVC-coated steel manufacturer and home heating company:

Damiano Cunego, Alessandro Ballan, Danielle Bennati

The “Little Prince” Cunego needs to get back to his winning ways or else the tifosi are going to start turning on him. The darling of Italian cycling did manage to hold off Fothen for the White Jersey in the Tour but still…it’s no Giro and was not nearly enough to justify calling him one of the best riders in the world in 2006. On the other hand, Ballan had a great Classics campaign and could easily see himself atop the podium at any one of the Spring races in 2007. Additionally, he seems to be racing by himself most of the time, as there are few other riders of his caliber on the Lampre squad. Maybe it’s the pink and blue kits. Sort of off the subject but…how do a lowly PVC-coated steel manufacturer and a home heating company find the cash for a ProTour team and the entire US economy struggles to provide a single corporate sponsorship? Oh yeah…that’s right, American businesses are greedy and would rather spend the money on naming rights for a stadium. Almost forgot.

Liquigas - Italy - Natural gas Distributor:

Danilo Di Luca, Magnus Backstedt, Fillipo Pozzato

Aren’t we all natural gas distributors? For some reason Di Luca still seems to think that he can win the Giro, despite mounting evidence to the contrary. He got lucky in 2005 and it will not happen again in a Grand Tour for “The Killer.” All he did was kill his very good chances in the Hilly Classics for a worthless ride around Italy minutes behind the real contenders. As for the rest…Backstedt will not likely repeat his Roubaix win from a few years ago and Pozzato will have a hard time defending his Milan San Remo victory from 2006. I like Pozzato a lot and think he can win some big races in the future but he benefited from a dominant Quick-Step team last year and cannot count on Boonen and Bettini sitting in behind him anymore.

Milram - Italy – Food products division of German dairy Nordmilch:

Erik Zabel, Allessandro Pettachi, Igor Astarloa

Milram always makes me think of the LL Cool J song “Milky Cereal.” I’m not sure if Zabel and Pettachi are big LL fans but after a 2006 of near misses and frustrating sprint finishes, maybe these guys should listen to “Mama Said Knock You Out” before their events in 2007. Maybe that's what Ale-Jet said before punching the bus last year. Both sprinters and former World Champion Igor Astarloa could use the phrase “Don’t call it a comeback,” quite literally as all are hoping for a return to winning ways after a bit of a drought. I think LL would dig Zabel’s flat-top.

Predictor-Lotto - Belgium - Pregnancy test brand and national lottery:

Robbie McEwen, Chris Horner, Freddie Rodriguez, Cadel Evans, Leif Hoste

Robbie Mac and company are back for 2007 in their now-infamous “salmon” colored kits, which aren’t nearly as bad as everyone expected. The color change was a result of a sponsor switch to the pregnancy test Predictor from the prior Davitamon brand. Now, forgive me but…shouldn’t the product be called “Confirmor” or something? Predictor makes it seem like they should be giving you odds on conception before the event takes place…not after. Not a lot of “predicting” going on there after the seed has been planted. Anyway…as far as “predicting” the 2007 season…McEwen will continue to beat and anger other sprinters while Hoste tries to prove himself as a Classics contender and Evans attempts to make the leap onto a Grand Tour podium. Horner will probably bag another stage win or two and Freddie will continue being the single most under-appreciated cyclist in American history. Sorry Fred…maybe it’s because you live in Emeryville. No one famous lives in Emeryville except IKEA.

Quick Step-Innergetic - Belgium - Laminated floor manufacturer and mattress brand:

Paolo Bettini, Tom Boonen, Peter Van Petegem

So…apparently depending on how you do during the season, you either get to sleep on an Innergetic mattress or a Quick Step laminated floor. My guess is that both Boonen and Bettini will be mattress-bound while old Petey Van P will be catching his z’s on the linoleum. The team with the most single-day firepower for the past few seasons will have a tough time notching as many big wins in 2007 as they achieved in the last two. Potential concerns over leadership in M-S-R and Flanders may put Boonen and Bettini at odds but I have to think that the Belgian will win the war. Even though The Cricket will be wearing the rainbow jersey this year, it’s still a Belgian team and Big Tom is about as close to royalty as you can get without a palace. Look for the missing Green Jersey on Boonen’s palmares this year if he can make it over the mountains.

