Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Handicapping the Prologue, Part Two

O.K., here's where things get a bit more interesting. The next five guys on the depth chart can win the prologue, but might not seem readily apparent, what with yesterday's five brilliant TT specialists. Who would have picked Stephan Shumacher last year (probably his team doctor at Gerolsteiner)?

Jens Voight: Jens is my favorite rider in the pro peloton, and I'm not saying anything revolutionary by pointing that out—thousands of people love Jens, and his performances on the road and in the documentary Overcoming continue to endear him to new fans. He is strong, aggressive, self-sacrificing, friendly, and manages to beat the odds more often than not. He lingers around the top of every TdF TT, and this course might suit him well. He probably won't win tomorrow, but he'll certainly find a slot in my top five.

Mancrush Factor: Obvious, isn't it? 10.

EuroScore: This is a tough one. Jens is pretty Euro, but he still doesn't quite fit my parameters. He's more Belgian than Euro, with his hardman reputation. Who can forget his "Don't mess with my food!" line in Overcoming? 6.

Team Scandal Score: Nothing doin' over at SaxoBank, unless you count Bjarne Riis as a perennial scandal. 9.

Form: Hard to say on this one. Jens has been pretty quiet this spring, but he's getting a bit long in the tooth, and he did win his fifth Criterium International in a row. He's also a steady helper, and I'm pretty sure he's in good shape. I also don't think he'd spoil Cancellara's day unless Fabian was having another bout of agita. 11.

Course Suitability: Is there a course that doesn't suit Jens Voigt? 5.

JV Total Score: 42.

Bert Grabsch: this photo should strike fear into the hearts of all those who are picking FC (including yours truly). How much power can Bert Grabsch put out? He's got that great, compact position and a trunk like, well, a trunk. He's the current world champion at the TT discipline, and could be a good pick to best the sapling-esque Alberto Contador or hunky Fabian Cancellara.

Mancrush Factor: 5. I don't know much about the guy, really, and he has a hard time winning races beyond the TT.

EuroScore: 5. He's German.

Team Scandal Score: Columbia-Highroad has been justifying its name all year, in wins and in staying out of the doping pages. 10.

Form: Grabsch did win a race recently outside of the TT (in the Giro, maybe?), and may be maturing beyond his single-minded abilities. 13.

Course Suitability: With a body like that, going up has to be a little bit of a detriment. 4.

BG Total Score: 37.

Bradley Wiggins: Gee, how did Wiggins fall this far in my estimation? He knows how to TT, and certainly could be an outside choice for that 3rd step on the podium on Saturday. Everyone knows how much the Brits love the time trial (the country is crazy about the track, which, like the time trial, is an odd form of cycling, probably analogous to drag racing:NASCAR), and they've got a lot of hope pinned to this guy, along with the admirable David Millar.

Mancrush Factor: I know I've been trying to keep it to one photo per rider, but I just couldn't resist on this one. Is Bradley also a member of some British Invasion band like SoftCell or the Culture Club? This possibility boosts his Mancrush score, if only ironically: 7.

EuroScore: Although British, a member of that freely floating, associated with no bloody continent clan, one look into those soulful eyes lets you know that BW would love to be...Dutch? 4.

Team Scandal Score: He rides for Garmin-Slipstream, the members of which sit around in their off-hours knitting argyle socks for each other: 10.

Form: Oooh, tough one. Haven't heard much out of BW all spring. He certainly gets up for opening day time trials, however, and prologues. He won the opening of the Dauphine in 2007 and came in second on the final day TT of this year's Giro. That's gotta help, especially seeing that the races were comparable distances. 12.

Course Suitability: I think BW would like things just a touch flatter. 4.

BW total score: 37. Even footing with Grabsch.

Denis Menchov: I've always had a soft spot for Menchov, and it was great to see him win something other than the Vuelta this year. Sure, people say he's boring, but he actually wins stuff, other than a previously mentioned boring rider. I'd say he knows himself as a rider, and although he's not as explosive (or doped to the gills) as Danilo DiLuca, he knows how to win. I think that the Tour de France is out of his reach, but he's certainly got to be mentioned in the time trials and rolling stages. On the other hand, he's already had to win a grand tour this year, and that's got to take something out of a rider.

Mancrush Factor: He's Russian, I like him! 8.

EuroScore: Russians, like Brits, freak out when you call them European. Just mention the term "EurAsia" around a Moscovite and see what happens, even if they do all speak French. 9.

Team Scandal Score: Ooh, RaboBank...the team of Rasmussen and recently disgraced Thomas Dekker? Eeeesh. 3.

Form: He won the Giro. He might be tired. 13.

Course Suitability: See the Cinque Terre TT? 5.

DM Total Score: 38. On par with LA.

David Zabriske: What's not to like, here? Creepy mustache (I think that's gone at this point, actually), former beard-wearer that made him look like Ewen MacGregor trying desperately to look like Alec Guinness. One time wearer of the yellow jersey in a year when LA competed? Holder of the fastest time trial...ever? Not a bad long bet, I think. He's currently residing at 25-1 (same as Menchov and teammate David Millar) and could be a solid 3rd-5th place bet. Dark horse winner.

Mancrush Factor: I've always loved Zabriske. I think CSC was a better place for him, but he's certainly committed to Garmin—Slipstream, which is admirable. Former roommate of Floyd Landis, though, which weirds me out a bit. 7.

Team Scandal Score: See Bradley Wiggins, above. 10.

EuroScore: The only thing that might make Zabriske European would be if Viking-style beards and Detroit-style facial hair counted as European. He is pretty skinny. 9.

Form: 81st place in final day TT of the Giro? 1'40" in arrears? 9.

Course Suitability: Recall the opening day, 21K TT in Brittany in 2005. There was a little climbing (over a bridge) on that one. 5.

DZ Total Score: 40, but that number feels a bit inflated, mostly by his EuroScore and placement on Garmin—Slipstream. Still, he's beaten Lance before...

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