With only 113 days until the start of the 2006 Tour de France — that’s less than a third of a year! — American interest in pro cycling has reached a fever pitch. Family, friends, coworkers, casual acquaintances and complete strangers are likely to accost anyone riding a bicycle, demanding to know: With Lance Armstrong out of the picture, who will win the 2006 Tour de France?
Some so-called cycling experts say that it’s an open field this year, that several strong contenders have the capability of emerging victorious.
These people are fools.
There are right people and wrong people to root for in the Tour de France, and good reasons and bad reasons to root for them. To help you avoid embarrassment by saying the wrong thing, I hereby present a guide on what to say about whom in this year’s Tour:
Ullrich’s chances have never been better to win the Tour (except for 1997, when he actually did win the Tour; his chances of winning that Tour are 100%). For Ullrich, however, it’s not so much a matter of whether he will win the Tour, as that he deserves to win the Tour.
Considering what Ullrich’s put up with for the past seven years, everyone else in the peloton ought to get together and agree to always stay twenty feet behind Jan. And while I fully understand that he and I are actually nothing at all alike physically, he does at least tend to gain weight during the off season. His success gives hope to fat cyclists all around the world.
While I want Ullrich to win the Tour, my money’s on Basso. In fact, there are only three things I can think of that would prevent him from winning this year’s Tour.
- He completely fries himself while riding the Giro. Although, if he wins the Giro, I hereby give myself the option of instantly switching allegiance to Basso, because I would love to root for someone to win two grand tours in a year. Sorry, Jan.
- The team director, Bjarne Riis, reins Basso in, telling him that the Tour is a team effort, and that everyone is getting sick and tired of always riding in support of him, as if they weren’t all professional cyclists. All he ever does is take, take, take. This year, he can ride in support of Bobby Julich. Heaven knows Bobby’s waited long enough for a turn.
- Basso decides to ride a respectful 20 feet behind Jan, as agreed upon by the rest of the peloton.
Of course, Vinokourov will not win the Tour. However, every cycling fan — regardless of how strongly they idolize any other cyclist — must stand at the ready to cheer for Vinokourov as he makes one of his crazy, wrong-headed attacks. Most of them make no sense and go nowhere, and that’s why I love him. Here’s how I imagine Vinokourov decides whether to attack at a given moment: “Hey, there’s a guy about 100 feet ahead of me. I wonder if I could catch him. Well, my legs feel pretty good. GO!”
I understand that Floyd won a tour in California recently, though I cannot find photographs or news in the US press that corroborate this allegation, so I’m going to reserve judgment. If in fact there actually was a tour, and if in fact Floyd won that tour, that’s great news for Floyd. Combine this with the fact that he is currently in the lead in Paris-Nice, and you’ve got clear and convincing proof that Floyd is peaking waaaay too early in the season. Floyd, I’ve got two words for you: Iban Mayo.
Oh, OK. That wasn’t very generous of me. How about a trade, Floyd: I will root for you to get on the Tour de France podium, but only on the condition that you promise to shave that goatee. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.
Last year, George Hincapie startled the cycling world by winning a climbing Tour stage. This led to speculation that he will lead Team Discovery in the Tour de France this year. If this is the case, I have two observations I would like to make:
- George is a great guy, and I wish him nothing but the best.
- A fluke stage win is the absolute thinnest foundation for selecting a team leader I have ever heard of.
You know, Levi is such a quiet and unassuming rider, it’s hard to root for him. In fact, I keep forgetting he’s there at all. Perhaps he could use that to his advantage. He could just keep his head down and let people forget he’s there, and then quietly ride on ahead of the pack.
Imagine the consternation of Ivan Basso as he steps up to the top spot on the podium in Paris, only to find it occupied. “Who are you?” Ivan asks.
“I’m Levi Leipheimer,” Levi says, quietly. “I won nine stages and the overall GC race by eighteen minutes.”
OK, he’s not eligible to race this year. Fine. I can accept that. But next year, watch and see what happens when a guy who has made a career of being the nicest guy in the peloton comes back to the game with pariah status and a chip on his shoulder. I am looking forward to watching Tyler tear the legs off anyone within a city block. And everyone will be snide about it and call him a doper, and that will just make him race faster and meaner.
Tyler will win the Tour next year. By a lot.
Alejandro Valverde is an outstanding young rider with incredible potential, and I would strongly recommend rooting for him, except for one thing. His team’s name is “Caisse d’Epargne-Illes Balears,” for crying out loud. I have no idea how to even pronounce that, and there’s no chance whatsoever that I would successfully spell it. In fact, it is my understanding that everyone on the team is required to wear extra-large jerseys, just to make room for the team logo.
You don’t really think he’s retired for good, do you? You’re so adorable.