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Teams' reviews of the 95th Tour de France
All 20 teams went into the Tour de France with great hopes. Some planned to win the Tour, others went for stage wins, and others were hoping merely to gain as much exposure as possible. How did they do? CSC-Saxo Bank and Columbia dominated the race in various ways, while other teams did little more than put in their daily kilometers. Cyclingnews' Susan Westemeyer takes a look back at the first ten teams' performances, in order of their start numbers.
For more, read part two of the Teams' review.
The Belgian team was hoping to win the Tour with Australian Cadel Evans, but a weak team wasn't able to provide enough support for him in the mountains, and his nerves apparently let him down in the stage 20 time trial, when he had the opportunity to make up the 1:34 on leader Carlos Sastre. Still, he manged to repeat his second place from 2007, which is nothing to be ashamed of. He had planned on the help of Yaroslav Popovych in the mountains, but the Ukranian proved he wasn't up to the task, losing nearly 16 minutes on the 10th stage run up to Hautacam. Silence-Lotto's other iron in the fire, sprinter Robbie McEwen, had to get along without any helpers in the sprint, and it showed. The little Australian managed only two top ten finishes, coming in second in the 13th stage and fourth in the final stage. Overall it's hard to see their Tour as a success. If Cadel had taken yellow and had his Lotto team led the bunch into Paris on Sunday, it would have been the first time we'd seen them on the front of the bunch. That says it all really.
Mark out of ten: 6/10
Two stage wins, the best young rider, six days in the yellow jersey and the overall winner, nearly everything went right for the Danish team. Kurt-Asle Arvesen kicking things off with a surprise win in the 11th stage Fränk Schleck took over the yellow jersey after the 15th stage but only held on to it for two days, handing it over to team-mate Carlos Sastre, who blasted his way up L'Alpe d'Huez in a day which many conceded to be a stunning example of Bjarne Riis' master tactics. The Spaniard held on to the jersey and turned in an exceptionally strong time trial to arrive in Paris in yellow. Andy Schleck won the best young rider trikot, and CSC-Saxo Bank was one of only three teams to arrive in Paris with a complete nine-man squad. On the negative side, the Schleck brothers were dogged by various doping rumors. Fränk Schleck turned in a remarkably weak closing time trial, and escape artist Jens Voigt didn't do his breakaway tricks this year. With key riders like Sastre still without a contract for next year, the only question is whether they can keep their strongest riders together.
The Basque team placed two riders in the top twenty, with Samuel Sanchez in seventh and Mikel Astarloza in sixteenth. This offset the dissapioinment of team leader Haimar Zubeldia finishing in at 47th, 1.27 down and behind Milram sprinters Erik Zabel and Marco Velo. At the age of 31, time could be running out for Zubeldia to crack the Tour podium. The team was often represented in escape groups but was unable to turn them into stage wins. It was one of the three teams to arrive complete in Paris, but they would gladly swap that statistic for a win.
This team was another which thought it had a Tour winner in its ranks, and things got off to a good start when Alejandro Valverde won the first stage He was only able to hold on to it for two stages, though, and a 23rd place finish in the first time trial tumbled him to 17th place. The Spaniard came back strong and was able to move up to sixth overall, but a bad day on the climb up the Hautacam dropped him again to 14th. He slowly moved his way up to seventh, but another weak time trial dropped him to ninth in Paris. He was not the only Caisse d'Epargne rider to win a stage: Luis Leon Sanchez took the tough Massif Central stage seven. The team also held the dubious honour of having one of the most horrifying crashes in the Tour, as former Tour winner Oscar Periero went over the guard rail to land on to the road in the switchback below.
The team won five stages in total, giving their new sponsor the dream start in cycling's biggest race. On top of that they also had the yellow, green and white jerseys. The team dominated the first half of the Tour, with Kim Kirchen wearing the leader's jersey for four days and the green jersey for six days. Thomas Lovkvist wore the white young rider's jersey for five days. But the real star was the "Manx Express", Mark Cavendish. The 23 year-old dominated the sprint stages with four wins in only his second Tour start. That wasn't all, though. Marcus Burghardt held a break to the end to win the 18th stage.
The Tour definitely didn't go the way Barloworld had planned. Captain Mauricio Soler, winner of the 2007 polka-dot jersey, crashed in the very first stage, hurting the same wrist he had broken in the Giro d'Italia, and he had to drop out in the fifth stage. Other drop-outs followed and the team arrived in Paris with only four riders. Barloworld was present in a few escape groups, most notably in the 16th stage, when John-Lee Augustyn crashed dramatically on a descent. But unfortunately for the Professional Continental team, its biggest headlines came when Moisés Dueñas tested positive for EPO. The team fired the Spaniard immediately, but it didn't help – the sponsor said that it would stop its support of the team when the Tour was over. After Robbie Hunter's stage win, and Soler's shining ride in 2007 this year must be seen as a letdown for the team.
The lads in the pea-green jerseys were riding for captain Filippo Pozzato, but they weren't able to accomplish much. They were seldom, if ever, seen in escape groups. Their best results came from Vincenzo Nibaldi, who wore the best young rider's jersey for four days, and young Czech rider Roman Kreuziger, who finished 13th overall. But this was another team which made headlines in a way it didn't want to. Veteran Manuel Beltran tested positive for EPO after the first stage and was forced out of the race.
The Italian team had great hopes for Damiano Cunego, who won the best young rider's jersey in 2006 and skipped the Giro this year to concentrate on the Tour. But a series of crashes did him in. The 26 year-old went down for the first time in the seventh stage. He lost only 33 seconds, but the damage was done. He then went down chin-first in the 18th stage and fought his way bravely to the finish, coming in over 20 minutes down. The pain and the injuries proved to be too much, and he was unable to start the next day. Other than that, the team didn't make much of an impression on the race.
This was another one of those "good news, bad news" teams. The good news was that Thor Hushovd won the mass sprint in the second stage , and the big Norwegian finished second overall in the green jersey competition. He wasn't the only winner on the team, either. Australian Simon Gerrans took his first ever Tour stage win on a wet day at the mountaintop finish in Prata Nevoso., when the Tour dipped into Italy. The bad news for the team came on Sunday evening, when it was announced that Dimitri Fofonov had tested positive for "a very heavy dose" of the banned stimulant Heptaminol. That won't make the search for a new sponsor any easier for the team, which promptly fired the Kazakh rider.
Gert Steegmans saved the Belgian team's honour by winning the final stage in Paris. Carlos Barredo had come close, when he finished second in a cat-and-mouse finale on stage 18, pounding this handlebars in frustration. "Frustration" seems to be the key word for the team. Captain Stijn Devolder dropped out in the 15th stage, saying he had been sick the first week and was unmotivated. He was in 26th place overall at the time, nearly 14 minutes down. The team's frustration started even before the Tour, with super sprinter Tom Boonen's positive test for cocaine. Because he was not in competition at the time of the test, "Tornado Tom" was not subject to any sporting penalties, but the Tour management threw up its hands in horror and said that he would not be welcome.
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