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Photo ©: Sirotti

90th Tour de France - July 5-27, 2003

Part 2 of Cyclingnews' Tour de France preview

More contenders & pretenders, the Tour within the Tour, and Gone fishin': who isn't at the Tour

By Tim Maloney, European Editor in Paris

Can Mayo graduate to win a Grand Tour?
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Besides the usual suspects covered in Part One, the big-stakes game in the Tour de France always brings out raw ambition, a strong desire to make your mark in any rider or team. A Tour stage win can make a career and that's why racers go all out at Le Tour.

Perhaps no team is more ambitious than Euskatel-Euskadi at the 2003 Tour de France. This young Basque team is lead by 26 year old Iban Mayo, who in three years as a pro has ridden to 11th place in the UCI rankings. Winner of the 2001 Midi-Libre, Mayo gave Lance Armstrong a run for his money in the recent Dauphine' Libere', but Euskatel-Euskadi's director Julian Gorospe is realistic when he says that his squad will lose so much time in the Team Time Trial on Stage 4 that their only hope at this year's Tour will be to go for stage wins. With Mayo, old hand Laiseka and climbers Unai Etxebarria, Samuel Sanchez and Haimar Zubeldia, Euskatel-Euskadi's preferred stalking grounds once again will be the Pyrenees, where the roads will be lined with crowds of enthusiastic ikkurina (basque flag) waving fans.

Local heroes

Best French rider at the Tour in 2002 was the talented climber David Moncoutie (Cofidis) in 13th. A brilliant climber, the 28 year old from Provis is also known for his inconsistency, so Moncoutie has something to prove at this year's Tour de France.

After a disastrous 2002 Tour de France, Christophe Moreau of Credit Agricole is perhaps France's best hope for a decent finish on the classement generale. 32 year old Moreau was fourth in 2000 and for the Centenary Tour, the big guy from Belfort hopes to be strong enough to follow the wheels long enough to be the best placed French rider in Paris at the conclusion of the 90th Tour de France.

Moreau: France's best hope
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At 35, Laurent Brochard (Ag2r Prevoyance) has plenty of Tour de France experience to call on. Broche has one Tour stage win in his career, with his best GC finish 18th in 1996. More than likely, one of the mega-mullet man's Ag2r teammates like climbers Bobo Botcharov, Inigo Charreau or Mikel Astarloza will be the best rider on this can-do French team that has always won a stage on the TdF since their inception.

Perhaps Moreau's strongest challenge for best Frenchman will be FDJeux.com's Sandy Casar. The talented, ambitious 24 year old from outside Paris showed he can do well in a Grand Tour, as his recent 13th place in the Giro d'Italia demonstrated, and Casar and his team would certainly be pleased with a top 15 finish.

French hopes for a stage win rest with sprinters like Jimmy Casper (FDJeux.com) and Damien Nazon (Brioches-La Boulangere), or attacking riders like 2002 stage winner Patrice Halgand, Sylvain Chavanel and Franck Renier (Brioches-La Boulangere).


Newly crowned Italian champ Paolo Bettini (Quick.Step-Davitamon) is in fabulous form right now and will be on the attack from the onset of the Tour to show off his maglia tricolore. Currently ranked as World's #1 rider, expect Bettini to get a stage win before the mountains start as the beginning of week two. With team leader Laurent Dufaux and two interesting Italian riders in Pietro Caucchioli and Franco Pellizotti, Alessio may have some cards to play in this years Tour. Caucchioli was 3rd in the 2002 Giro d'Italia and has fully recovered from his herniated disc that slowed him since the start of the year.

O'Grady wants green
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It will be difficult to gauge the impact of a trio of outsider teams like iBanesto.com, Kelme and Gerolsteiner. iBanesto is a mix of young talent like Francesco Mancebo and Evgeni Petrov, with Mancebo seventh in last year's Tour and best young rider in 2000. 2000 U23 road and TT world champ Petrov will hope to make his mark along with insatiable attacker Juan Antonio Flecha and rouleur par excellence Cente Garcia.

Without their brilliant young rider Oscar Sevilla, laid low by saddle sores and other physical problems, and sprinter Issac Galvez, Kelme has brought a young and relatively inexperienced team to the Le Tour. Javier Pascual Llorente will be the leader, but watch out for 27 year old Colombian climber Ivan Parra too.

Gerolsteiner makes their Tour debut this year and the German mineral-water boys are hoping for champagne bubbles via a stage win from Davide Rebellin. Sometimes too timid, TinTin is riding his 2nd Tour at 31 years of age and doesn't want to let Italian champ Bettini overshadow him. GC-wise, Gerolsteiner has ultra-experienced 36 year old Udo Bolts in his 12th Tour and tough Austrian Georg Totschnig, who's coming off a solid ride in the Giro d'Italia where he finished 5th overall.

The game for green

As for the "Race Within The Race" for the Maillot Vert; the green points jersey of the best sprinter, look for a three way battle royal at this years Centenary Tour, between Aussies Robbie McEwen (Lotto-Domo) and Stuart O'Grady (Credit Agricole) and German Erik Zabel (Telekom). Zabel would love to get his 7th Maillot Vert, but the two Aussies may be too strong for the 33 year old Berliner.

McGee comes of age
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Super sprinter Alessandro Petacchi (Fassa Bortolo) had fantastic form at the Giro d'Italia and hopes to add a few Tour stages to his palmares. But McEwen, Fast Freddy Rodriguez, Romans Vainsteins (Vini Caldirola-So.Di), Zabel, two time World Champ Oscar Freire (Rabobank) and Angelo Furlan (Alessio) may have something to say about that.

Australian journalist Rupert Guinness has a new book entitled "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie Oui, Oui, Oui", profiling Australian cyclists in the 100 year history of the Tour de France. This year, cycling fans won't be able to avoid the Aussie onslaught which consists of McEwen and loyal lieutenant and best mate Nick Gates (Lotto-Domo), O'Grady on French squad Credit Agricole, and the terrible FDJeux.com trio of Baden Cooke, Matt Wilson Brad McGee. Rounding out the OiOiOi boys is fast-rising talent Michael Rogers (Quick.Step-Davitamon). Rogers has had a fabulous year so far in 2003, with wins in the Tour of Germany, Belgium and Route du Sud.

Gone fishin': who isn't at the Tour?

So who's gone fishin'? The biggest scandal is that world champion Mario Cippollini won't be there! Cipo has a fantastic record at the Tour and his tremendous sprinting and showmanship couldn't convince the organizers of the Tour to invite his Domina Vacanze team over a second division French squad like Jean Delatour.

Marco Pantani, the last Italian to win the Tour de France in in 1998 won't be there in Paris either. On the comeback trail, Pantani had a respectable Giro, but chose not to participate as a guest rider with another team when his Mercatone-Uno squad wasn't invited to ride the Tour, and subsequently had a mild nervous breakdown that landed him up in rehab after the Giro.

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