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Tour de France preview: Teams and sponsors (part 1)

The Tour de France, the second and largest of the year’s three Grand Tours, kicks off on Saturday with 198 riders representing 22 teams taking the start at the Passage du Gois and ending 22 days later on the Champs-Élysées in Paris.

This and tomorrow’s post will provide a quick overview of each of the 22 teams and their sponsors, their likely objectives for the race and the key men to watch out for. All team line-ups are subject to change, but accurate at the time of writing.

AG2R La Mondiale

Sponsor: A French insurance provider.

Overview: Nicolas Roche and Jean-Christophe Péraud will lead the team, with John Gadret a potential winner in the mountain stages. Roche was 15th overall last year and followed that up with seventh place at the Vuelta a España, and will be hoping for a top ten finish. Péraud is a solid all-rounder and a strong time-trialist. Gadret will look to make his mark in the mountains, although how well he has recovered after the Giro d’Italia – in which he took a stage and finished fourth overall – remains to be seen. Hubert Dupont (12th at the Giro) and Christophe Riblon will provide strong back-up on the big climbs.

Astana

Sponsor: A Kazakh business consortium.

Overview: In what is likely to be his last Tour, Alexandre Vinokourov will be targeting a podium finish to match his third place in 2003. Roman Kreuziger, sixth at the Giro, will serve as his wing-man, with additional support in the mountains from climbers such as Paolo Tiralongo (a stage winner at the Giro) and Rémy Di Gregorio.

BMC

Sponsor: A Swiss bicycle manufacturer.

Overview: BMC will focus solely on supporting Cadel Evans‘ quest for the yellow jersey. The 34-year old Australian has tailored his 2011 programme specifically with the Tour in mind, winning the early season Tirreno-Adriatico and Tour de Romandie stage races, and finishing a strong second behind Bradley Wiggins at the recent Critérium du Dauphiné. He will be ably supported by the experience of George Hincapie (making his record-equalling 16th Tour start), Marcus Burghardt and Steve Morabito. Former world champion Alessandro Ballan has been omitted pending an ongoing investigation.

Cofidis

Sponsor: A French credit company.

Overview: The wild-card squad will be jointly led by French veteran David Moncoutié and the 24-year old Estonian Rein Taaramäe. Moncoutié will look to shine in the mountains as he attempts to add to a career record of three consecutive King of the Mountains jerseys at the Vuelta and two Tour previous stage wins. Taaramäe, an impressive fourth overall at Paris-Nice and third at the Critérium International, has yet to complete the Tour but will be one of the favourites for the white jersey for best young rider. Leonardo Duque and Samuel Dumoulin are highly unlikely to beat the top sprinters such as Mark Cavendish and Alessandro Petacchi in a straight bunch finish, but will look for high placings overall in the green jersey competition.

Europcar (formerly Bbox Bouygues Telecom)

Sponsor: A French car rental company.

Overview: An all-French wild card entry, Europcar will focus on the swashbuckling Thomas Voeckler, winner of two stages at previous Tours and the wearer of the yellow jersey for ten days in 2004. A punchy rider and a decent climber who is never afraid to attack at the drop of a chapeau, Voeckler will feature regularly in breakaways in search of a stage win and will likely target several of the first week’s stages, particularly given that Europcar’s home is in the Vendée region where this year’s race begins. Christophe Kern is in fine form, having just won the French national time trial championship and claimed an impressive solo mountain victory at the Dauphiné. Anthony Charteau is also a strong climber, although a repeat of his 2010 King of the Mountains win is unlikely given the greater emphasis on the four big summit finishes in this year’s competition.

Euskaltel-Euskadi

Sponsors: A Basque telecoms provider and regional development agency.

Overview: The Basque country team’s primary aim will be to support Samuel Sánchez as he looks to improve on last year’s fourth-place finish. Sánchez has had a strong but relatively quiet spring, finishing third in the Flèche Wallonne one-day classic and fifth at Paris-Nice. The team is packed full of Spanish climbers, with experienced campaigners Egoi MartínezAmets Txurruka and Gorka Verdugo joined by the youthful Gorka Izagirre, who will look after their leader in the mountains and are also capable of stage wins themselves.

FDJ

Sponsor: The French national lottery.

