Tour de France teams, and their aims for the race
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Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Tour de France teams, and their aims for the race

by Agence France-Presse at 6:27 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Tour de France
The 20 Tour de France teams and their ambitions for this year's July 5-27 race:

Agritubel (FRA)
As one of the few non-Pro Tour teams in the race, Agritubel is happy just to have the Tour de France invitation that can often make or break sponsors' commitment to the sport. But that doesn't mean they'll be sitting idle. Sprinter Romain Feillu took three top ten stage finishes on his 2007 debut and will be looking to improve despite having just recently returned to competition after suffering from toxoplasmosis. Agritubel's team leader is Christophe Moreau, although he will not challenge for the yellow jersey.

In the absence of realistic contenders for the race's yellow jersey, AG2R will revert to their usual strategy of hunting down stage wins. With the likes of Russian Vladimir Efimkin, former yellow jersey wearer Cyril Dessel, classics specialist Martin Elmiger and climber John Gadret in their ranks, the French outfit have a solid team on paper and one that will be looking to show the sponsors' jersey by getting into as many breakaways as possible.

Barloworld (GBR)
After last year's successful debut on the race, the British-registered team will be looking for more of the same from South African Robert Hunter and Mauricio Soler. Hunter claimed his and South Africa's first ever stage win on the race and got in the mix for the race's green jersey. This year, Hunter will have Australian Baden Cooke to work with in the sprints, while Colombian climber Soler will be out to defend his King of the Mountains polka dot jersey.

Bouygues Telecom (FRA)

Bouygues' cosmopolitan approach to recruiting has paid handsome dividends, especially with the capture of Russian Yuri Trofimov, who secured his ticket for his first Tour by winning a stage of the Dauphine Libere earlier this month. With no real yellow jersey contenders to speak of, Trofimov - a former mountain biker - will join former stage winner Pierrick Fedrigo, Thomas Voeckler and Jerome Pineau in aiming to secure at least a stage win.

Caisse d'Epargne (ESP)
The Spanish outfit won one yellow jersey - through Oscar Pereiro - in 2006, after American Floyd Landis was finally disqualified and banned over his positive test for testosterone in that year's race. But this year team leader Alejandro Valverde has a real chance of upstaging Australian pre-race favourite Cadel Evans. Valverde has improved his time trials, and is a proficient climber with plenty of stage racing experience. The support of his team in the crucial alpine stages could make the difference between success and failure.

Cofidis (FRA) Frenchman Sylvain Chavanel is the biggest name in France's number one team and has had a stunning season so far. Key wins in some of the lesser known one-day classics have boosted the 28-year-old's confidence and he will be looking to carry that into the Tour. Like most French teams, stage wins are the aim for Cofidis, who have four race debutants in their nine-man squad.

Credit Agricole (FRA)
With Belgian Tom Boonen not racing this year, Credit Agricole sprinter Thor Hushovd has already been given a huge push towards his aim of winning the points competition's green jersey. Most of the Credit Agricole team, which will race for the last time on the Tour ahead of looking for a new sponsor, will be working to help Hushovd achieve his goal although some, like Australian Simon Gerrans, will have some freedom to get into potential stage-winning breakaways.

Team CSC-Saxo Bank (DEN)
Carlos Sastre will shoulder the team's yellow jersey hopes, but despite numerous top ten placings in recent years the Danish outfit are likely to give 'carte blanche' to Andy Schleck, or his brother Frank, if either rider finds himself in a position to challenge for the yellow jersey. With experienced heads like Australian Stuart O'Grady and Germany's Jens Voigt on board, as well as unstoppable Swiss Fabian Cancellara, CSC have one of the strongest teams on the race. A single stage win will not be sufficient to keep manager Bjarne Riis happy.

Euskaltel (ESP)
The instantly-recognisable Basque team claim they are not interested in the yellow jersey, but with the Pyrenees on the menu before the Alps they could be spurned into action - and then decide to change tack depending on what emerges from the first days in the mountains. Their main riders for the general classification are Haimar Zubeldia, who regularly finishes in the top ten and came fifth in 2007 and 2003, and the experienced Mikel Astarloza.

Francaise des Jeux (FRA)
Like Cofidis, FDJeux - as they are commonly known - have injected some new life into their Tour line-up, which will be led by Frenchman Sandy Casar and Belgian star Philippe Gilbert. Casar handed FDJeux manager Marc Madiot the stage win he was after last year on stage 18, and is likely to restrict his aims in the race to prodiving another, preferably on slightly hilly terrain. The cherry on the cake for Madiot would be for Gilbert, who has recently announced his impending departure from the team, to deliver a stage as well.

