“The ideal Tour would be a Tour in which only one rider survives the ordeal.”
Henri Desgrange (father of the TdF)

  July 2006


By Graham Jones
CyclingRevealed Historian


A bittersweet success for Phonak's team manager, Andy Rihs


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CyclingRevealed's First Impressions '06

Rest Day, July 10th, In Gap


Before the start of Stage 12 we saw Floyd Landis being presented with a shiny new team bike specially painted in yellow to commemorate his first day as race leader. Handing Floyd the bike was proud team owner Andy Rihs. For Rihs this was surely a bittersweet moment. Since setting out to conquer the pro peloton some years ago the charismatic Rihs has been bombarded with catastrophic drug scandals. The high profile Hamilton case was soon followed by the Perez and Camenzind cases.

In a recent statement Rihs reflected on his experiences of recent years as he winds down his work with the team. Sadly he warned future potential sponsors to think seriously before engaging with pro cycling. He wanted success with his team but the endless agonizing drug related situations simply ground him down and now he will be leaving the sport a bitter and disillusioned man.

Consequently it is ironic that Phonak is now on the crest of a wave and looking to be in a good position to win this year's Tour. The irony is amplified by the fact that Landis was brought to the team to act as Hamilton 's primary support rider.

Clearly this Tour has been greatly impacted by the fallout from Operacion Puerto. Before the race even started high profile riders were removed in disgrace. Leading the list were the two clear favorites; Basso and Ullrich. Since then we have seen a regular parade of notable riders struggle at the back of the race before heading for home.

Every day we are seeing great racing but daily domination by a chosen few is not part of this Tour. We can only assume that the peloton is running scared. Drugs and ‘blood packing' no longer feature as part of the regular recovery routine!

If indeed we are seeing a “clean Tour” then it cannot be said that the race spectacle has suffered. The racing is spirited and extremely intriguing. Here we are heading into the third week with the Alps separating the riders from Paris . Although we can now see with some clarity who will be in the top ten it is still not possible to predict who will stand on the podium in Paris .

A key deciding factor in the final GC outcome will be the relative strength of the teams supporting the main contenders. Phonak seems to be the best organized and most capable around their man Landis. Fourth placed Menchov is the biggest threat especially with Boogerd and Rasmussen to support him. However in the latest stages Boogerd seems to be dedicating himself to getting Rasmussen into the Polka Dot Jersey. They may have shot Rabobank's Yellow Jersey bolt!

Popovych (11 th ) could well drag himself a lot closer to the podium if he rides well in the Alps . Unfortunately his Discovery team seems like a fish out of water. For seven years Bruyneel has built a team of world class domestiques dedicated 100% to their undisputed leader. This year they are a team of domestiques with no clear leader to provide the necessary intense focus.

While Popovych has at least displayed tremendous aggression (including a stage win) the same cannot be said for Evans (5 th ), Sastre (6 th ) and Kloeden (7 th ). From a team support point of view Evans seems to be in the weakest position because most of his team have been working very hard to ensure that the Green Jersey stays on McEwen's shoulders. Sastre's chances of support are also very limited with his depleted CSC team (especially since the loss of Bobby Julich to a crash). Kloeden (T-Mobile) could be a big threat if his form comes good in the Alps . However his team showed their weakness on Stage 11 when they tried to employ Discovery team type tactics. In fact Kloeden himself was a victim to the day's efforts when he got tailed off from the five race leaders on the final climb of the day.

The race leader, Pereiro, is a very capable rider but the effort to retain the Yellow Jersey will probably sink him and his team. This in fact was central to Phonak's decision to allow Pereiro to take over the race lead two days ago. Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears will be a tough nut for Phonak to crack with riders like Karpets, Arroyo and Zandio supporting Pereiro.

All of this musing assumes that the race now revolves around what looks to be cast of main characters. But what is making this Tour so intriguing is its unpredictability. With three monstrous days in the Alps coming up it is not beyond the realms of reason that some rider could have a truly inspired day and totally demolish the rest with a huge time advantage. Legends like Coppi, Gaul and Bahamontes have all written Tour history in these mountains. Several riders currently in the top 20 on GC could surprise us all with such a ride. Any of those all ready mentioned above or maybe Moreau, Leipheimer or Azevedo.

Such is the nature of the race that many riders and teams have everything to win and not much to lose. Landis and his team have calculated that and assuming Landis does not have a bad day he will limit his losses and then wipe out any remaining contenders in the final long time trial on Stage 19.

For Andy Rihs his crowning achievement as team owner of Phonak may be a bittersweet experience. But surely the Yellow Jersey will be the sugar that helps the medicine go down!

Tomorrow : the first day in the Alps, from Gap to Alpe d'Huez, 187 km. Come back to CyclingRevealed.com for our daily impression.


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