They coulda been contendas (or not)

Oscar Freire (Mapei-Quick Step) The former world champion has had a tough time with back and knee problems over the past two years. He looked to be back on form after a stage win at the Tour of Germany in May, but a viral infection had him in the hospital by mid-June, and his team announced that he would be a no-show at the Tour. Floyd Landis, Chris Horner and Chris Wherry (Mercury-Viatel) Along with depriving contenders like Pavel Tonkov and Chann McRae and potential stage winners Gord Fraser, Jans Koerts and Fabrizio Guidi of a spot in the Tour, the non-selection of Mercury also deprived

By John Wilcockson

Oscar Freire (Mapei-Quick Step)

The former world champion has had a tough time with back and knee problems over the past two years. He looked to be back on form after a stage win at the Tour of Germany in May, but a viral infection had him in the hospital by mid-June, and his team announced that he would be a no-show at the Tour.

Floyd Landis, Chris Horner and Chris Wherry (Mercury-Viatel)

Along with depriving contenders like Pavel Tonkov and Chann McRae and potential stage winners Gord Fraser, Jans Koerts and Fabrizio Guidi of a spot in the Tour, the non-selection of Mercury also deprived U.S. fans of a chance to see some new American faces making their Tour debut. The Tour would never have been the same after a little Floyd….

Iban Mayo (Euskaltel-Euskadi)

The young Basque has been the breakthrough climber of the season, winning the Midi Libre, the Classique des Alpes and the Galibier stage at the Dauphiné. But his team decided to hold the Mayo. He’s only 23, so watch out next year.

Marco Pantani (Mercatone Uno)

The 1998 Tour winner fell foul of the Tour organizers’ decision to invite eight French teams to the race, and exclude Division I teams like Mercatone Uno, Saeco, Coast and Mercury-Viatel. Pantani says he will now focus on the Vuelta in September.

Pavel Tonkov (Mercury-Viatel)

The former Giro winner was to be Mercury’s top man in the American team’s first try at the Tour. Those plans fell through, though, when the team wasn’t among the 21 selected to start the race. Too bad. Tonkov and Mercury showed at the Dauphiné Libéré and Classique des Alpes that they would have made some noise at this year’s Tour.

Frank Vandenbroucke (Lampre-Daikin)

After his breakthrough classics campaign and Vuelta stage wins in 1999, everyone thought an assault on the Tour in 2000 would be next. That never materialized, as the star-crossed rider suffered through a suspension and personal problems. The explosive Belgian hinted at a return to the Tour in 2001, and his presence would have at least generated some excitement. But it was not to be. After a training crash in June, Vandenbroucke announced he was withdrawing from the Tour, and the Belgian press reported that he was close to splitting with the Lampre team.

Richard Virenque (no team)

Currently suspended for admitting to the use of banned drugs when racing for the Festina team, 1993-98.