By Andrew Hood
Levi Leipheimer lines up as defending champion Tuesday at the nine-day Tour of Germany with hopes of erasing a disappointing Tour de France.
The 33-year-old Gerolsteiner captain will be looking to redeem himself after finishing a distant 13th overall at the Tour, the first time he’s not been among the Tour’s top 10 in four arrivals on the Champs Élysées.
This could be Leipheimer’s last major race for Gerolsteiner, after penning a deal to join Discovery Channel for 2007. The Californian won last year’s Deutschland Tour after a strong performance in a brutal climbing stage in Austria and then held off German star Jan Ullrich in the time trial.
The German tour hopes to build on its recent move from the spring to early August, but kicks off Tuesday in Düsseldorf with German cycling facing a crisis following the termination of Ullrich by his longtime team of T-Mobile.
The 1997 Tour champ was kicked out of the 93rd Tour and eventually fired by his team following allegations of links to controversial Spanish doctor Eufemiano Fuentes.
The doping allegations leveled against 2006 Tour winner Floyd Landis have only festered doubts about the sport’s viability in Europe’s largest market.
In fact, none of the top 10 from the recently concluded Tour will be among the starters.
T-Mobile – which recently announced a management shakeup – will start without Andreas Klöden, third overall in the recent Tour, who has pulled out for unknown reasons. Instead, Patrik Sinkewitz will line up as its leader with 23-year-old Linus Gerdemann as the team’s wild card.
“Patrik had a solid Tour campaign and he was a very valuable helper to Andreas Klöden. At the Deutschland-Tour the team will ride in support of him,” said T-Mobile’s sporting director Valerio Piva on the team’s web page. “Gerdemann performed very well in his last few races, and should have the right form to play a leading role.”
The 1390km German tour will serve as a showdown over bragging rights between German powerhouses Gerolsteiner and T-Mobile, with the former leading with Leipheimer and a cadre of riders, including Germans Sebastian Lang, Ronny Scholz and Stefan Schumacher, Italians Andrea Moletta and Davide Rebellin and Swiss attacker Markus Zberg.
“It’s a mixture of top Tour riders and younger racers with untapped potential,” Gerolsteiner team manager Hans-Michael Holzcer said on the team’s page. “We want to defend our title, of course, and if that happens, I’d be thrilled.”
Other big names include the much-anticipated return of Alexandre Vinokourov and his troubled Astaná team. The UCI has given the team the green light to return to racing, but the AIGCP is insisting the team lose its ProTour license, an issue that’s not yet resolved.
Team CSC will see the return of Bobby Julich, who crashed out the Tour’s first time trial with a broken wrist. The veteran American – who raced in Saturday’s LUK Challenge two-man time trial race in Germany – will be joined by Jens Voigt and David Zabriskie.
Other North Americans making the start are Tyler Farrar (Cofidis), Jason McCartney and Michael Barry (Discovery Channel) and Pat McCarty and Ryder Hesjedal (Phonak).
(Clickhere to see prologue start list)
The race features a starting prologue and a series of rolling, flat stages that serve as ideal terrain for top German sprinters like Erik Zabel (Milram) and Gerolsteiner’s Lang as well as Farrar, who is getting the nod to step onto the big ProTour stage with Cofidis.
Things get vertical in Stage 5 with the course pushing over the Austrian border for the “queen stage,” hitting the 2,000-meter climb at Kuhtai and a 600-meter vertical climb to the summit finish at Seefeld. Another hard climbing day is on tap with the summit finish at the Arlbergpass the following day.
The penultimate time trial stage – a 38.2km time trial at Bad Säckingen – could serve as a chance for Zabriskie to score a stage victory as well as determine the overall winner.
2006 Tour of Germany, Aug. 1-9Prologue, Aug. 1: Düsseldorf (ITT), 5.5km Stage 1, Aug. 2: Düsseldorf to Bielefeld, 198.2km Stage 2, Aug. 3: Minden to Golsar, 181.5km Stage 3, Aug. 4: Witzenhausen to Schweinfurt, 203.3km Stage 4, Aug. 5: Heidenheim to Bad Tölz, 203km Stage 5, Aug. 6: Bad Tölz to Olympiaregion Seefeld, 192.1km Stage 6, Aug. 7: Olympiaregion Seefeld to St. Anton am Arlberg, 196.6km Stage 7, Aug. 8: Bad Säckingen, 38.2km (ITT) Stage 8, Aug. 9: Bad Krozingen to Karlsruhe, 172.1km