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90th Tour de France - July 5-27, 2003
The teams & the contenders
Full team rosters Part one Part two Part four
Part 3: ONCE, Quick.Step, FdJeux.com, Saeco, Telekom
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 third installment of our four-part look at the teams and the stars that will animate the Centenary Tour.
ONCE suffered a big blow when Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano crashed in the Tour of Germany and broke his collarbone, ruling him out of the Tour for certain. De Galdeano was also involved in a doping affair after he tested positive to salbutamol at last year's Tour. Under UCI and Tour de France rules he was negative, but under French law he was positive, thus in any case he faced a six month ban from racing in France. Although he was going to fight that, it became academic once he broke his collarbone earlier in June.
That leaves Joseba Beloki as the team leader for ONCE, and the Basque climber will be hoping to repeat his podium finishes of the last three years. It would take a big improvement for him to get within shouting distance of Armstrong however. On the general classification, keep an eye on Portuguese rider Jose Azevedo, who won the toughest stage of the Tour of Germany. Azevedo, like all the ONCE riders, is good against the clock and can hold his own in the mountains.
The rest of the ONCE team is very strong, and is the top favourite for the team time trial stage. Mikel Pradera, Marcos Serrano and Jörg Jaksche are all very good time trialists, and the team has great depth overall.
Full roster: Joseba Beloki (Spa), Jan Hruska (Cze), Jose Azevedo (Por), Alvaro Gonzalez de Galdeano (Spa), Jörg Jaksche (Ger), Isidro Nozal (Spa), Mikel Pradera (Spa), Marcos Serrano (Spa), Angel Vicioso
Best known for its one day riders, Quick.Step-Davitamon can also boast a strong Tour line up. Led by the aggressive and fast Paolo Bettini - recently crowned Italian national champion - the team includes 2002 Mont Ventoux winner Richard Virenque, still as popular as ever with the French fans. Time trialists Laszlo Bodrogi and Servais Knaven should help in the team time trial stage, along with the talented young Australian Michael Rogers, who recently added the Route du Sud to his stage win list this season. Rogers is riding his first ever Tour, and it will be a learning experience for him more than anything. However he has shown that he has great all-round capacities and is definitely a rider to watch in coming years.
The remainder of the team consists of David Cañada, Luca Paolini, Kurt Van de Wouwer and Davide Bramati so plenty of strong riders in there but no team sprinter.
Full roster: Paolo Bettini (Ita), Richard Virenque (Fra), Laszlo Bodrogi (Hun), Servais Knaven (Ned), Michael Rogers (Aus), David Cañada (Spa), Luca Paolini (Ita), Kurt Van de Wouwer(Bel) and Davide Bramati (Ita). Reserve: Andrey Kashechkin (Kaz).
French eyes will be on the emerging talents of FdJeux.com's Sandy Casar as a potential stage winner in this year's Tour. Sprinter Jimmy Casper is another who could deliver wins for the home nation and 2002 French champion Nicolas Vogondy will also fly the tricolour for this French team. Missing from FdJeux.com's line-up is one of the Tour's great characters, Jacky 'suicide break' Durand who has a broken hip after a crash in the Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré.
However, it's been Australians Brad McGee and Baden Cooke who caught much of the attention given to FdJeux recently. McGee's talent against the clock, evidenced by his 2002 world pursuit championship makes him a prologue favourite and his victory in stage 7 last year, Brad McGee demonstrated his talent over longer distances. He went on to show that he had the grit to hang on despite disasters such as his encounter with a barbed-wire fence in stage 11, an incident after which nobody would have blamed him for retiring.
But McGee struggled on, motivated mostly by the desire to finish and to help team-mate and close friend Baden Cooke in the sprints. Since 2002 Cooke has matured as a sprinter, and with his victory in the final stage of the Tour de Suisse (the day after McGee demonstrated his current form with a fine time trial victory) must be considered a contender for bunch finishes.
Full roster: Sandy Casar (Fra), Jimmy Casper (Fra), Baden Cooke (Aus), Carlos Dacruz (Fra), Nicolas Fritsch (Fra), Bradley McGee (Aus), Christophe Mengin (Fra), Nicolas Vogondy (Fra), Matthew Wilson (Aus). Reserve: Jean-Cyril Robin (Fra)
Coming off a Giro d'Italia in which he dominated the mountain stages and limited his losses in the time trials to reasonable levels, Gilberto Simoni is Saeco's best chance for a triumphant return to the Tour. Saeco was excluded in 2002 after Simoni's expulsion from the Giro for testing positive to cocaine but Italian authorities later exonerated him after his explanation that the cocaine had come from contaminated South American sweets given him by his aunt.
Simoni will be assisted in the mountains by climbing specialist Danilo Di Luca, though the Killer's form is unknown as he hasn't raced since breaking his collar bone in a training accident in late May.
Stefano Zanini is Saeco's man for the sprints, though he has been reported as suffering back problems recently, and the selection of Joerg Ludewig over sprinter Ivan Quaranta for the last spot in Saeco's Tour team suggests the red team's focus will be the GC and mountains rather than the sprints.
Full roster: Gilberto Simoni (Ita), Danilo Di Luca (Ita), Gerrit Glomser (Aut), Paolo Fornaciari (Ita), Joerg Ludewig (Ger), Fabio Sacchi (Ita), Stefano Zanini (Ita), Salvatore Commesso (Ita), Leonardo Bertagnolli (Ita)
Once-mighty Telekom has been plagued with problems in 2003, with potential GC contenders Cadel Evans and Paolo Savoldelli sidelined because of a broken collarbone and a stomach bug respectively. However, the loss of Evans and Savoldelli may allow Telekom to focus better on the efforts of its other two all-rounders, Alexandre Vinokourov and Santiago Botero - the Telekom-that-might-have-been had four possible leaders, and would have been top-heavy to say the least.
As Telekom spokesman Luuc Eisenga told Cyclingnews, "Our initial ideas have changed a bit. We had four really strong GC riders riding as a team with Savoldelli, Botero, Evans, and Vinokourov."
Eisenga said that Andreas Klöden has been coming into good form, and Tour de Suisse runner-up Giuseppe Guerini is "not just a reserve." But "if you had to say [who would be Telekom team leader] you'd think Botero and Vinokourov."
Vinokourov is coming off a very strong first half of the year with overall victories in the Tour de Suisse and Paris-Nice, the latter dedicated to his fallen countryman and friend Andrei Kivilev.
Santiago Botero is the darkest horse in the 2003 Tour. The enigmatic Colombian world time trial champion has followed his usual early-season regime, training in Colombia until May, then racing in Spain, which means that his team manager, Walter Godefroot has hardly seen him so far this year.
Botero was third in the Classica Alcobendas, and fourth in the Vuelta Asturias, but missed the Tour of Germany because of illness. Only one thing about Botero seems certain, as Godefroot told Reuters, "I'm pretty sure he'll be at the start of the Tour."
One other thing that is certain about Telekom is that German champion Erik Zabel, the only man to win any of the Tour jerseys six times in a row with his 1996-2001 run of points victories, will be looking for revenge after Robbie McEwen bested him last year in an epic green jersey contest.
Full roster: Mario Aerts (Bel), Rolf Aldag (Ger), Santiago Botero (Col), Giuseppe Guerini (Ita), Matthias Kessler (Ger), Andreas Klöden (Ger), Daniele Nardello (Ita), Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz), Erik Zabel (Ger)