Early Tour de France predictions (the Americans)

Podium-1-4There's been no lack of Americans in the cycling spotlight post-Lance. Levi, Hincapie, and Landis put in great Tour of California performances. Landis took the Paris-Nice overall and Julich took the prologue. It would have been nice to see Horner, Danielson and Zabriskie get some early spotlght, but the main event is still months away.

I thought I'd take an early stab at making some predictions for the Tour de France. "Predict early, predict often." That way I get more chances to pretend I was right. Fat Cyclist went bolder and did a full set of early predictions for the Tour. I'm just going to focus on the Americans because everyone in America is holding their breath to see if the post-Armstrongians can hold the fort for American cycling.

The gist of my predictions: I don't expect to see any American at the top of that podium in Paris this year. I expect to see many strong performances and stage wins, but we will probably have to wait a couple years. This is hardly a bold prediction. I'll be a little more risky and say that I think you'll see Zabriskie, Julich, and Landis all in yellow jerseys this year. Zabriskie because he's fast. Julich because this is one of his last chances to get one. Landis because his combined time trial and mountain climbing ability gives him a good chance of getting one.

There's more specifics if you'd like to read on

Floyd Landis

Landis Warming Up-1Landis has been looking a lot like Bobby Julich. Julich raised the American flag early last year and now it's Floyd's turn with a lot of yellow-jersey wearing in his Tour of California and Paris-Nice victories. According to VeloNews, Landis plans on slipping under the radar now -- mustn't peak too early with the Tour de France to look to.

Floyd's new time trial position was the key to his ToC victory and it was a strong mountain attack in Paris-Nice that gave him that win. Strong time trail and mountain climbing... strong time trial and climbing... that sounds like a Tour de France victory, doesn't it? almost

"It's the team, stupid": in both the ToC and Paris-Nice, Phonak was very shakable. They pulled through in the end, but I saw plenty of Landis fighting others off on his lonesome in both victories. The Tour de France's many stages require strong team consistency. You can win with a weak team like Armstrong's first victory, but you have to be lucky enough to have most of the major competitors sitting out due to doping violations. Discovery has already shown they can beat Phonak up on Brasstown Bald in last year's Tour de Georgia and T-Mobile put a lot of cracks into Discovery in last year's Tour de France. Even if Landis gets a coveted yellow jersey, I would expect to see isolated on a future mountain stage watching his lead tick away.

CSC: Julich and Zabriskie

Julich and Zabriskie, Stage 3 ToC-1Some Amercians you won't see on the final podium are CSC riders are Bobby Julich and Dave Zabriskie. I say this in praise of both those riders. Read Julich's cyclingnews interview. It's the start of the season. One year ago Julich was busy wearing the inaugural Pro Tour leader's jersey after victories in Paris-Nice, Criterium International and Tour of the Benelux. After his prologue victory in Paris-Nice this year you would expect a rider with Julich's credentials to talk about putting that Pro Tour jersey back on. Nope. Julich's focused on riding the Giro and Tour for Basso. He still wants a yellow jersey of his own, but after cherishing it for a day he knows his role is to hand it over on the team bus to Basso. Zabriskie's interviews have been a bit briefer, but I think the Basso focus stays the same. They know their man has been oh-so-close these pasts two years. CSC has been such a great team under Riis. If they are just a little bit better it means they get the grand prize.

Zabriskie didn't disappoint me when I picked him last year in my riders to watch preview and prologue stage livecast. I'd be a fool to not pick him again for similar accomplishments. I think that you'll see Zabriskie, Julich, or both in the yellow jersey this Tour de France. If Zabriskie gets over whatever seems to be ailing him right now, he could do a repeat of last year's prologue to put him in yellow and then slowly hand it over to Julich when the first mountains arrives, and then, if Riis pulls of the grand plan, finally onto Basso's shoulders. There are no team time trial stages this year, which really could have given the strong CSC lineup a leg up, but two individual time trials and a prologue do give Julich and Zabriskie a chance to shine.

George Hincapie

Hincapie on final approach-1Like many others, I just can't make the leap from Armstrong lieutenant to Tour de France leader for Hincapie. I'd love to see George on the podium, but I'd rather see him win Paris-Roubaix. Personally, I think Discovery's best option this year is to use their many weapons to get as many stage wins as they can. They might win with Popovych in charge, but a reign of Popovych may still be a year or two away. I look forward to the day when Discovery can unleash Danielson on the mountain stages so we can see his climbing skill benchmarked against the greats.

Levi Leipheimer

Levi Leipheimer Post-RaceI like Leipheimer as a rider and I like the fact that he's from nearby Santa Rosa, but I just can't see him winning a Tour de France. There's plenty in his favor. He showed some good early season form at the Tour of California with a prologue win, but, based on his sparse race schedule on his Web site, should be saving plenty of form for the Tour de France. He also has plenty of all-around skill that makes him an annual top ten finisher. What's lacking, though, is that defining Tour de France moment that makes me believe that he can be riding at the front of the pack going up the mountain rather than just holding on.

related articles: Tour de France 2006
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