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90th Tour de France - July 5-27, 2003
The teams & the contenders
Part 1: Ag2R to Credit Agricole
Despite the controversy that always goes with the selection of the teams in the world's biggest race, this year's Tour will see one of the strongest fields ever assembled set out from Paris on July 5. With the start of the Tour just days away, here's the first of our four-part look at the teams and the stars that will animate the Centenary Tour.
The Ag2R-Prévoyance team, directed by Vincent Lavenu, is a regular at the Tour, despite normally having to qualify via the wild card selection process. Its mainstay over the years is Estonian sprinter Jaan Kirsipuu, who has won 99 races in his career including three Tour stages. Kirsipuu rarely makes it over the mountains, but is definitely a danger man in the first week.
The other main player in Ag2r is Laurent Brochard, a new signing for the team in 2003. Brochard has one Tour stage win to his credit and is in good shape this year, winning the Criterium International as well as Paris-Camembert.
The remaining team members include climbers Alexandre Botcharov and Inigo Chaurreau, rouleur Andy Flickinger, and Mikel Astarloza, Christophe Oriol, Nicolas Portal and Ludovic Turpin.
Full roster: Mikel Astarloza (Spa), Alexandre Botcharov (Rus), Laurent Brochard (Fra), Inigo Chaurreau (Spa), Andy Flickinger (Fra), Jaan Kirsipuu (Est), Christophe Oriol (Fra), Nicolas Portal (Fra), Ludovic Turpin (Fra). Reserve: Thierry Loder (Fra).
Alessio is debuting in the Tour this year, and on paper its team looks to be very strong, including veterans Fabio Baldato (winner of the final stage in 1996) and Laurent Dufaux (winner of a stage in 1996 and twice finishing fourth overall), who is a candidate for a top 10 finish, and Andrea Noe, who finished fourth in the Giro this year.
The experience of these three riders should help the younger guns such as Pietro Caucchioli and Franco Pellizotti, who based on their performances in the Giro in the past two years are also candidates for a top 10 finish. Both riders can climb, and after an injury hampered the start of Caucchioli's season, he could well be the one to watch in the Tour.
In addition to Baldato, the team will rely on the sprinting talents of Angelo Furlan in the bunch finishes. Raffaele Ferrara, Alessandro Bertolini and Vladimir Miholjevic will provide support when necessary. Six of Alessio's nine riders competed in the Giro this year.
Full roster: Fabio Baldato (Ita), Alessandro Bertolini (Ita), Pietro Caucchioli (Ita), Laurent Dufaux (Swi), Raffaele Ferrara (Ita), Angelo Furlan (Ita), Vladimir Miholjevic (Cro), Andrea Noè (Ita) and Franco Pellizotti (Ita).
The-team-formerly-known-as-Team-Coast managed to overcome its financial woes at the beginning of the season to come to the Tour with a strong squad of riders, led by 1997 Tour winner Jan Ullrich. The makeup of the Bianchi team is clearly designed to protect Ullrich in the mountains, although losing climber Manuel Beltran to US Postal will impact on this.
The Spanish contingent of the team includes 2001 Vuelta winner Angel Casero, as well as Aitor Garmendia and David Plaza - all handy climbers when fit, but they are lacking racing kilometres after the multiple suspensions of the team by the UCI. On the other hand, Ullrich's training partner and friend Tobias Steinhauser will be a key helper for Der Kaiser in the mountains, as he has shown in the Tour de Suisse and Tour of Germany.
On the flats and in the team time trial, Daniel Becke will be most useful, and finally, Rafael Schweda and Fabrizio Guidi will be looking for opportunistic stage wins.
Full roster: Jan Ullrich (Ger), Angel Casero (Spa), David Plaza (Spa), Aitor Garmendia (Spa), Fabrizio Guidi (Ita), Rafael Schweda (Ger), Daniel Becke (Ger), Tobias Steinhauser (Ger) and Felix Garcia Casas (Spa).
Brioches La Boulangère
Containing one of the big hopes of French cycling, Sylvain Chavanel, the all-French Brioches La Boulangère squad will be on the hunt for a stage win and plenty of exposure in their national tour. The team was rocked at the beginning of June by the death of Fabrice Salanson, who died of heart failure in his hotel room before the Tour of Germany. Salanson, who was on the short list to ride the Tour and a close friend of Sylvain Chavanel, will be sorely missed by his team.
The Brioches team will no doubt be led by the experienced and recently crowned French Champion Didier Rous, with Damien Nazon a chance for a bunch sprint victory, and riders like Chavanel, Franck Rénier and Tour of Luxembourg winner Thomas Voeckler hoping to get in the breaks and have chances at stage wins.
Full roster: Walter Bénéteau (Fra), Sylvain Chavanel (Fra), Anthony Geslin (Fra), Maryan Hary (Fra), Damien Nazon (Fra), Jérôme Pineau (Fra), Franck Renier (Fra), Didier Rous (Fra), Thomas Voeckler (Fra). Reserve: Jimmy Engoulvent (Fra).
Cofidis, Le Credit par Telephone
The only French team to automatically qualify for the Tour, by virtue of being in the 'Top 10 Club', is the Cofidis team, led by rangy Scot David Millar, winner of the prologue in 2000. After suffering a bout of glandular fever (mononucleosis) in 2002, Millar is back to top condition, winning the Tour de Picardie this year as well as finishing third in the Dauphiné Libéré and the Classique des Alpes. Always good against the clock, Millar seems to have improved his climbing, and that will be crucial in determining where he finishes on the GC.
Millar should not be alone in the mountains, with this likes of David Moncoutié, Cedric Vasseur, Luis Perez and Iñigo Cuesta in the Cofidis Tour team. Guido Trentin, Massimiliano Lelli and Philippe Gaumont should provide support on the flats. There is no recognisable team sprinter however.
Full roster: Médéric Clain (Fra), Inigo Cuesta (Spa), Philippe Gaumont (Fra), Massimiliano Lelli (Ita), David Millar (GBr), David Moncoutié (Fra), Luis Perez (Spa), Guido Trentin (Ita), Cédric Vasseur (Fra). Reserve: Frédéric Bessy (Fra).
Another perennial Tour favourite is the Credit Agricole team, directed by Roger Legeay. Led by multiple yellow and green jersey wearer Stuart O'Grady and climber/time trialist Christophe Moreau, the team also boasts strong men Thor Hushovd and Jens Voigt. All four riders have won Tour stages, and are more than capable of doing so again. On paper, the team has a good chance in the team time trial as well.
After winning the Australian Championships this January, O'Grady has had a strong season so far, winning a couple of stages in the Tour de Langkawi and generally featuring well in the bunch sprints. He will have to have an outstanding Tour to stop compatriot Robbie McEwen from winning the Green Jersey again, not forgetting six time Green Jersey winner Erik Zabel, who will be hunting for his seventh. There's also the lure of the yellow jersey, which O'Grady has worn on more than one occasion.
32 year old Frenchman Christophe Moreau had a late start to the season, but rallied well to win the Four Days of Dunkirk in May followed by a fifth place in the Dauphiné Libéré in June. Moreau needs to have everything go well if he is to repeat his fourth place in the 2000 Tour, but anything is possible.
Full roster: Stéphane Augé (Fra), Pierrick Fedrigo (Fra), Sébastien Hinault (Fra), Thor Hushovd (Nor), Lilian Jegou (Fra), Christophe Moreau (Fra), Stuart O'Grady (Aus), Benoît Poilvet (Fra), Jens Voigt (Ger). Reserve: Christopher Jenner (Fra)