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Tour teams narrowing rosters

The Tour de France kicks off on Saturday afternoon at the Place du Glacis in Luxembourg.The 21 teams have until the end of the week to firm up their start lists and some are still making changes, as was the case when Mapei was forced to drop David Cañada Gracia from its line up after he suffered a nasty fall in the Spanish national championship on Sunday.The final rosters are expected by Friday, but here’s an early peek athow some of the teams are shaping up:U.S.Postal ServiceLed by three-time defending Tour de France champion LanceArmstrong, Postal comes with what it’s calling its strongest

By Andrew Hood

Can anyone beat this guy?

Can anyone beat this guy?

Photo: Graham Watson

The Tour de France kicks off on Saturday afternoon at the Place du Glacis in Luxembourg.The 21 teams have until the end of the week to firm up their start lists and some are still making changes, as was the case when Mapei was forced to drop David Cañada Gracia from its line up after he suffered a nasty fall in the Spanish national championship on Sunday.The final rosters are expected by Friday, but here’s an early peek athow some of the teams are shaping up:U.S.Postal Service
Led by three-time defending Tour de France champion LanceArmstrong, Postal comes with what it’s calling its strongest teamever. “It was a tough decision to select the nine riders because we have12 riders that are ready to ride the Tour,” said Johan Bruyneel, USPS’director sportif.“However, this is without any doubt the strongest team we’ve put togetherover the last four years.  Everybody is in good shape, well-preparedand extremely motivated.” Joining Armstrong are Americans George Hincapieand Floyd Landis. Hincapie has been on all three of Armstrong’svictorious teams while Landis, second overall at Dauphine Libere behindArmstrong, is making his Tour debut. Christian Vande Velde and newlycrowned U.S. champion Chann McRae were left off the team. Also back fromlast year are the “three amigos,” Jose Luis Rubiera, Victor HugoPena and Roberto Heras, fresh off his victory at Tour of Catalunya.ViatcheslavEkimov, who walked away from the sport last fall, made a surprisinglyquick comeback to earn selection. Benoit Joachim and Pavel Padrnosround out the team.Telekom
Jan Ullrich’s absence changes things for the mighty Telekom, winnerof the Tour in 1996 with Bjarne Riis and 1997 with Ullrich. The team hasrefocused its program around Erik Zabel, who will be going for arecord seventh green points jersey.Leadout man Gian Matteo Fagnini will be back to secure some stagewins. The team’s GC hopes are wide open, with Guiseppi Guerini themost likely candidate to take over for the missing Ullrich. AlexandreVinokourov and Bobby Julich, third overall in 1998, will alsobe given a free hand to chase the GC if they have the legs. Kevin Livingston,RolfAldag, Steffen Wesemann and Andreas Kloden round out the team,with Danilo Hondo as the first reserve.Rabobank
Levi Leipheimer makes his Tour debut as the team leader of themen in orange. Fresh off his victory at Route du Sud, Leipheimer will behoping to have the consistency that lifted him to third overall at the2001 Vuelta a Espana.Michael Boogerd, strong at the 2002 Giro, won’t have the pressureof the GC on his shoulders. Erik Dekker, a winner of stages in thepast two Tours, is back after breaking his left leg at Milan-San Remo.Rounding out the team are Beat Zberg, Karsten Kroon, Grischa Niermann,Addy Engels, Marc Wauters and Bram de Groot.Domo-FarmFrites
The controversial Richard Virenque will be making his Tour comebackafter serving a suspension last year following his role in the 1998 FestinaAffaire.“Richy” – who’s been working with Jeannie Longo’s husband and coachto help his time trialing prowess — will be shooting for the best-climber’sjersey and a top-5 finish. Fred Rodriguez, one of nine Americansin this year’s Tour, will be hunting for a stage-win. Axel Merckx, PiotrWadecki, Dave Bruylandts, Enrico Cassani, Tomas Konecny, Leon Van Bonand Servais Knaven round out the team.Mapei
Despite the bomb dropped last month that the team is ending its sponsorshipat the end of this season, Mapei rolls into the Tour with hopes of snatchingstage-wins with Tom Steels, world champion Oscar Freire andRobertHunter. Mountain biking Olympic gold medalist Miguel Martinez,making his Tour debut, will be interesting to watch in the mountains whileAndreaTafi, Pedro Horrillo, Laszlo Bodrogi and Gerhard Trampusch roundout this team with no pretensions for the GC.David Cañada Gracia, originally picked for the squad, will notbe taking part in this year’s Tour. The Spanish rider had a nasty fallon Sunday during the Spanish National Championships where he dislocatedhis left shoulder. He has been replaced on the Mapei roster by FabienDe Waele.CSC-Tiscali
Last year, Bjarne Riis’ team won two stages and the best climber’sjersey with a resurgent Laurent Jalabert. Jaja is back despite problemsthis spring with a free ticket to ride as he pleases. TylerHamilton, fresh off his second-place overall at the 2002 Giro despiteriding the final two weeks of the race with a broken shoulder, won’t havethe pressure he did at the Italian race. He shares team leadership withCarlosSastre, who team officials quietly hope will be the Tour’s revelation.NickiSorensen, Andrea Peron, Jakob Piil, new Danish champion MichaelSandstod, Paul Van Hyfte and Arvis Piziks fill out the restof the squad.
