The Discovery Channel team has named its first ever Tour de France roster without Lance Armstrong, who retired last year. Team manager Johan Bruyneel named the following nine riders to the squad, which has plenty of strength even if it lacks a star of Armstrong's calibre: George Hincapie, Yaroslav Popovych, Paolo Savoldelli, Jose Azevedo, Egoi Martinez, Pavel Padrnos, Viatcheslav Ekimov, Benjamin Noval, and Jose Luis Rubiera. Additionally, Vladimir Gusev and Michael Barry have been listed as reserves.
"Although 2006 will be my first Tour de France as a director without Lance on the team, I am extremely motivated to have our team continue to be a major factor in this race," said Bruyneel. "I had a similar feeling in 1999, when we came in as an underdog even though we had strong riders. I am confident that with the team we are bringing that we can have at least one of our riders finish in a top placing in Paris. The road to the Champs Elysees is difficult and many things can happen. Our guys are ready for the challenge."
George Hincapie has focused his 2006 season on the Tour de France, especially after his biggest classic goal was dashed after he crashed in Paris-Roubaix. Hincapie won the queen stage of the 2005 Tour, and showed good early season form by winning two stages at the Tour of California, placing second in the time trial and fifth overall at the Three Days of DePanne, as well as third at the Tour of Flanders and fifth at Gent-Wevelgem. After recovering from his Paris-Roubaix crash, he returned strongly in the Dauphine Libéré with several top 10 placings and a 10th overall.
26 year-old Yaroslav Popovych has followed a steady path of success culminating at the 2005 Tour, as he captured the best young rider jersey while helping Armstrong win his seventh Tour. Popo won the time trial at the Vuelta Castilla y Leon, as well as taking a stage win, two third place stage finishes and third place overall at the Tour de Georgia.
Paolo Savoldelli already has one grand tour under his belt after finishing fifth in the Giro d'Italia, after starting as one of the favourites. He suffered from bad allergies during that race, but still finished with a stage win and a second place in another. He is aiming to ride in the service of his teammates at the Tour.
Jose Azevedo is the team's fourth GC rider. In 2004 "the Ace" finished fifth in the Tour after riding domestique for Armstrong, showing his strength in the time trials and mountains. This year, he has also focused on the Tour as a main goal, but has placed sixth overall at Paris-Nice, fifth overall at Castilla y Leon and fourth on stage 4 and fourth overall at the Dauphine Libéré.
The experience of Viatcheslav Ekimov will once again be valuable to the Discovery Channel team. Forty-year-old Ekimov has ridden 14 Tours, missing last year's due to injury. He will be a key support rider along with Jose Luis "Chechu" Rubiera, who had a strong Giro and will be valuable in the mountains.
The remainder of the team consists of Egoi Martinez, Pavel Padrnos and Benjamin Noval