Follow all the action from the 2009 Tour de France this July as GreatOutdoors.com correspondent Heidi Swift documents the race and provides daily commentary. Focusing on Team Columbia, and it’s rising star Mark Cavendish Heidi will provide a real world overview of the action, the strategy, and the scene. Even if you’re new to bicycle racing, Heidi will make sense of it all. Heidi Swift is a freelance writer and photographer (and sometimes-bike-racer) from Portland, Oregon and now writes a twice-monthly cycling column for the Oregonian, where she documents her two-wheeled adventures for the reading public. When she's not on her bike or dreaming about the upcoming cyclocross season, you'll find Heidi chasing professional cyclists around the country. Her work has appeared in Cyclocross Magazine, Bicycling Magazine, CyclingNews.com, Wend Magazine and VeloNews.
Team Columbia-HTC Prepares to Attack the 2009 Tour de France
The roster is stacked, long training miles are banked and the boys of Team Columbia-HTC are headed to Paris. Poised to continue the impressive winning streak that has characterized their 2009 season, they’ll ride into the Tour de France boasting 49 wins (including 6 National Championship titles) already this year – the most of any team in professional cycling.
With a new co-sponsor added early this week (HTC, a designer of mobile phones), the pre-Tour excitement has reached a fever pitch. A new co-sponsor means new kits (team uniforms) so keep your eyes out for a fresh look just in time for the big show. They’ll reveal their updated spandex super-hero outfits in Monaco on July 3rd, the day before things kick off on Stage One.
Last year, the team managed to pull off a stunning debut Tour de France performance with 5 individual stage wins and 4 days in the yellow jersey as well as a host of other honors.
The fastest man in the world?
Worried about whether you’ll be able to recognize the team in their new gear? Don’t be. If world-class sprinter and human land-rocket Mark Cavendish has anything to say about it, Team Columbia-HTC should be hard to miss during the opening stages.
Cavendish, whom many believe is the fastest man on a bike right now, won a remarkable four stages in last year’s Tour de France – and you can believe he has his sights set on a repeat. Having nabbed two stages of the Giro d’Italia this May (and a host of other major wins), the Englishman from Isle of Man looks primed to light things up when the finish line approaches – but in a field stacked with talented sprinters, he’s going to have his work cut out for him.
Among those attempting to out-kick Cavendish will be fellow American Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Slipstream), three-time World Champion Oscar Friere (Rabobank), and Daniele Bennati of Liquigas-Doimo. Throw Thor Hushovd and teammate Heinrich Haussler (Cervelo Test Team) into the mix and you’re in for quite a showdown.
Teamwork will be key
Even with legs and lungs propelling him to blistering 45 mile-per-hour speeds, Cavendish won’t win a single stage without a little luck, a bit of strategy, and a lot of teamwork. Luckily, he’s got an all-star 9-man squad rolling with him to the start line.
Coming off of a near-perfect Team Time Trial win at the Giro d’Italia earlier this spring, Team Columbia-HTC has shown that they know a little bit about what it takes to work together. There are a lot of factors that go into winning bike races – but the importance of teamwork and chemistry shouldn’t be underrated.
Kirchen aims high, backed by a talented squad
With a deep roster of talented and experienced cyclists, Cavendish will be well taken care of in the sprints and the team will have more than a few cards to play as the race heats up over the next three weeks.
Kim Kirchen (LUX) wore the prestigious yellow race-leader’s jersey (called the Maillot Jaune) in the first week of last year’s Tour de France, a year-defining honor both for him personally and for the Columbia-HTC team. He’s back for more this year and has his sights set on a top-five overall performance.
While an injury kept him relatively quiet early in the season this year, Kirchen does have experience with the front end of the Tour de France (he was 7th in 2007), but he’ll have to contend with some formidable firepower to find his way back into one of the top spots.
Race favorites for the overall win include 2007 winner Alberto Contador (Astana) as well as last year’s first and second place winners Carlos Sastre (Cervelo Test Team) and Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto). The Schleck brothers (Frank and Andy) of Saxo-Bank are wildcards to watch and don’t discount Denis Menchov (Rabobank) who just won the Giro d’Italia.
And then there’s this guy named Lance… although Armstrong is not the official team leader for Astana, it’s well-known that the Texan would love to win his 8th tour. No one really knows what he’s capable of at this point, but he’s Lance Armstrong - and you can never count him out.
However things play, Kirchen and Cavendish have a strong team and a truckload of experience behind them. Road Captain George Hincapie will be lining up for his 14th consecutive year in France and seasoned vet Australian Michael Rogers will be on hand. Rogers placed 8th in the recent Giro d'Italia and is a three time former World Time Trial Champion.
Tony Martin (GER) and Bernhard Eisel (AUT) both won stages at this year’s Tour de Suisse and Maxime Monfort (BEL) is a promising new talent. Lead-out specialist Mark Renshaw (AUS) and current World Time Trial Champion Bert Grabsch (GER) will lay down the hurt when the road flattens out and are sure to play a critical role in launching Cavendish off the front with stage-winning fireworks.
Competition for the team title will be stiff with teams like Astana boasting four GC-quality riders (Contador, Armstrong, Leipheimer, Kloden), but Columbia-HTC is ready for the challenge. In a race as big as the Tour, anything can happen… and usually does.
It’s all French to me…
New to cycling? Don’t worry. Over the next few weeks of updates we’ll break things down and try to demystify some of the quirky rituals, long-time traditions, new vocabulary, and general rules of the Tour de France. Keep your eyes out for Friday’s July 3rd race preview for an overview of the course, essential facts and figures, and a little bit of Tour de France trivia