Strong Sky team can make the difference, says fellow Briton
Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) starts tomorrow's Critérium du Dauphiné with a favourite's chance despite the presence of some of the world's best stage race riders, according his compatriot David Millar (Garmin-Barracuda). British rider Wiggins won the race last year and has enjoyed success this season by winning Paris-Nice and the Tour de Romandie, prompting many observers to suggest that he could win this year's Tour de France.
Millar, who will be on the start line for the Dauphiné alongside other Tour de France hopefuls such as last year's winner Cadel Evans (BMC) and runner-up Andy Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan), is in agreement that Wiggins is in the form of his life and is fully taking advantage of the resources available to him at Team. It is a trend that he expects to continue in the prestigious seven stage WorldTour race that runs from tomorrow's 5.7km prologue in Grenoble until the following Sunday.
"He'll be expected to win the Dauphiné and that's the mindset he has now in every race he does," Millar told British newspaper The Independent.
"Judging by the Tour of Bayern, he'll have the strongest team there. It's going to be a bit of a Sky display, I think. [The Dauphiné] is the closest to a mini-Tour de France because it's got all the elements on a slightly shorter scale. It's a bit of a weird one, because if you're going well there's a good chance you'll be going well at the Tour. Brad and the people around him know what he's doing there, there's no reason why he can't do very well there and even better at the Tour."
With its team's future hanging in the balance, pending a new sponsorship deal, the Euskaltel-Euskadi team could be facing the loss of its number one rider, Samuel Sanchez, the defending Olympic champion and winner of the mountains classification in the 2011 Tour de France.
The team's managers Miguel Madariaga and Gorka Gerrikagoitia are scrambling to close a deal to keep the team alive, but admit they are doing so under the attack of rider agents they call "vultures" who are swooping in to try and tempt star riders away with more lucrative contracts.
One of those being courted is Sanchez, whose contract ends this year, and who admitted to Marca.com that he is entertaining several offers. "Right now I have a couple of firm offers on the table," Sanchez said.. "My desire, as I've said, is to continue with Euskaltel-Euskadi, but things are taking too long and yet we know nothing. And the offers have expiration dates."
Sanchez is of great worth to teams seeking to enter the WorldTour or remain there, as he holds ample UCI points as the fourth best rider in the WorldTour to date. His stage win and second place overall in the Volta a Catalunya and domination of the Vuelta a Pais Vasco in addition to top 10 finishes in the Ardennes Classics also bode well for the rest of his season.
The organisers of the Critérium du Dauphiné released the start times for the 175 riders taking to the streets of Grenoble on Sunday, with Paris-Nice runner-up Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM) leading off the bunch at 11:40AM local time. Defending champion Bradley Wiggins (Sky), who bested Westra in Paris-Nice, will take to the course last at 2:34PM
The field will consist of 21 teams of eight riders each, except for RadioShack-Nissan, whose Dutch rider Joost Posthuma was a last-minute scratch. The team confirmed to Cyclingnews that Posthuma has fallen ill and will not start.
The favorites are scattered throughout the start list, with some teams opting to send off their general classification contenders early to avoid predicted afternoon thunderstorms.
Andy Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan) will be one of the last starters seven minutes before Wiggins, as will David Millar (Garmin-Barracuda) and Janez Brajkovic (Astana). BMC's Cadel Evans (11:59AM) and Tejay van Garderen (12:21PM) will set off much earlier, as will Michael Rogers (Sky) and Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quickstep).
As the cogs on the rumour mill begin to grind into action with riders on the move for season 2013, Orica GreenEdge sports director Matt White is remaining coy on any recruitment plans to boost the team's general classification stocks for the Grand Tours.
In selecting their team for their inaugural year in the UCI WorldTour, Orica GreenEdge was very clear in its objectives: to build a unit that would be competitive in smaller stage races and the Classics. Having just completed its first grand tour, the Giro d'Italia last month, Orica GreenEdge finished with four of its nine starters with Fumiyuki Beppu best-placed in 121st.
The season to date has been an unmitigated success with some staff admitting that the team has so far delivered results beyond expectations following victories at the Australian Road National Championships, Tour Down Under, Volta Ciclista a Catalunya, Circuit Cycliste Sarthe, as well as at Milan-San Remo. Matt Goss claimed the team's first Grand Tour stage win at the Giro d'Italia.
Orica GreenEdge has recently announced that Sam Bewley will replace Robbie McEwen for the back end of 2012 and into next season but questions remain over what plans, if any, the team has to further boost their squad. Many still point to Richie Porte as a rider who should have been targeted by Orica GreenEdge however, if the Tasmanian had done so, he would be riding with little support and so Sky was a much better option.
"What we're looking for are people to fit into our work ethic and into our culture that we've created so far this year," White explained when asked by Cyclingnews if a GC recruitment drive was on the cards.
"We're looking for the right people – not the right points or the right...
