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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 kilometres. Cyclingnews' Susan Westemeyer takes a look back at the next ten teams' performances, in order of their start numbers.
For more, read part one of the Teams' review.
AG2R La Mondiale
AG2R was the most successful of the French teams. Captain Cyril Dessel won the first big Alpine stage, stage 16 into Jausiers. He was part of a larger breakaway group which got away early, and in the end, after two HC climbs, he won a three-man sprint It was a tremendous comeback for the French rider who wore the yellow jersey briefly in 2006 but missed most of the 2007 season with toxoplasmosis. Dessel ended up being only the fourth best finisher on the team in 28th place, with Stéphane Goubert being 21st. But both were eclipsed in the overall by Tadej Valjavec in 10th and Vladimir Efimkin in 11th. That was enough to give the team the second place rank in the overall team rankings – at 15 minutes behind winner CSC, they were the only team closer than an hour to the Danish team.
Mark out of 10: 7/10
Things couldn't have gone better for the German team. Stefan Schumacher surprisingly won the first time trial and wore the leader's yellow jersey for two days. He attacked continually throughout the Tour and was frequently to be found ahead of the peloton, either in escape groups or alone. He topped it off by also winning the closing time trial, beating two-time World Champion Fabian Cancellara by 21 seconds. But the shaved-headed German wasn't the biggest success of the Tour for the team. That honour went to Bernhard Kohl. The Austrian went into the race with an eye on the GC, hoping to do better than his last year's 31st place. He succeeded beyond his dreams, standing on the podium in Paris as third overall. In addition, he took the polka-dot jersey of the King of the Mountains, which he held until the end, on the 15th stage – taking it over from team-mate Sebastian Lang, who had worn it for three days. It was an outstanding Tour for the German team which has traditionally done poorly in the race. Now they are lacking only one thing: a sponsor for the coming years...
The French Professional Continental team's dreams came true when Romain Feillu took over the leader's yellow jersey in the third stage. The 24 year-old was part of an escape group which got away after only 2 kilometres and stayed away until the end. His second place finish in that stage catapulted him into the lead. He also took over the young rider's jersey, which he also wore for one day. Unfortunately, he didn't make it to Paris. After suffering through a stomach virus, he was one of three sick and injured riders who missed the 19th stage time cut. The biggest setback for the team came when veteran Christophe Moreau unexpectedly dropped out of the seventh stage.
The Dutch team had good results from its two captains, but not as good as hoped for. Denis Menchov managed to do everything well enough to consistently stay in fourth or fifth place overall, but he was never able to move up. Strong time trials helped him to maintain those positions, with the closing time trial moving him up to fourth place overall. His co-captain Oscar Freire took over the green jersey for the best sprinter in the eighth stage and he never gave it up. But in the sprints, he was often overshadowed by Columbia's speedy Mark Cavendish . It took him two weeks to take his fourth career win in Digne les Bains in the 14th stage. The team proclaimed itself satisfied with the end results, and it was surely an improvement over last year's debacle.
The French team didn't win any stages but had its own modest successes. Thomas Voeckler, who wore the yellow jersey for 10 days in the 2004 Tour, this year won the mountain jersey in the first stage and held on to it for five stages. The team often appeared in escape groups –usually Voeckler – thus satisfying its French sponsor. Jerome Pineau finished third in the first stage and captain Pierrick Fédrigo was sixth in the 11th stage, for the team's only top ten finishes. Fédrigo was the best overall finisher, in 31st place.
Another team which wasn't able to live up to the expectations. Veteran Erik Zabel was hoping for his seventh green sprinter's jersey, but he hasn't won it since 2001 and didn't win it again this year. He was up to second place behind Oscar Freire, but fell to third on the final stage. Still, the 37 year-old finished the race for the 13th time and brought in his best overall finish, in 43rd place. The team's other captain was Christian Knees, who had most recently won the Tour of Bavaria. The 27 year-old fought his way up to 19th place in the ninth stage, but his young team was unable to support him in the high mountains. He jockeyed between 32d and 24th place, before finally settling into the 29th place, where he finished. One ray of hope for the team was Peter Velits, the Slovakian U-23 World Champion. In the 17th stage he got off in an early escape group and was the last of the original four to be caught, managing to stay away and crossing the Croix de Fer as a soloist before the CSC-led peloton chased him down. The team could also boast of being one of only three to arrive in Paris with nine riders.
Française des Jeux
The four-leaf clovers on their jerseys didn't bring this French team much luck. They made the occasional breakaway appearance, with the most successful being Jeremy Roy in the 19th stage. He joined Cofidis' Sylvain Chavanel in an escape and the peloton let them go. The two worked well together and stayed together until the end, but with 500 kilometres to go, Roy was unable to catch the more experienced rider and finished second. Sandy Casar finished surprisingly high, 14th overall.
The only thing "positive" about Saunier Duval's Tour was Riccardo Riccò's doping test. Things actually started out well for the yellow-clad team. Riccò was able to live up to his boasting by winning the sixth and ninth stages. However, he stands to lose both of those wins after the announcement that he had tested positive for an EPO product. He continued to protest his innocence, even spending a night in jail. Riccò had won the first Pyrenees stage, and the second was won by his team-mate Leonardo Piepoli – who like Riccò, was fired by the team. The team instantly withdrew from the Tour after the Riccò announcement, but that wasn't the end of the bad news. Sponsor Saunier Duval withdrew its support effective immediately. Co-sponsor Scott stepped in to fill the breach, at least until the end of the season.
The boys in red proudly brought home two stage wins but also the title for the most aggressive rider in the Tour. Samuel Dumoulin started things off by winning the second stage of the race. He was part of a very early escape group, which foiled the plans of the sprinters' teams by staying away to the end with a lead of over two minutes at the finish. The little Frenchman was ecstatic with his win, calling it "a fantastic experience." At the other end of the Tour, Sylvain Chavanel capped off a number of unsuccessful breakaways with a successful one, winning the 19th stage, He took off with Jeremy Roy of Française des Jeux, and was able to out-fox the younger rider at the finish. After being named the most aggressive rider for three stages, and being the race's "Escape King", he was awarded the final title in Paris. And, oh yes, in his spare time he managed to wear the polka-dot jersey for a day. The only down side for the team was losing Hervé Duclos-Lassalle (Cofidis) in the first stage, when a musette bag tangled in a wheel and brought him down.
Garmin Chipotle - H30
It was a rewarding and relatively successful Tour debut for the American Professional Continental team. Christian Vande Velde just missed the podium, finishing fifth overall and only 3:05 behind winner Sastre. While the team didn't bring in any stage wins, it had several top placings. The team's biggest day and best chance was early on, when Will Frischkorn just missed out on a stage win, finishing second in a three-man sprint after a long successful breakaway. Time trial specialist David Millar finished third in the first time trial. But the man of the hour was the 31 year-old Vande Velde. An eighth place finish in the first time trial shot him up to sixth overall and two stages later he moved up to fourth. From there he seesawed between sixth and fifth, using a strong closing time trial to cement his fifth place overall.
Read part one.
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Images by Roberto Bettini/www.bettiniphoto.net