By Andrew Hood
Fred Rodriguez will be Robbie McEwen’s top lead-out man in the hunt for stage wins in the mass sprints, and that’s just fine by him.
“Fast Freddy” believes his chances will come in what’s his fifth Tour de France start.
“I’ll be mostly working for Robbie,” Rodriguez told VeloNews. “I think in the second half of the Tour there will be some chances for me, on the courses that are a little more selective, when maybe some of the bigger guys will have some trouble getting through.”
The Californian said working for other sprinters is something he’s used to. In his 2000 Tour debut with Mapei, he rode in support of Tom Steels. During his Lotto years, he worked for Romans Vainsteins.
Rodriguez, who will return to the United States in August for the expected arrival of his first son, said he’s never felt better at the Tour in five starts.
“I really feel like I’m my strongest ever,” he said. “I hope to have some chances for me as well. I’ve never had the opportunity to truly ride for myself at the Tour. But I’m not going to be a bad teammate. I’m going to do my job.”
Rodriguez said the team has studied the route and expects that a massive sprint is likely in four or five stages, while the later stages across the Vosges and the Massif Central could see the bunch get split up, opening the door for the American.
“I’ve won a stage in the Giro, second at the Vuelta, third at the Tour, won stages at most stage races I’ve done,” he said. “I feel like I can be with the best sprinters in the world on my day.”
Concerning his time trial ride, Rodriguez said the most important thing was that he felt good on the bike.
“I wanted to open up the legs and I felt good,” he said. “There wasn’t any pressure to make a good ride.”
After his trip back home to become a new dad, Rodriguez said he’ll return to Europe to prepare for the world championships in Madrid, where his current teammate and captain McEwen could be enemy No. 1.
“We’re teammates now, but we’ll be enemies on that day,” he said.
Voigt cools his jets
Jens Voigt says he won’t be a kamikaze in this year’s Tour de France.
The German ace promises to keep his suicidal attacks in check in order to help Team CSC teammate Ivan Basso make a run for overall victory.
“I’ve had a very good year, but now it’s time to put my personal ambitions aside to help the team and help Ivan,” Voigt told journalists after his time-trial performance.
“You won’t see me always attacking, attacking, attacking,” Voigt said. “The chances to attack this year will be fewer. The only jersey we want to see is the yellow jersey. You won’t see Jens Voigt attacking every day.”
In last year’s Tour, Voigt was continually on the charge, working himself into breakaways and livening up the action, but the efforts always fell short. A winner of a Tour stage in 2001, Voigt says he’ll leave his trademark panache on hold.
There could be some exceptions, but only when it’s for the good of the team.
“Lance has revealed what it takes to win the Tour. That’s to have one chief and eight Indians,” he said. “Basso can win this Tour. If I attack, it will be to go up the road only when it helps Ivan.”
CSC ‘close’ to contract extension
Computer software giant CSC is “close” to extending its sponsorship deal with 1996 Tour de France winner Bjarne Riis.
Ole Egeblad, sponsor manager for the computer company, told VeloNews that talks are under way to extend the title sponsorship, set to expire at the end of this season.
“It’s looking very good, but there’s still no signature,” Egeblad said. “We’re happy, the team is happy, but there’s still some talking between the team and CSC. It’s close.”
CSC is also technical sponsor for the Tour de France, a relationship that’s expected to continue if negotiations with Riis are successful.
“If we continue with the team, we’ll continue with the Tour,” he said.
National champs in Tour
Seven national road champions were among the 189 riders starting Saturday’s opening stage of the 92nd Tour de France.
Lining up in Fromentine were the following road champs: Pierrick Fedrigo (France); Jaan Kirsipuu (Estonia); Robbie McEwen (Australia); Leon Van Bon (Holland); Juan Manuel Garate (Spain); Gerrit Glomser (Austria); and Alexandre Vinokourov (Kazakhstan).
Six time-trial champions started, including: Thor Hushovd (Norway); Fabian Cancellara (Switzerland); Michael Rich (Germany); Sylvain Chavanel (France); Jaan Kirsipuu (Estonia); and Andriy Grivko (Ukraine).
Michael Rogers (Quick Step) lines up as the defending world time trial champion. Reigning world road champion Oscar Freire of Rabobank didn’t start after undergoing surgery to remove a cyst. Olympic champion Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) didn’t start due to nagging health problems.
Postal’s international legacy
Here’s some interesting trivia from Discovery Channel’s Dan Osipow. One of the early staff members of the U.S. Postal Service team, Osipow is starting his ninth Tour working with the media and VIPs the team invites to watch the Tour.
According to Osipow’s report on www.thepaceline.com, 20 riders from 10 nations have been represented on Armstrong’s six Tour-winning teams. George Hincapie leads with six, the only rider to finish alongside Armstrong in all the team’s Tour victories, while Viatcheslav Ekimov has five (he didn’t race on Postal Service in 1999) and Jose “Chechu” Rubiera has four.
With Paolo Savoldelli and Yaroslav Popovych part of the 2005 Tour team, the number increases to 22 different riders from 12 nations.
How many can you name? Here is a list Osipow compiled of the team’s TdF rosters since Armstrong’s first win:
Frankie Andreu (USA)
Pascal Derame (FRA)
Tyler Hamilton (USA)
George Hincapie (USA)
Kevin Livingston (USA)
Peter Meinert (DEN)
Christian Vande Velde (USA)
Jonathan Vaughters (USA)
Viatcheslav Ekimov (RUS)
Benoit Joachim (LUX)
Steffen Kjaergaard (NOR)
Cedric Vasseur (FRA)
Roberto Heras (ESP)
Victor Hugo Peña (COL)
Chechu Rubiera (ESP)
Floyd Landis (USA)
Pavel Padrnos (CZE)
Manuel Beltrán (ESP)
José Azevedo (POR)
Benjamin Noval (ESP)