 Lotto-Adecco
A team loaded with potential stage-winners, Lotto comes packed withRobbieMcEwen (winner of two stages at the 2002 Giro), Kurt Van De WouwerandRik Verbrugghe. Mario Aerts, Hans De Clercq, Serge Baguet(winner of a Tour stage last year), Guennadi Mikhailov, Christophe Brandtand Aart Vierhouten will ride in support.CréditAgricole
The French team paid a lot to bring Christophe Moreau on asits team leader following the departure of Bobby Julich, whose contractwas not extended after disappointing results. Moreau, fourth overall in2000 and the winner of last year’s prologue, is France’s best hope fora podium finish.Stuart O’Grady will be chasing the green jersey and stage-winswhile the team will be hoping to repeat its team time trial victory oflast year. Rounding out the team are Frederic Bessy, Sebastien Hinault,Thor Hushovd, Anthony Langella, Anthony Morin, Christophe, Jonathan Vaughtersand Jens Voigt.FassaBortolo
The big surprise is that Francesco Casagrande was left off the team.Following his expulsion from the 2002 Giro, it was expected Casagrandewould be making a run for the final Tour podium. Instead, Fassa Bortolowill pin its hopes on Wladimir Belli and Sergei Gonchar,with Fabio Baldato, Marco Velo, Sergei Ivanov and Ivan Bassochasing stage-wins. Volodimir Gustov, Nicola Loda and Oscar Pozziroundout the team.TacconiSport
The team is hoping Dario Frigo won’t implode the way he didin the final climbing stage of the 2002 Giro and make it to Paris in goodstanding. Others expected to ride for the Italian lineup are GianlucaBortolami, Paolo Bossoni, Massimo Donati, Andrej Hauptman, Peter LuttenbergerandEddy Mazzoleni.Alessio
Laurent Dufaux, twice fourth overall in the Tour, will be hopingfor a return to form. The team can also count on Davide Casarotto,two-time Giro champion Ivan Gotti, Martin Hvastija, Ruslan Ivanov, CristianMoreni and Aleksandr Shefer to shake things up. Daniele De Paoliwas pulled after recently failing a doping test.JeanDelatour
Laurent Brochard will lead the team that took the place of Saeco,“uninvited” to the Tour after Gilberto Simoni’s failed doping tests atthe 2002 Giro. Others penciled in to start for this all-French team includeCyrilDessel, Stéphane Goubert, Patrice Halgand, Laurent Lefèvre,Stéphane Augé, Christophe Edaleine and Eddy Seigneur.The final position has yet to be named.ONCE
The team with the most pretensions of dethroning Armstrong, ONCE comespacked with a deep team. Two-time third-place podium finisher JosebaBeloki came on late this spring to find his form while Igor Gonzalezde Galdeano, who beat Armstrong in a time trial this spring at MidiLibre, is in strong form.Anything less than the podium would be a major disappointment for theSpanish team. Also joining ONCE are Abraham Olano, now content toride in support, Alvaro Gonzalez de Galdeano, Isidro Nozal, Marcos Serrano,Mikel Pradera and Rafa Diaz, one position left to fill.Kelme-CostaBlanca
If you believe team manager Vincente Belda, this is the year Armstrongwill lose the Tour. Of course, Belda was the same man who insisted Armstrongmust be taking testosterone because he only has one testicle.Regardless, Kelme comes with a strong team led by Oscar Sevilla,winner of the best young rider’s jersey last year, and Santiago Botero,best climber in 2000. The two stars have put aside their financial disputewith the team and are focusing on the Tour.Botero beefed up last year to improve his time trialing abilities, butlost his edge in the mountains. The pair finished 1-2 in the Classiquesdes Alpes in June and will attack in the Alps and Pyrenees. Also for theteam are Quique Gutierrez, Santiago Perez, Toni Tauler, Francisco Cabello,Jose Angel Vidal, Pipe Gomez and Constantino Zabala.Ibanesto.com
A winner of a half-dozen races this year in Spain, Banesto seems tohave recovered some of its confidence from its glory days with Miguel Indurain.Despite its successes in Spain this spring, the team will be without JoseMaria Jimenez (recovering from a long list of troubles, including a supposedmental collapse this spring) and would be happy to score a stage-win. FranciscoMancebo, Unai Osa, Denis Menchov, Javier Pascual Rodriguez, Chente Garcia,Dariusz Baranowski and Santi Blanco (if he recovers from a spillin Sunday’s Spanish championships) will make up the team, two more positionsleft to fill.Euskaltel
One of the magical moments of last year’s Tour was the solo victoryin the Pyrenees by Roberto Laiseka as tens of thousands of flag-wavingBasque fans lined the course. This Basque team returns with Laiseka andhas legitimate chances to win stages or take one of the jerseys. HaimarZubeldia, Iban Mayo, David Etxebarria, Unai Etxebarria (no relation), SamuelSanchez, Gorka Arrizabalaga and Gorka Gonzalez round out theteam, with one position left to fill.Other teams:AG2RPrévoyance
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