With three stages left, several teams still hope to salvage their Tour.
- By Whit Yost
By winning Stage 17 in Peyragudes, Alejandro Valverde rescued the 2012 Tour de France for his Movistar team. After previously failing to claim a stage or contend for the Tour’s overall classification, Valverde’s victory proves that when it comes to the Tour de France, there’s a fine line between success and failure. Unfortunately, success in the Tour de France always comes at the cost of someone else. With three days left to race, there are several teams needing something to cheer about.
Ag2R La Mondiale
Ag2R’s Nicolas Roche currently sits 1:12 from a top-10 finish in the Tour de France. And while the Irishman could very well overtake Thibaut Pinot in Saturday’s final time trial, you can bet that his French team would like to come away from the Tour de France with more than just a tenth-place finish for a foreign rider. Look for Ag2R to continue its search for a stage win by placing a rider such as Maxime Bouet or Sebastian Hinault in the breakaway during Stage 18.
Marcel Kittel abandoned the Tour during Stage 5, leaving his Argos-Shimano team unfocused and overwhelmed. Without a true Plan B for breakaways or the General Classification, the team spent much of its energy in support of Tom Veelers—who has since abandoned the race as well. While Germany’s Patrick Gretsch is capable of a high finish in Saturday’s time trial, even a top-5 stage finish would not be enough to rescue a terrible Tour de France for the Dutch team.
Cofidis came to the Tour de France seeking stage wins and a high finish for Estonia’s Rein Taaramae. But while Taaramae looked to be on the verge of something big after 5th-place finish in Stage 7, he has since plummeted down the General Classification. Even worse, team rider Remy Di Gregorio was taken into custody during the Tour’s first Rest Day for doping. Looking ahead to Stage 18, Samuel Dumoulin is the team’s best chance for a stage win, look for the tiny Frenchman in the breakaway Friday.
Euskaltel’s 2012 Tour de France (and season) suffered a huge blow when Samuel Sanchez abandoned the Tour after a Stage 7 crash. The team did its best during Stages 16 and 17, placing several riders in both days’ breakaways in the hopes of scoring a stage win on “home” Pyrenean soil. Look for Euskaltel to place its remaining cards in the breakaway’s basket during Stage 18. There’s a Category 4 climb just 10 kilometers from the finish—that might be their last chance of the Tour to breakaway for a win.
Katusha came to the Tour with Denis Menchov shooting for a high GC finish and Oscar Freire hunting stage wins. Unfortunately for the Russian squad, those plans went up in smoke as Freire abandoned during the Tour’s first week and Menchov has failed to emerge as an overall contender. Stage 18 might be the team’s best shot at a stage win if Luca Paolini or Eduard Vorganov finds himself in the right breakaway.
Alessandro Petacchi and Michele Scarponi were the men hoping to achieve some measure of success for Lampre at the 2012 Tour de France. Unfortunately, Petacchi missed the time cut on Stage 11 and Scarponi has done little to light-up the race. Even worse, the team is now down to only four riders. While one of them might make an attempt to get in the breakaway during Stage 18, at this point, they’re just praying for Paris.
Omega Pharma-Quick Step
With Tony Martin, Sylvain Chavanel, and Levi Leipheimer on the roster, the Belgian team had high expectations for the 2012 Tour de France. But Martin and Chavanel have since abandoned and Leipheimer has failed to mount a serious GC challenge. Dries Devenyns has been the team’s most aggressive rider by far, look for him to continue his quest for a stage win during Stage 18.
For Orica-GreenEdge it’s been a tale of two Tours. The team was organised and aggressive through Stage 11, placing riders in various breakaways and challenging for the Green Jersey. But since Matthew Goss was penalised 30 Green Jersey points for an irregular sprint at the end of the Stage 12, things have gone downhill. Simon Gerrans has been the team’s biggest disappointment. Several stages suited the Australian Champ (on paper, at least), but he has failed to make an impact. That said, a stage win for Goss in Paris is certainly a possibility and would definitely save their Tour.
Saur-Sojasun came to the Tour de France hoping to win a stage and place Jerome Coppel inside the top-10 in the GC. Unfortunately, they’ve come up short on both counts as they’ve gone winless thus far while Coppel currently sits 21st overall. Look for Julien Simon to find his way into the breakaway during Stage 18. A talented sprinter, Simon could win the stage should a small group stay together until the line.
With only five riders left in the race, winless Vacansoleil has limited—but talented—resources. Since Johnny Hoogerland spent much of the day during Stage 17 off the front, look for Marco Marcato to try his hand Friday. Sweden’s Gustav Erik Larsson is good bet for a high finish in Saturday’s time trial, while Belgian sprinter Kris Boeckmans will try to hold his own against Greipel, Sagan, Goss, and Cavendish Sunday. For a team that made a big fuss when it wasn’t selected for the Tour de France in 2010, Vacansoleil needs a stage win to satisfy its sponsors and silence its critics.