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Dauphiné Libéré
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Tour de France News feature, July 17, 2006

Rest Day 2: How do the GC contenders stack up?

The suspense continues. There’s been quite a reshuffling of the general classification since the prologue in Strasbourg a fortnight ago. That was expected - but what can we expect from the top ten on Classement Général as it stands now, asks Cyclingnews' Brecht Decaluwé?

1: Oscar Pereiro Sio (Caisse d'Epargne)

Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d'Epargne)
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The Spanish rider grabbed the yellow jersey after stage 13 towards Montélimar. Grabbing the jersey is somewhat of an overstatement as Phonak almost forced him to take it. We could even consider it as a present from his former Phonak team. Pereiro has a bonus of 1’29” on Floyd Landis, an advantage that is considered as futile by John Lelangue, manager of the Phonak team. Pereiro hasn’t been riding well during this Tour de France, and our guess is that Pereiro will be suffering hard in the Alps.

Oscar Pereiro managed to finish tenth during the two previous editions of the Tour de France. If we leave out the riders who aren’t competing this year; then Pereiro would’ve finished sixth in 2004, and fifth in 2005. A streak of sixth, fifth and now fourth may be too optimistic. He still might hold on to a top-10 spot though, with a sixth place being the highest rank possible.

2: Floyd Landis (Phonak)

Floyd Landis (Phonak)
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Landis looks to be the most logical heir to the throne of Lance Armstrong. He didn't suffer during the few climbs in the Pyrenees and his time trialing has so far been the best of all the GC-riders. His favourite status has only been challenged by Denis Menchov during the stage at Pla-de-Beret. Nevertheless, his rivals were most likely disappointed to see that he managed to survive their coup without a showing weakness.

If you are able to stay among the best climbers, are able to stay comfortable during the flat stages – and you’re the best time triallist of the GC-riders - then chances are high that you can become the winner of the Tour de France.

3: Cyril Dessel (AG2R)

Cyril Dessel (AG2R)
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As was the case for Pereiro, the French rider was granted a high GC-ranking by the other GC-riders. In 2003 he managed a promising ninth overall in the Dauphiné Libéré, but since then he has been set back by all sorts of disappointments. It isn’t realistic to think that Dessel would be able to hold on to his current third spot. Tumbling out of the top-10 is what we expect from the AG2R rider. While wearing the yellow jersey, he already lost about five minutes during the first mountains stage. It looks inevitable that he will lose much more time in the Alps.

4: Denis Menchov (Rabobank)

Denis Menchov (Rabobank)
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The pride of Russian cycling looks to have some good cards in his hands. His Rabobank team was the strongest team in the mountains, with Boogerd and Rasmussen as his personal lieutenants. If they focus on their supporting role instead of wasting energy on the polka dotted jersey, then Menchov might be the major competitor to Floyd Landis. Together with Leipheimer, he’s one of the few riders who can keep up with Landis on the climbs.

In the GC-rankings he’s only one minute down on the American. We think he might be able to win a minute back on Landis. It would be great for the Tour if he would battle hard in the Alps, but we’re afraid that he will lose too much during the penultimate stage: the second long individual time trial. He lost 43” during the first long time trial which means he needs to lead Landis by more than a minute coming out of the mountains to stand a chance for the overall win.

5: Cadel Evans (Davitamon)

Evans and Sastre
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Aussie Evans is performing close to his best during this year’s Tour de France. Team mate Robbie McEwen reckons that his compatriot will win the Tour. We think that might be somewhat too optimistic. The Davitamon rider favours the Pyrenees and was unhappy to notice that this year’s Tour will be fought out on the Alp climbs. He’ll probably hold on for a long time on the climbs each day, but we expect him to remain at his current position in Paris. His major rivals for a podium spot are likely to become Andreas Klöden and Carlos Sastre.

6: Carlos Sastre (CSC)

Due to the circumstances that happened before the race started, the lieutenant of the suspended Ivan Basso is finally allowed to battle for the GC. While in a supporting role, the Spanish rider previously managed to finish tenth, ninth and eighth. Being 31 and now the uncontested leader of the team, he should be in the best form of his career.

