The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom. - Wm. Blake

Friday, June 30, 2006

Ach! Du Lieber!

Jan out!
Porco Dio!
Ivan out!
¡Ay Caramba!
Mancebo out!

The Tour de France, scheduled to start tomorrow, has just been blown apart by the Spanish doping scandal that disrupted the Liberty Seguros-Würth team last month. The top four riders from last year - those mentioned above, plus Lance, of course - will not be competing. In particular, Ivan Basso, who won the Giro D'Italia, was arguably the favorite, and was going for a rare double of 2 of 3 Grand Tours in one season. It's incredibly hard - Lance was never even tempted - but he looked so good in Italy, it seemed achievable. Now we know why. Meanwhile, Jan was finally supposed to have his chance without watching Lance pass him on some impossible mountain stage. But apparently his training was enhanced as well.

I'm simply stunned. I actually get to watch the first four days of the Tour live this year, and it will be weird. But potentially amazing. The field is really wide open (especially because Ivan and Jan had probably the best 2 teams - it would have really been hard for anyone else to sneak past them).

So who's left? A quick guide:

Vino. Alexandre Vinokourov, of whom I've written before, and who's great, is on the now Astana-Würth team. He's still strong, and an aggressive rider, but he may not have the team, especially since it has been decimated in the scandal.

Floyd Landis, American. Team Phonak. Strong rider, former Lance teammate. Didn't do quite as well last Tour as he was projected, but did fine. Decent team, including Axel Merckx, son of Eddy "The Cannibal," greatest rider of all time.

Levi Leipheimer, American. Team Gerolsteiner. Another ex-Postal rider, has risen in the General Classification every year, with a couple of top-10 finishes. It's not clear to me that his team is strong enough.

Yaroslav Popovych, Ukrainian, Team Discovery. Until Tom Danielson arrives, Yaro is Discovery's post-Lance hope, White Jersey winner for best young rider last year. The team is largely intact from last year, and hasn't been touched by the scandal. Of possible intrigue is the role of George Hincapie, Lance's super-lieutenant. He was never seriously considered a contender for the overall race, but after he won a tough stage last year, he - and others - are thinking about it. Watch this closely.

Andreas Klöden, German, Team T-Mobile. He was the White jersey a couple years ago, and last year T-Mobile was paralyzed by the competition for leadership among Jan, Andreas, and Vino. Well, Andreas has the team to himself now. Can he return to that amazing 2004 form?

David Zabriskie, American. Team CSC. That's Basso's team, and he's the only one who was kicked out in the scandal. So you have an extremely strong team that's been decapitated. Zabriskie held the yellow jersey for the first few days of last Tour (until a bit of a freak accident in the rain), and - who knows - could step it up. It would be a shock, but that's the nature of this year.

I'm just sorry that I never blogged the scandal when it first broke; this would make more sense as part of a continuing story. Anyway, for more intense coverage, check out the (unofficial) Tour de France blog.

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