Friday, June 30, 2006

Le Tour de France

For the past couple of weeks, I've been putting off posting an entry giving my predictions for this year's Tour de France and encouraging my huge, huge readership to tune in. My predictions would have gone something like this:
  • First place: Jan Ulrich (Germany, T-Mobile)
  • Second place: Ivan Basso (Italy, CSC)
  • Third place: Floyd Landis (USA, Phonak)
  • First-place team: CSC
I also would have predicted/hoped for strong performances from Levi Leipheimer (USA, Gerolsteiner), George Hincapie (USA, Discovery), and Dave Zabriski (USA, CSC).

Well, I guess it's good that I never got around to posting, because the 2006 TdF has been dealt quite a blow. Fifty-something riders have been accused of blood doping. There is no proof, but blood doping is very difficult to prove. Because of a pre-existing agreement between the teams, these riders have been "voluntarily" withdrawn from the race. By the same agreement, the riders cannot be replaced. Thus many teams will be racing short-handed. One team, Astana-Wurth, which has lost 5 of its 9 riders, has withdrawn the entire team, including the non-accused Alexandre Vinokourov (Kazakhstan). Check out the most recent, though probably not final, roster here.

The upshot of all this is that it's a wide-open race. I guess, based on my would-be predictions, I should be predicting Landis as the winner, and I should still be expecting strong performances from Leipheimer, Hincapie and Z-man. But with all these changes, I don't know what to think. Those of you who've only known the Tour as a foregone conclusion* would have seen a much more competitive field even without these withdrawals. With them, the race should be quite exciting to watch.

The TdF will be broadcast on the Outdoor Life Network everyday from July 1 through 31. There'll be live coverage at 8:30 AM EDT and, for those of you with jobs or lives, "enhanced" prime-time coverage at 8:00 PM EDT. You should tune in, if for nothing else, for the entertaining commentary by Phil Liggett, Paul Sherwen, and Bob Roll.

* See 2000 through 2005.

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