By Andrew Hood
Levi Leipheimer will lead Rabobank in the Tour de France as the 30-year-old American will be anxious to forget his early exit from last year’s edition.
Leipheimer wants to improve on his eighth-place debut in 2002 and get past his opening stage crash that took him out of last year’s Tour as the Dutch team announced its nine-man lineup Tuesday.
“I missed not doing it last year, so I’m excited to get back to the Tour,” Leipheimer told VeloNews last month. “There’s no way not to be excited about the Tour. I think every year gets better, I’m more experienced, I’m more comfortable in the peloton, all those things add up.”
Joining Leipheimer in the mountain stages and possibly in the hunt for the GC will be former mountain bike world champion Michael Rasmussen. The Dane will be making his Tour debut and shook off an injury earlier in the season to win a mountain stage in the Dauphiné Libéré earlier this month.
The orange-clad team brings a veteran team to support Leipheimer as well as hunt for stage victories. Former Tour stage winners lining up for Rabobank include Michael Boogerd, Erik Dekker, Marc Wauters and Karsten Kroon.
Rounding out the team are Bram de Groot, Marc Lotz (who also crashed out with Leipheimer in stage one in last year’s Tour) and Grischa Niermann.
Rabobank lost the services of two-time world champion Oscar Freire, who had surgery this week to remove a cyst. The team also overlooked Robert Hunter, winner of two stages of at the Tour de Suisse.
“For our team line-up, we have looked at Rasmussen, Leipheimer and Boogerd for the mountain stages plus an attacking style in the other stages,” said sport director Erik Breukink on the team’s web page. “Now we’re missing Freire, so we’re out for the bunch sprints, but for the other stages we have the abilities.”
Rabobank for Tour de France
Bram de Groot
Mayo keeps his clothes on for Tour
Tour de France favorite Iban Mayo (Euskaltel-Euskadi) said he’s becoming overwhelmed with fan and media attention as he prepares to take on Lance Armstrong in the Tour de France.
The recent winner of the Dauphiné Libéré admitted that he’s feeling uncomfortable about giving up his relative anonymity as he emerges as one of the top Tour favorites.
“Right now he’s overwhelmed,” said his agent, Sabino Angoitia, in a story in the Spanish daily AS. “The other day he went to the supermarket and he left without buying anything for the amount of people that surrounded him. Everyone is speaking about him, wanting his autograph.”
Mayo’s been buried with requests for interviews and got so fed up he turned off his cell phone, only to discover 80 messages when he turned it on after a training ride.
Mayo’s rising profile should be expected in cycling-crazy Spain, a nation anxious to find a successor to take over where Miguel Indurain left off with his final victory in 1995. Since then, a string of contenders have tried in vain to win the Tour, only to fall short against the likes of Armstrong and Jan Ullrich.
Mayo is Spain’s newest cycling star and was even asked to pose nude for the Spanish magazine Interviú for an undisclosed amount of money.
“This is the price I have to pay for fame,” Mayo told his agent. “I don’t know if I wanted this.”
Mayo seems to be happiest on his bike, where he spent a week of “active recovery” follwing his Dauphiné victory with light three-hour rides. Since then, he’s upped the distance and intensity during five-hour training rides and ventured to the nearby Pyrenees to scout some Tour stages.
Ullrich feeling confident for Tour
Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) said he’s feeling confident following his recent victory at the Tour de Suisse, where he pulled off a one-second win over Fabian Jeker (Saunier Duval) after erasing a 41-second deficit in the final time trial.
“It was perfect preparation for the Tour and the win gave me a strong boost of my morale for the Tour,” Ullrich said the German wires. “In the hardest stages is where I felt that I was getting better every time.”
Jeker echoed the sentiment, saying the big German was strong in the hardest climbs high in the Swiss Alps during the nine-stage race.
“Ullrich is a beast,” Jeker said. “He was climbing the passes with the big ring and I couldn’t do anything against that.”
McGee seals Sud title
Australian Bradley McGee (FDJeux.com) wrapped up the 28th Route du Sud on Tuesday after finishing safely behind stage-winner Thomas Voeckler (La Boulangere).
McGee grabbed the leader’s jersey after winning Monday’s time trial and made it over four Category 1-rated climbs in the demanding 150km stage from Montrejeau to Loundenvielle Le Louron in the French Pyrénées.
Voeckler won an impressive solo victory after a hard day in the mountains, finishing 2:05 ahead of second-place Stephane Goubert (Ag2r). Sandy Casar worked hard to reel in the attacking Estonian Janek Tombak to protect his teammate’s lead in the overall standings.
David Millar (Cofidis), runner-up in Monday’s time trial, were among more than 30 riders that did not finish.
Route de Sud(FRA 2.3)
Stage 4, Montrejeau to Loundenvielle Le Louron, 150km
1. Thomas Voeckler (Fra), Brioches la Boulangère 4 hours, 21 minutes, 28 seconds
2 .Stéphane Goubert (Fra), AG2r Prévoyance +2:05
3. Cristian Moreni (Ita), Alessio-Bianchi +4:01
4. Matthias Kessler (Ger) ,T-Mobile Team
5. Anthony Charteau (Fra), Brioches la Boulangère s.t.
Final overall standings
1. Bradley Mcgee (Aus), FDJeux.com 13:32:49
2. Sandy Casar (Fra), FDJeux.com +0:22
3. Torsten Hiekmann (Ger), T-Mobile Team +0:40
4. Cristian Moreni (Ita), Alessio-Bianchi +0:52
5. Patrice Halgand (Fra), Crédit Agricole +2:15
Cioni wins Italian national ITT
Former mountain biker Dario Cioni (Fassa Bortolo) won the national Italian time trial title with an impressive win Tuesday over Andrea Peron (CSC). Cioni, fresh off his third-place performance at the Tour de Suisse, finished five seconds faster than Peron and 21 seconds ahead of Marco Pinotti (Lampre).
“I thought if all went well I would be on the podium, but to win the ‘tricolore’ is great. I started strong and faced a strong headwind in the second lap, but I had a gap on Peron at the intermediate split,” Cioni said after the win. “After this, I want to race in the world championships and use the Vuelta as preparation.”
Italian national time trial championships
1. Dario David Cioni (Fassa Bortolo), 44km in 54:06.62 (48.79 kph)
2. Andrea Peron (Team CSC) 0:05.18
3. Marco Pinotti (Lampre) +0:20.88
4. Ivan Basso (CSC) +22.33
5. Giairo Ermeti (U.C. Palazzago Av Isol.) +0:49.56