Five Tour de France virgins

The list of teams picked to ride the Tour de France each year always throws up some controversy. New teams like Radio Shack and Team Sky have arrived this year seemingly to the detriment of smaller setups such as Skil-Shimano and Vacansoleil. Although the teams that boast overall contenders like Lance Armstrong and Bradley Wiggins are brand new, they are at the Tour because the have riders such as these.

Footon-Servetto do not have such riders and consequently are on the receiving end of some animosity when opinions are aired on which teams should be in the race. The Spanish Pro Tour team will be fielding eight riders in France this year who have never ridden the Tour before. This fact will no doubt irk some successful Tour riders who will not be at the start line like the Feillu brothers or Jimmy Casper, but there are plenty of riders on other teams who also have never been at the Tour de France. Here’s a run down of five such riders who, perhaps surprisingly, will be riding their first Tour:

Michael Barry – Probably the most prominent example of a rider finally racing his first Tour de France at the ripe age of 34. While he has never ridden the Tour, he is no stranger to Grand Tours having ridden five Vueltas and four Giros completing three of each. He has been part of two team time trial stage wins, one in the Giro and one in the Vuelta. He has also been part of a team which supported a rider to overall success in each of these Grand Tours. He was a team mate to Paolo Savoldelli when he won the Giro in 2005 and he was also part of Roberto Heras’ winning squad at the Vuelta in 2003.

Both of these victories came whilst riding for the US Postal Team of Lance Armstrong. Barry was a team mate of the Texan’s for four of his Tour winning years between 2002 and 2005 but was never picked as part of the Tour roster. In his 13th season he is finally getting his chance to try and add the Tour to his list of ‘wins’ as a domestique to Bradley Wiggins. However, a shadow lingers over Barry’s participation as he is one of the riders whom Floyd Landis named as part of his US Postal related allegations. There have been reports this morning that two of the accused have co-operated with the ongoing federal investigation, although neither have been named. Depending on how this investigation plays out, this could also be Barry’s last Tour de France. He will be one of two Canadians in the race along with Ryder Hesjedal of Garmin-Transitions.

Jeremy Hunt – The twice former British road race champion turned 36 earlier this year. He will be riding his first Tour de France as a domestique for Thor Hushovd on the Cervélo Test Team. He is certainly not as decorated as Michael Barry in Grand Tours having ridden 2 Vueltas and only one Giro, managing to finish one of each. He is undoubtedly in the team for his ability over the cobbles and his experience racing in treacherous conditions which, weather dependent, the peloton may encounter over the first few stages.

He has finished in the top 20 of Paris-Roubaix for the past two seasons and often puts in podium worthy performances in semi-classics such as the Scheldeprijs and Dwars Door Vlaanderen. While he will probably form some sort of lead out train for Hushovd, the Norwegian is uber capable of handling himself over cobbles. Hunt will most likely be employed to help Carlos Sastre over what will be the most alien of terrain to the tiny Spaniard.

Steve Cummings – Now aged 29, Team Sky’s Steve Cummings is another British rider attempting his first Tour de France. In the Bradley Wiggins mould he is a former track star turned road rider. He has a Rainbow Jersey and an Olympic Silver Medal in the team pursuit discipline (the latter won as a team mate of Wiggins). He has ridden three Giri d’Italia, completing one each for Discovery Channel, Barloworld and this year with his new Team Sky where he helped the team to 2nd place in the team time trial. He was part of the Discovery Channel team when Alberto Contador won the Tour in 2007 but wasn’t on the final list of nine riders.

He claimed to have a torrid time at Barloworld where was forced to participate in races he had no interest in and missed out on races in which he harboured desires to start. He seems to be finally happy now as part of the British Team Sky setup. Perhaps expectedly for a former track rider, he’s capable of putting in a good time trial, his best result being an 11th place in the Olympic Games time trial in Beijing two years ago. However, his main use for this Tour will be to shelter Wiggins on the flat. He is a big man and is no stranger to cobbled races. He will form an invaluable shield to Wiggins in his efforts to save energy over the three weeks.

Matti Breschel – A theme is beginning to emerge here as Breschel is another cobbled specialist. The presence of these chunks of rock on Stage 3 are forcing directeur sportifs to select classics specialists over their regular G.C. domestiques. While Breschel is still only 25, he has been around for a good while having ridden his first Paris-Roubaix at the age of 20. Perhaps the main reason it is surprising he has never ridden the Tour before is Bjarne Riis’ penchant for blooding young riders in the big races. However, he will now get his chance to shine next week where, along with Cancellara, O’Grady and Voigt he will form a formidable sqaudron to protect overall contenders Frank and Andy Schleck.

He has ridden and finished two Vueltas and a Giro already in his career taking a stage win of the 2008 Vuelta along the way. He is morphing into a serious contender for the major Spring classics. He already has top 10s in Paris-Roubaix, Gent-Wevelgem and the Tour of Flanders to his name. He was a major favourite to win one of these races last April but a combination of mechanical mishaps and being Fabian Cancellara’s team mate scuppered any chance he had of success. While Team Saxo Bank’s scope for stage hunting will be limited due to their main goal of launching the Schlecks to overall success, if Cancellara finds himself in yellow after the prologue don’t be surprised if Breschel is sent up the road in a break on Stage 1 or 2. The Danish squad will not want to waste their energy defending the jersey and chasing down breaks so early on in the Tour.

Dimitri Champion – At aged only 26, perhaps it isn’t too surprising that Champion has yet to ride the Tour de France. The most surprising fact about this rider is that he is the only French national champion since World War II who has never ridden the Tour (the most aptly named national champion ever, I’m sure you’ll agree). He won the tricolor whilst racing for the lowly continental team Bretagne-Schuller. He had previously ridden with Bouyges Telecom where he rode two Vueltas a Espana, finishing one. He can ride a time trial, coming close to winning the French national TT on a couple of occasions (although perhaps that not saying much). He has also finished 9th in a Vuelta time trial.

But, like most French riders, his first love is a breakaway. His French AG2R team has no G.C. rider as such and will be majorly in the market for stage wins. Along with Nicolas Roche and to a lesser extent the recovering Rinaldo Nocentini, Champion should be afforded leeway from his Ag2R team to go up the road in search for a French stage win. The stage to Gap should suit as it comes after two high alpine stages and looks a dead cert for a breakaway to succeed, and it just happens to fall on the 14th July! Watch this space…

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