By Andrew Hood
T-Mobile rolls into this week’s Tour de France with a stronger focus than ever. The German team will leave sprinter ace Erik Zabel at home to fortify its Tour objective of beating Lance Armstrong in his final run at the maillot jaune. Alexandre Vinokourov said the team is more motivated than ever, with Jan Ullrich, Andreas Klöden and Vino’ sharing the load on the road to Paris. “I don’t have individual objectives. The whole team is geared up for one objective: winning the Tour de France. I won’t be there to ride my own race, but to ride for the team,” Vinokourov said on the team’s web page. “When team tactics allow it, then I will also take my chances to go for a stage win. But the most important thing for us is that one of us wins yellow.” Vinokourov has enjoyed a fine season after missing last year’s Tour when he cracked his shoulder at the Tour de Suisse, winning Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the Mont Ventoux stage at Dauphiné Libéré. The attacking Kazakh said he’s worked hard to improve his climbing legs, training hard at a 10-day camp at 2000 meters in his native Kazakhstan as well as another altitude camp on Tenerife in Spain’s Canary Islands. Vinokourov said the team will go with the realistic attitude of trying to take the race to Armstrong’s Discovery Channel team, something that he admits will be difficult given the Texan’s impeccable Tour preparation. “We are going there with the intention of turning the heat on Armstrong and hopefully force him to crack. But the guy is exceptionally strong and motivated. It is hard to imagine him cracking. He will be in top form,” he said. “The key is to attack Armstrong, but that is easier said than done. Nevertheless, that is what we will try to do.” Piil overlooked for Tour
Team CSC picked its ninth rider to round out the Tour de France team, selecting Australian track rider Luke Roberts ahead of Danish rider Jakob Piil. “It has been a very tough decision, but it’s my responsibility that we have the absolute strongest team possible for Tour de France. Jakob didn’t get a chance to show that he has what it takes to be on that team this year,” said Team CSC manager Bjarne Riis. “I fully understand his disappointment, but he hasn’t yet convinced us that it would be the right decision to include him on the team. Luke has delivered a really good performance so far and I’m sure he’ll be a valuable reinforcement to the Tour team.”
It’s just the latest disappointment for Piil, who’s been plagued with injury and setbacks since crashing out of last year’s Tour de France. A year ago, Piil was flying, always on the attack at the Tour. Roberts, on the other hand, was thrilled with the opportunity to strut his stuff at the Tour.
“My training and focus lately has been on one thing: to be ready for the Tour de France. Without actually being guaranteed a start on the team, it meant I had to prepare 100 percent and then wait on the decision from Bjarne,” Roberts said in his diary entry Monday. “Sunday night the phone call came and I’d prepared myself for disappointment. Then he told me, ‘I’m just calling you to let you know you’ll be joining the team at the Tour.’ I must have been the happiest man on the planet right then.”
Piil was hoping a big win in Sunday’s Danish national championships would tip the hat in his favor, but he crashed and could only watch teammate Lars Bak take the jersey. Piil has been told he should be ready to race the Vuelta a España later this season. Team CSC for Tour de France
Illes Balears selects its Tour nine
Seven Spanish riders, a Russian and a German will lead an ambitious Illes Balears team into the Tour de France. Francisco Mancebo, sixth overall last year, hopes to make a serious run for the final podium. Vladimir Karpets, last year’s best young rider, is making solid gains in both the time trials and climbing stages, quietly finishing seventh at the Giro in what was a no-pressure training race for the lanky Russian. Alejandro Valverde will make his much-anticipated Tour debut. After a somewhat disappointing spring campaign that included a stage-win at Paris-Nice but rather anonymous performances in the Ardennes classics, Valverde will be helping Mancebo and hunting for a stage. The team is rounded out with a solid crew of workers and attackers, with the likes of Chente García and David Arroyo looking to work themselves into breaks while Isaac Gálvez will do the best he can in the sprints. Illes Balears for Tour de France
José Luis Arrieta
Saiz sounding confident
Despite worries that his star riders aren’t in top form for the Tour, Liberty Seguros team boss Manolo Saiz says he’s confident the team will deliver a few surprises. “The truth is we’re good. We’ve been training in Cantabria and while we don’t have the reference to our rivals, I believe we’ll be OK for the Tour,” Saiz said on the team’s web page. Saiz decided to bring along aspiring talents Alberto Contador and Luis León Sanchez to “to learn and to get to know the Tour” while insisting that team captains Roberto Heras and Joseba Beloki will be there in the key moments. “Roberto knows that this is one of his last opportunities to make a strong Tour and I believe he’s stronger than ever and very motivated,” he said. “Joseba is stronger every day. You can’t overlook that this is a rider who’s been on the Tour podium three times. I hope that he regains his former level.” Garate aims at KoM jersey
Fresh off his dramatic victory in Sunday’s Spanish national championships, Juan Gárate said he will roll into the Tour de France with intentions of winning a stage and making a run for the polka-dot King of the Mountains jersey. Fifth overall in the Giro d’Italia, Gárate held off defending champion Francisco Mancebo (Illes Balears) to score what he called the most important win of his career Sunday. “After the Giro I hadn’t race at all and I had my doubts that I would be able to hold the race rhythm,” he said. “During the race, I saw that I was strong, but it was a lottery in the finale.” Gárate said the victory was an important demonstration for his Saunier Duval team ahead of the Tour. “I believe we’ve demonstrated that Saunier Duval is one of the best teams in the ProTour. Maybe other teams win more races, but we’re always there in the fight,” he said. “I’m going for the KoM jersey. Virenque’s not there and someone has to win it.” Brard cleared on charges
Florent Brard was cleared of a doping offense dating back to the 2002 Tour de l’Ain by a French government authority, L’Equipe reported. Brard, currently racing on Agritubel, was fired from his Crédit Agricole team after he tested positive for cortisone and was later suspended six months by the French cycling federation.
Officials agreed with Brard’s assertion that the traces of the banned product came from prescribed treatment that was not properly registered with race officials.