By Andrew Hood
Teams are holding their collective breath going into Monday’s announcement of the final four teams to race in July’s Tour de France.
Several teams are on the bubble to be selected by the Societe du Tour de France for the four wild-card invitations to join 18 other teams already lined up for the July 5 start of the centenary Tour.
One of the major question marks is the status of 1997 Tour winner Jan Ullrich and his now defunct Team Coast, which was suspended two weeks ago by the UCI for not paying riders’ salaries. Bike manufacturer Bianchi stepped forward last week to take over sponsorship and already has UCI backing. Tour de France officials have hinted that five wild-cards will be issued, with the assumption that the Coast invitation will go to Bianchi.
Other teams’ fates are less secure, however.
Tour officials in recent years have shown favoritism toward French teams and three French teams on the bubble, including Ag2r, Brioches La Boulangere and Jean Delatour.
Ag2r and Brioches both seem like locks, with solid wins by Ag2r’s Jaan Kirsipuu and Laurent Brochard’s victory at Criterium International while Brioches has rising star Sylvain Chavanel in its stable. Jean Delatour chances looked grim until recent spate of wins, including stage victories in the Tour of Romandie.
Assuming at least two of the final spots go to French teams, only two spots remain for nearly another half-dozen teams, including world champion Mario Cipollini’s Domina Vacanze, Spain’s Euskaltel Euskadi, Lampre, Phonak and the rising Milaneza-MSS team.
Lampre’s chances look slim after the Lithuanian wife of last year’s third-place finisher Raimondas Rumsas was arrested during the Tour when doping products were found in her car. Chances for Milaneza, despite a strong spring, look stronger in 2004.
Phonak, meanwhile, has not had any breakthrough wins that capture the attention of Tour officials, but the team has Alex Zulle and popular mountain bike Olympic gold medalist Miguel Martinez to add luster to its chances.
Domina Vacanze’s chances seemed to be dimming, in the eyes of many handicappers, after a lackluster spring that only saw two stage victories in Tirreno-Adriatico for Cipollini. His temper tantrum at Ghent-Wevelgem and a slow start at the Giro didn’t help, but the Lion King scored a big win just in time in Sunday’s eighth stage.
Although the team didn’t have a great Tour last year, Euskaltel is a Tour favorite and always draws big, enthusiastic crowds during the Pyrenees stages. Iban Mayo scored an impressive victory at the Tour of Basque Country in April to help nudge the teams among the favorites to nab bids.
The teams already safely in the Tour include: Telekom, Gerolsteiner, Lotto-Domo, Quick Step, CSC, iBanesto.com, Kelme, ONCE, U.S. Postal Service, Credit Agricole, Cofidis, Fdjeux.com, Alessio, Fassa Bortolo, Saeco, Caldirola-Sidermec and Rabobank.
The safe money goes on Coast/Bianchi with Ag2r, Brioches La Boulangere, Domina Vacanze and Euskaltel-Euskadi earning the bids. But the French are always full of surprises, non?
Picardie: Millar takes win
Britain’s David Millar (Cofidis) shook off a season of bad luck Sunday to win the overall title at the four-stage, three-day Tour of Picardie. The opening three stages ended in bunch sprints and Millar was well-positioned to make a run for victory in the 5.5km individual time trial finale.
Spain’s Juan Carlos Dominguez (Phonak) won the time trial, but Millar slipped into the top spot to claim the overall title based on bonuses he earned in Saturday’s stage. Millar has been injured several times this season and only recently returned to competition.
“I was feeling pretty good and just tried to stay calm,” Millar told AFP. “I even relaxed a bit because I knew I was making good time.”
Tour of Picardie (UCI 2.2), final overall standings
1. David Millar (GBr), Cofidis, 10 hours, 18 minutes, 20 seconds
2. Juan Carlos Dominguez (Sp), Phonak, at 2 seconds
3. Bradley McGee (Aus), Fdjeux.com, at 0:09
4. Roberto Hunter (RSA), Rabobank, at 0:10
5. Michael Rodgers (Aus), Quick Step, at 0:11;Stage 4, ITT, 5.5km
1. Juan Carlos Dominguez (Sp), Phonak, 7 minutes, 24 seconds
2. David Millar (Gbr), Cofidis, at 1 second
3. Michael Rogers (Aus), Quick Step, at 8 seconds
4. Bradley McGee (Aus), Fdjeux.com, at 10 seconds
5. Robert Hunter (RSA), Rabobank, at 15 seconds;Stage 3, Laon to Nogent sur Oise, 113km
1. Stefan Van Dijk, Lotto-Domo, 2 hours, 33 minutes, 41 seconds
2. Jaan Kirsipuu, Ag2r
3. Julian Dean, CSC
4. Baden Cooke, Fdjeux.com
5. Yuri Mitluschenko, Landbouwkrediet – all same time
Subida al Naranco: Piepoli leads Banesto charge
Held the Sunday after the conclusion of the Tour of Asturias, the one-day “Climb to Naranco” always lets the mountain goats strut their stuff.
iBanesto.com finished 1-2, with Leonardo Piepoli winning the difficult 162km climbing race in 3 hours, 59 minutes, 16 seconds, some seven seconds ahead of teammate Francisco Mancebo.
Up next in Spain is the Tour of Castilla y Leon, which begins Tuesday and runs through Saturday.
Subida al Naranco (UCI 1.3), 162km
1. Leonardo Piepoli (Sp), iBanesto.com, 3 hours, 59 minutes, 16 seconds
2. Francisco Mancebo (Sp), iBanesto.com, at 7 seconds
3. Alberto Lopez de Munain (Sp), Euskaltel, at 11 seconds
4. Felix Cardenas (Col), Orbitel, at 13 seconds
5. Samuel Sanchez (Sp), Euskaltel at 14 seconds
Schynberg Rundfahrt: Mazzoleni wins
Renzo Mazzoleni won Sunday’s 180km Schynberg race in Switzerland. Mazzoleni was fastest in a three-up sprint ahead of Dave Bruylandts and Daniel Schnider.
Schynberg Rundfahrt (UCI 1.3), 180km:
1. Renzo Mazzoleni (I), Sidermec, 4 hours, 22 minutes, 34 seconds
2. Dave Bruylandts (B), Marlux
3. Daniel Schnider (Swi), Phonak – all same time
4. Andrei Misurov (Kzk) at 6 seconds
5. Dimitri Konychev (Rus), Marlux – s.t.