Dutchman says compatriots won't fulfil their potential at Rabobank
Former three-time Dutch national champion Michael Boogerd has launched a withering attack on the management structure at Rabobank, stating that two of its riders - Robert Gesink and Bauke Mollema - are unlikely to fulfil their Tour de France ambitions if they stay with the Dutch outfit.
Boogerd, who won two stages at the Tour during his career on the road and finished fifth overall in 1998, says his two compatriots are stuck in a comfort zone at Rabobank and implied that they may have to look elsewhere if they are to further their careers at the highest level. Boogerd rode with Rabobank from 1996, when they first entered cycling as a team sponsor, to his retirement in 2007.
Gesink and Mollema, who are both 25, have each made the headlines in the last 12 months. Only a few weeks ago Gesink won the Amgen Tour of California, while last season Mollema won the points jersey at the Vuelta a Espana, finished fourth overall and was named Dutch road cyclist of the year. Both men signed new contracts with Rabobank in January.
"The Tour de France is approaching fast," Boogerd said in his latest column for Telesport. "Robert Gesink and Bauke Mollema are two riders who have already proven their status and I am convinced of their abilities. But where I have my doubts is whether they are in the right environment to perform well in the Tour. Simply put, they might be on the wrong team.
"Too often at Rabobank it seems that the talented riders can do no wrong. Everything is done with a cloak of charity and everything is done as an investment in the future - there are always mitigating circumstances put forward. These boys have tons of Euros. From my own experience I know how important it is that you...
Sky rider says everything geared to Wiggins challenge
The Critérium du Dauphiné starts with the 5.7km prologue in Grenoble today and much has been written in the lead up to the race about defending champion Bradley Wiggins and his Team Sky colleagues.
Wiggins is gearing up for another push at GC success at the Tour de France and this race is seen as a crucial step in his preparations. Cyclingnews caught up with his teammate Richie Porte ahead of today's prologue and he spoke in our exclusive video about the team's hopes for the coming week.
The Australian is in his first season with the British outfit and has already justified his move by winning the Volta ao Algarve in February and finishing in fourth place, behind overall winner Wiggins, in the Tour de Romandie. He is realistic about his role at the Dauphiné, saying his main job will be to support Wiggins in the tough mountain stages. He also revealed that Wiggins is fitter than he was at this time last year but that he would need to be wary of the challenge of Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) and Cadel Evans (BMC).
Vacansoleil-DCM boss looking for urgent improvement
On the eve of the Critérium du Dauphiné, Vacansoleil-DCM sporting director Hilaire Van Der Schueren has reiterated his stance that Stijn Devolder is running out of time to prove himself worthy of one of the team's berths at the Tour de France and stated that the seven-stage race that starts in Grenoble today represents his last chance to force his way into the team's plans.
Van Der Schueren once again criticised Devolder's poor recent form. The two-time Tour of Flanders winner has yet to win a race in the colours of Vacansoleil since his move there from QuickStep ahead of the 2011 season. With the Tour less than four weeks away and his contract with the team due to expire at the end of the season, it can be argued that the Dauphine is the most important race Devolder has competed in over the last 18 months or so. His future is on the line here and with the team performing so well at the Giro d'Italia without him, there is a huge question mark hanging over his head.
Asked about the possibilty of Devolder lining up at the Tour Van Der Schueren said in Het Nieuwsblad: "I'd rather have a tough boy who is performing. Based on the results, we cannot possibly be satisfied. And for that reason he might not qualify for the Tour unless the Dauphiné offers some clarity.
"I have made it clear to him several times that he must show me he still exists but there has been little or no change. His contract is ending and, as with any agreement, we will evaluate the strengths and weaknesses. But I repeat, based on the results we cannot possibly be satisfied."
RadioShack-Nissan rider hints at unhappiness over media stories
Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad has reported that RadioShack-Nissan rider Andy Schleck spoke out in frustration at team manager Johan Bruyneel's use of the media in recent weeks at today's Critérium du Dauphiné prologue.
Bruyneel has been outspoken in his criticism of Schleck and his brother Frank since the latter withdrew from the Giro d'Italia during stage 15 with a injuries to his shoulder and neck following a crash. Bruyneel implied publicly that the injuries weren't bad enough to warrant a withdrawal from the race and then later criticised the brothers from Luxembourg for a lack of leadership this season.
He also stated that neither rider, who both finished on the podium at last year's Tour de France, are certain to make it to the start line for this year's race in Bruges later this month. He subsequently stated that he was only using the press as a motivating tool.
"Personally, if I was a manager I wouldn't try to solve problems with my riders through the press," Schleck is quoted in the newspaper as saying. "I would discuss them internally. Maybe Bruyneel was being rushed by the team sponsors, who might be getting impatient."
Schleck finished in 102nd position at today's prologue, 29 seconds down on winner Luke Durbridge (Orica-GreenEdge).