You could be forgiven for asking "Where's Discovery Channel?" in this year's Tour de France. For the last seven years the team directed by Belgian former pro Johan Bruyneel was the dominant force in the Tour as it worked for Lance Armstrong. But as Discovery Channel and as the US Postal Service team, the squad proved it could win other grand tours too, propelling Roberto Heras to victory in the 2003 Vuelta a Espana and Paolo Savoldelli in the 2005 Giro d'Italia.
Savoldelli is riding this year's Tour, along with other possible contenders for the general classification including George Hincapie, who demonstrated last year that he can be a force in the mountains, and Jose Azevedo, who was fifth in 2004 despite riding that Tour as a super-domestique for Armstrong.
But as the Tour leaves the opening flat stages and heads for the hills, Discovery's best-positioned rider, Savoldelli, is 2:10 down on leader Serguei Gonchar (T-Mobile) with Hincapie at 2:30. At a press conference yesterday, team manager Johan Bruyneel admitted there was ground to make up. "We lost more time than expected in the time trial so it is up to us to make up for it if we can," Bruyneel told reporters.
"And there is only one way to make up for lost time -- attack and ignite the race so that no team should be able to be in control. There will be attacks from the first stage in the Pyrenees. Even if the stage does not end at a summit, there will be a lot of possibilities," he said. "We have to adopt an aggressive attitude. The wait-and-see attitude is not an option for us anymore."
The target of Discovery's aggression will be the T-Mobile team. Gonchar's current lead is seen as keeping the jersey warm for 2004 runner-up Andreas Kloeden, of whom Bruyneel said, "Andreas Kloeden is the best but there are many other riders. They are undoubtedly the strongest team."
That said, Discovery channel does not feel any pressure in its first Tour of the post-Armstrong era. "The good thing for us is that we do not have any pressure," he said. "Our riders have been part of an impressive winning streak. The team and the riders have the feeling they have nothing to prove."