Overview: Another wild-card team, featuring eight Frenchmen in their nine-man line-up. With Pierrick Fédrigo absent due to poor form and ongoing back problems, Sandy Casar will lead the team. Casar is a canny racer with a good sprint who is adept at winning from small breakaway groups – he has three Tour stage wins in the past four years. William Bonnet and Jérémy Roy are both former stage winners at Paris-Nice, and Rémi Pauriol is a capable climber, but the rest of the squad is young and lacking in experience. Other than providing support for Casar, expect to see FDJ riders appearing frequently in breakaways.

Garmin-Cervélo

Sponsors: A US-based multinational manufacturer of GPS systems and a Canadian bicycle manufacturer.

Overview: One of the strongest overall squads includes three top ten contenders, two of the green jersey favourites and strength in both the individual and team time trials. At 33, Tom Danielson is making his Tour debut but can already boast three top ten finishes at the Vuelta. The injury-prone Christian Vande Velde finished fourth in 2008 and eighth in 2009 but crashed out early last year, only for Canadian Ryder Hesjedal to step up and finish seventh overall. The superior climbing legs of Thor Hushovd are likely to take precedence over Tyler Farrar in the green jersey competition. However, the American should be the better prospect on flat finishes, although his already sluggish 2011 season stalled after the death of his close friend Wouter Weylandt at the Giro. The two Davids, Millar and Zabriskie, will double up on both lead-out and time trial duties, and Garmin will eye the possibility of the yellow jersey if they can win the team time trial.

HTC-Highroad

Sponsors: A Taiwanese smartphone manufacturer and the management company of team manager Bob Stapleton.

Overview: As ever, Mark Cavendish will be the primary focus as the team looks to help him add to his total of 15 Tour stage wins. Bernhard Eisel will man the engine room of HTC’s lead-out train, while Matt Goss and lead-out main extraordinaire Mark Renshaw will do the speed work in the final kilometre to deliver Cavendish where he needs to be in the final 200 metres. Peter Velits (third at last year’s Vuelta) and Tony Martin (winner of this year’s Paris-Nice) are both strong time-trialists with the potential to challenge for a top ten finish in the general classification. Martin is also the most likely challenger to Fabian Cancellara in the individual time trial, having won over the same course at the Dauphiné at the start of June. 22-year old Tejay Van Garderen, a future GC contender, will take part in his first Tour and has an outside chance of winning the white jersey. HTC also have an excellent record in team time trials, having won such stages at the beginning of the Giro and last year’s Vuelta. A repeat here could propel one of their riders into the yellow jersey.

Katusha

Sponsor: A Russian business conglomerate.

Overview: With Joaquim Rodríguez pencilled in for the Vuelta, Katusha have named an all-Russian team for the Tour. Vladimir Karpets, a former winner of the white jersey (in 2004) will lead the team, hoping to improve on his 12th place in 2009. On the flat stages, sprinter Denis Galimzyanov will seek to add to his stage victory at the Tour of Luxembourg in early June. New Russian champion Pavel Brutt, time trial specialist Mikhail IgnatievAlexandr Kolobnev (who was fifth at Amstel Gold) and Vladimir Gusev add considerable experience to the squad, who will probably seek to place men in breakaways as often as possible.

Lampre-ISD

Sponsors: An Italian sheet steel manufacturer and a Ukrainian steel manufacturer.

Overview: Lampre will target both the yellow and green jerseys through Damiano Cunego and Alessandro Petacchi, the winner of the points competition last year. Cunego, who won the Giro in 2004, has never managed higher than 11th overall at the Tour. However, he comes into this year’s race in fine form, having lost out on winning the Tour de Suisse by just four seconds after a poor time trial on the final stage after riding superbly in the mountains. The yellow jersey is probably beyond him, but he is certainly capable of at least a top five finish. Petacchi will seek to defend the green jersey he won on the back of two early stage wins last year. He also showed his enduring speed and experience in edging out Cavendish to take his 22nd career Giro stage in May. As usual, Danilo Hondo will be Petacchi’s wing-man on lead-out duty.

Tour de France preview

The Tour in numbers

Teams and sponsors (part 2)

Official Tour teaser video

Ten riders to watch

Six key stages

Stage 1 preview

Links: Tour de France official website, Steephill.tv

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