As he was likely to work for Basso in the mountains, his time trialling skills aren’t at his best. During the first long time trial he lost 1’10” on Landis, so he’ll have to attack in the mountains if he wants to be on the podium in Paris.

7: Andreas Klöden (T-Mobile)

Andreas Kloden (T-Mobile)
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As is the case with Sastre, the German was required to take over the leadership of his team as its intended chief was forced to abandon even before the Tour began. In the past Klöden couldn’t handle that sort of pressure, but as he’s getting more and more experienced he might hold out this year. Klödi crashed early on in the season and as a result, he’s got very few days of racing. That might mean that his form is insufficient to survive the final week of the Tour. But if the T-Mobile rider is capable of drawing upon his freshness, he might again battle for a podium spot. He knows he has the quality to do it as he finished second in 2004. In fact, nobody else in the current Tour peloton has finished that high in a previous edition of the Tour de France.

8: Michael Rogers (T-Mobile)

Currently second-best Australian in the GC, Michael Rogers isn’t expected to maintain nor improve his position. His T-Mobile team seems to put Klöden forward as the leader of the team, so Rogers might have to remain in his supporting role. As time trial world champion, Rogers was disappointed that he couldn’t perform better in the first time trial. He finished fourth during that stage, 1’24” behind the experienced Gonchar. We expect that Rogers will tumble out of the top-10 if Klöden can perform to his best in the mountains.

9: Juan Miguel Mercado (Agritubel)

Juan Miguel Mercado (Agritubel)
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Mercado is another rider who was able to win lots of time during a break. During the first major mountains stage in the Pyrenees, it was clear that Mercado won’t hold on to his current ninth place. In fact, after tomorrow’s stage to l’Alpe d’Huez, we expect him to be out of sight.

10: Christophe Moreau (AG2R)

Surprisingly, Moreau isn’t the current best French rider. Nevertheless, we expect Moreau to overtake Dessel one of these days. But once again, he won’t be able to get more than a top-10 spot. Last year, the AG2R rider noticed that an attacking strategy delivers more than staying in the wheels. He promised to try even harder this year, but we haven’t noticed that so far. Hopefully, Moreau will surprise us in a positive way during the final week of the Tour de France. A stage win in the mountains would make the French crowds go wild once again. Even though that would further feed the rumours concerning ‘le cyclisme ŕ deux vitesses.’

Currently out of the top-10 but eager to walk in…

Yaroslav Popovych (Discovery Channel)

Yaroslav Popovych (Discovery)
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It doesn’t happen too often that you’re handed a second chance in the most important race of the year. Popovych is one of the happy few and, together with Pereiro, he will fight hard to grab that chance with both hands. Although Johan Bruyneel says that the Discovery team won’t battle to get a eighth place, we expect Popovych to end up on that spot.

Haimar Zubeldia (Euskaltel-Euskadi)

After his fifth place in 2003, the Euskaltel rider has been singularly unable to repeat that performance. This year he seems to have found his climbing legs once again. If he can keep improving in the mountains then a top-10 rank might be possible, although his bad time trialling could hold him away from that result.

Levi Leipheimer (Gerolsteiner)

During the first week of the Tour de France Leipheimer suffered hard to keep up with the favourites. He lost valuable time during stages where he wasn’t supposed to concede that much. His time trial, a discipline where he was expected to shine, was very bad: he lost 5’05” on Landis. Diarrhoea was the cause of Levi’s bad results but during the first real mountains stage, Leipheimer performed to his best. He could keep up with Landis and Menchov and just missed out on the victory. The Gerolsteiner rider is lucky that most of the mountains stages are featuring in the final week. That way, we expect him to shine every day and grab a top-10 spot, maybe even top-5.

Other guys like Azevedo, Karpets, Totschnig and Boogerd might climb up in the GC. But right now, however, top-10 seems to be out of reach.

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