Rabobank - Netherlands - Dutch Banking Corporation:

Michael Rasmussen, Denis Menchov, Oscar Friere, Thomas Dekker, Michael Boogerd

Good old “Rob-A-Bank”…such a reliable organization. Every year you can count on Boogerd to screw up the finish in a Hilly Classic, Friere to get hurt in a crash or suffer from some random malady, Menchov to peak too early and Rasmussen to fall off his time trial bike and attack like a madman in the mountains of the Tour. It’s like clockwork. There is nothing pointing to 2007 being any different. Even their kits have stayed the same for years. The only new or different situation this year will be the on-going maturation of Thomas Dekker. He has proven himself to be a very strong rider but the most important thing is that, after the retirement of Erik, he ensures that a “Dekker” is on the roster once again. Apparently it is illegal for a Dutch cycling team to be non-Dekkered.

Saunier Duval-Prodir - Spain - Heating and air-conditioning company and pen manufacturer:

David Millar, Gilberto Simoni, Iban Mayo

Now this is a weird team. With Millar, Simoni and Mayo all having much to prove in 2007, this team could actually do some things. Or not. For as much incentive as these three have to silence their critics…I just don’t see them doing it. Although immensely talented, these guys just seem kind of bitter and whiney after a few years of beat downs. All racing issues aside, I think the tree-planting operation that Saunier Duval started in Africa is a great idea and wish more companies would follow suit.

T-Mobile - Germany - Mobile Phone division of Telecomm Corporation:

M. Barry, G. Henderson, R. Hammond, M. Rogers, P. Sinkewitz, K. Kirchen

Even though Michael Barry is Canadian…I’ll cut him some slack and just pretend he’s a native Boulderite. Same thing with Greg Henderson as a Kiwi. Although I have no idea where T-Mobile is going to get its big wins in 2007, you have to admire the way they have taken the lead on the anti-doping front. It’s hard not to like guys like Rogers and Hammond and you have to root for Bob Stapleton at the helm but I just don’t see this roster lighting up the win column this year. Honestly…I think they are going to have to lose the pink jerseys in order to break away from the Ullrich image once and for all.

- Belgium - Swedish-owned online betting service:

Baden Cooke, Jimmy Casper, Jose Rujano, Victor Hugo Pena

The final entry in the ProTour, Unibet has a lot to prove in 2007. In addition to the madness surrounding the promotion of gambling on French soil which recently forced them to race in jerseys with a giant “?” on the chest, these guys just can’t seem to get any respect. Baden Cooke is a former Green Jersey winner and Rujano can surely climb (at 120lbs, he’d better be able to) but the Unibet squad will have its best chances scrapping it out for stages and single-day events. Ironically, the ASO’s decision to disallow the Unibet.com name on French soil has actually boosted the team’s visibility. If the team can keep winning, they may be better off just switching to the “?” jerseys for good.

Well...that's it. Hopefully the 2007 season will be remembered for the the races and not the doping scandals. Hopefully.


blue squirrel said...

well, at least i don't have to write this post now, as you pretty much nailed it, except for one glaring omission. the man, the true killer, more balls than the rest of the protour, always on the attack, nea-stoppable, 127% giver, the true hero of of the peloton [except for some un-choice words about some un-convicted so called dopers, but what are words when you have balls the size he has], the one, the only jens voigt. other than that, well done my son.

J.T.A. said...

Hooly Mooly (in Jens Voice)

Oh, trust me. Jens will get his due, there was no way I could just give him a sentence or two. He gets a whole post for sure. Actually...I may have to dust off Overcoming and crank that out soon.

Yeah, thanks for the feedback. I had been procrastinating on that for about a month. Was hoping to include pictures of the new team kits, yada, yada. It could have been 20,000 words easily...if I didn't have a job. Speaking of which...