Garmin-Chipotle (USA)
Former stage winner David Millar will spearhead Garmin's bid for stage wins, but with old heads like Magnus Backstedt and Christian Vandevelde also riding, the big Scot will not be alone in trying to impress for the American outfit, which is making its debut having recently switched names from Slipstream. Sprinter Julian Dean has plenty of Tour sprinting experience while young Dutchman Martijn Maaskant will be keen to show he is worth his place on what will be his debut.

Gerolsteiner (GER)
The German outfit have some talented riders in Fabian Wegmenn, Stefan Schumacher, Markus Fothen and Heinrich Haussler, but often flatter to deceive at the Tour. Their last stage victory was the now retired Gorg Totschnig's win in the Pyrenees in 2005, so Gerolsteiner will be looking at German champion Wegmann to inspire through leadership.

Lampre (ITA)
Damiano Cunego is the pink and blue clad Italian team's biggest stage race star, and this year the "little prince" - as the former Giro d'Italia champion is known - has an authentic chance of challenging for the yellow jersey. Cunego has competed only once on the Tour, in 2006 when he claimed the white jersey (for the best placed rider aged 25 or under), and skipped the three-week Giro this year in order to better focus on the Tour. Cunego is a great climber, but perhaps lacks the same ability as the likes of Cadel Evans and Alejandro Valverde in the longer time trials.

Liquigas (ITA)
With lime green and blue shirts, Liquigas are easy to spot but once the race hits the mountains they are likely to be stuck back in the peloton. With no real yellow jersey contender, the team's focus will be to prime Daniele Bennati for the bunch sprints. Experienced Italian Filippo Pozzato opened the team's Tour account last year, before Bennati grabbed another then doubled up on the final stage at the Champs Elysees to give the team an impressive three stage victories.

Milram (ITA)
Another big name absence in the mass sprints will be Italian Alessandro Petacchi, who after being banned for a positive test for salbutamol saw his contract torn up by the team. The sprint duties now fall to 38-year-old veteran Erik Zabel, who, ironically, joined the team to be Petacchi's sprint lead out man. Brett Lancaster will be a support man for the German veteran and the Aussie, who was forced to abandon last year on his debut, will be hoping to finish in one piece ahead of anticipated Olympic duties in August.

Quick Step (BEL)
The absence of green jersey champion Tom Boonen, after Tour organisers reacted negatively to a positive test for cocaine, is a huge blow for Belgium's number one team. Their focus will now switch to stage wins in the sprints, courtesy of former stage winner Gert Steegmans, while Tour of Flanders champion Stijn Devolder will test his stage racing capabilities on the Tour for the first time.

Rabobank (NED)
Russian Denis Menchov will be happy to find himself back in the role of the team's yellow jersey chaser following the controversy at last year's race which led to the team's former climber Michael Rasmussen being thrown out while in the race lead. After Spanish sprinter Oscar Friere's bid for stage wins in the first week, Menchov will then be looking for support as he prepares to keep pace in the mountains. A proficient time trialler, his biggest handicap could be, with the exception of Juan Antonio Flecha, the relative inexperience of his team-mates.

Saunier Duval (ESP)
Italian Riccardo Ricco's incluson in the Tour squad came as something of a surprise because he recently competed in, and finished runner-up, the Giro d'Italia. Seen by many in Italy as the heir to deceased Giro and Tour winner Marco Pantani, it remains to be seen whether Ricco's Giro exertions prove decisive. A possible stage winner in the mountains, where he will treasure the experience and help of the indefatiguable Leonardo Piepoli.

Silence-Lotto (BEL)
Silence now have the bragging rights, among Belgian teams at least, for this year's Tour following Boonen's ousting from Quick Step's Tour team. With Cadel Evans starting as number one favourite after his close runner-up place last year, Silence have finally tailored their team for the Australian ace. Australian Robbie McEwen will now have to go it alone in the bunch sprints, where he will face some familiar as well as younger faces. The question is whether Silence, which has traditionally focused on one-day and smaller stage races, can give Evans the support he will need. Ukrainian Yaroslav Popovych and Belgian Mario Aerts will be crucial for Evans in the mountains.

Team Columbia (USA) As the heir to the now defunct T-Mobile, Team Columbia (formerly High Road) have plenty of talent, and ambition to match and all-rounder Kim Kirchen is apparently confident of challenging the big yellow jersey favourites. Britain's Mark Cavendish will look to repeat his stage win success of the Giro d'Italia, with the help of German sprinter Gerald Ciolek. Kirchen, who finished seventh overall on his third participation last year, will have the support of American George Hincapie, Belarussian Kanstantsin Sivtsov and Swede Thomas Lovkvist.

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