Predict early, predict often, predict American

When I made my first set of predictions back in March I stated, "Predict early, predict often." That first set of predictions focused entirely on the American field and I could have predicted a lot less often if I had just stuck altered those early predictions slightly.

As open as this Tour was supposed to be, with Basso and Ullrich in the picture nearly every set of predictions featured them in the top three. Now, it's really open, so it's time to get crazy... (I emphasize 'crazy' here as rabbits must now be pulled out of hats)

Based on this, my new picks:

  1. Discovery (Popo, Azevedo, Savo, or Hincapie)
  2. Floyd Landis
  3. Bobby Julich
  4. Alejandro Valverde
  5. Levi Leipheimer

Hincapie on final approach-1 Landis Warming Up-1 Bobby Julich

Crazy? Absolutely. But with things so shook up I feel like really rolling the dice now, even if I'm being weak by putting 'Discovery' and not a specific rider on top.

Analysis:

  • Discovery #1: Puerto-free Discovery has the strongest team now and I'm a believer in the strongest team winning the Tour. Azevedo will be riding with #1 on his back, Popo has more of climber/time-trialer mix, and Hincapie has amazing experience. They will have to unite behind a leader quickly, and with the altered landscape I think they will be aiming at the top of that podium now.
  • Landis #2: I continue to be in the camp that discounts Phonak's strength, especially with some of their best riders involved in the Puerto scandal. Team strength will matters little less now that two of the dominant teams are now hobbled, but Discovery should have learned from its Tour de Georgia mistakes and hit Landis hard when they need to.
  • Bobby Julich #3: So, here's a bit of nostalgia: in 1998, Bobby Julich finished third overall in the wake of the Festina scandal. His team is minus a leader. Bobby J should be on the best Tour form ever since that 3rd place finish nearly a decade ago. Bjarne Riis is a clev erman and given that I already expected Bobby J to get into yellow for a day or two, I think he can manage to stay near the top with a strong CSC team working for him.
  • Valverde #4: If I were smarter, I would probably put Valverde #1 or #2, but these are the times to be crazy. Valverde is the odds favorite, but I have a hard time getting behind a young rider who didn't finish the Tour last year (knee injury). He finished well in the Vuelta, but that's a different ballgame. I think he will be done in one way or another, though it is probably foolish to put him off the podium -- I had to make room for my crazy Julich pick somehow.
  • Levi #5: He won the Dauphine, but in 2005 he slipped out of the top 5 on the last day and lost his overall lead in the Dauphine as well. Those are important lessons for Levi to learn from, but my reading of the tea leaves is that Levi will have a bad day at least once during this Tour, which will be enough to knock him off the podium.

One more note on the doping scandal: for this many riders to be involved, this has to be the peloton's worst kept secret. Implicated or not, everyone at that level is tarnished for either being in on it or pretending it wasn't going on.

related articles: Tour de France 2006
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