The Tour de France is about surviving and hanging on for three weeks, but some big names are missing out this year even before the race leaves the start house with Saturday’s prologue in Rotterdam.
Some late-season injuries and differing goals have meant some key players are sidelined for the 97th Tour.
Topping the list are sprinters Tom Boonen (Quick Step) and Heinrich Haussler (Cervélo), who each crashed with Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia) during the recent Tour du Suisse. Both are former Tour stage winners who will be missed in the mass sprints, especially in the classics-esque first stages across Holland and Belgium, as well as the hunt for the green jersey. Both are nursing knee injuries, with Haussler set to undergo surgery.
“Missing Heinrich is a blow for us, especially in the stage on the cobblestones, when he would have been one of the favorites to win,” Cervélo sport director Jean-Paul van Poppel said. “Heinrich gave us an extra option for a stage victory and to help Thor (Hushovd) in the sprints.”
Also missing the Tour due to injury is two-time top-5 finisher Haimar Zubeldia of RadioShack, who fractured a bone in his hand during a fall at the Critérium du Dauphiné in early June. The Basque all-arounder underwent surgery, but could not recover in time for the Tour.
Colombian climber and former King of the Mountains winner Juan Mauricio Soler also crashed out during the Dauphiné while Vuelta a España champion Alejandro Valverde was slapped with a two-year doping sanction for his links to the Operación Puerto doping scandal dating back to 2006.
“The sanction against Alejandro has been a big blow for us because it leaves us without a GC leader,” said Caisse d’Epargne sport director Eusebio Unzue. “Without him, we lost a rider who could challenge for the podium, so we have to reset our goals, hoping that Luis León Sánchez can continue making good progress in the most difficult climbing stages.”
One surprise name missing from Astana’s Tour nine was 2006 winner Oscar Pereiro, who was overlooked to help Alberto Contador in his bid for a third Tour win. Pereiro said he will likely retire after a run at the Vuelta in September.
Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) also skipped the Tour and will race the Vuelta as part of his preparation for the 2010 road world championships in late September.
All of last year’s top-10 overall are back, with the exception of Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas), who rode to third overall at the Giro d’Italia in May and will also race the Vuelta to prepare for the worlds. Franco Pellizotti, last year’s King of the Mountains, will not be starting for Liquigas after irregularities in his biological passport sidelined him during the Giro.
Basque climber Igor Antón, who could have been a factor in the mountains, will also race the Vuelta in a run at the Spanish grand tour overall for Euskaltel-Euskadi.
Skil-Shimano and Vacansoleil were the two big squads not invited to this year’s Tour, meaning the popular French Feilleu brothers will not be starting.