|Crazy Jane's Jambons Délicieux|
We've got golden hams, ham gazers, and grazed hams, but what about honey-baked hams? For the 2003 tour, the Daily Peloton adds a new feature to the Jambon Report that caters to a vastly under-served segment in the ranks of cycling fans: girls who can see a church by daylight.
The Daily Peloton's own Crazy Jane is just such a cycling fan. She has assembled a crack crew of specially trained experts who will assess the exploits of the peloton in terms of beauty, style, and panache. I know, I know. All the boys out there are much more interested in stats, gear, and the minutia of cycling lore, but lets face it: professional cycling is a sport performed by hundreds of fit young men entirely clad in lycra. It features incredible feats of strength, grace, courage, determination... and hairstyling.
I know what you're thinking, How can we have this feature without Mario Cipollini? Well, it is a blow to the project, especially in the hairstyle and dental hygiene departments, but there are other candidates, and we will name them in the weeks to come. Let the pageant begin!
And now, here are the predictions from the cube for the Green and Polka-Dot Jersey competitions. Again, these predictions are logical, precarious, and ridiculous… nobody really knows what's going to happen in the race. But if I actually manage to guess right, somebody is going to owe me a drink or two after the Tour is over.
The Green Jersey (and other sprinters to watch)
The Polka-Dot Jersey (and other climbers to watch)
- 1. "Rabid" Robbie McEwen, Lotto-Domo. Last year's Green Jersey winner struggled early in the season, but came back and showed some flashes of form in the Giro. He is the fastest of the main competitors for the Green Jersey when it comes to a straight-up sprint. If he can limit the gains of O'Grady and Zabel on the bumpier stages, he should repeat as the Tour's King of the Sprinters. And he'll be going all out to win the final stage in Paris—again—to cap off his Green Jersey campaign.
- 2. Stuart O'Grady, Credit Agricole. The Australian Road Champion has shown great form this season, taking several top-3 finishes including a 3rd at the Tour of Flanders. He rode well in the Tour of Switzerland, and looks ready to challenge his compatriot McEwen for the Green Jersey. O'Grady isn't as sharp in the sprints as McEwen and Zabel, but he has shown the ability in the last two Tours to go on the attack and take intermediate points during the bumpier stages to keep himself in contention. His biggest challenge could come within his own team, however, as Thor Hushovd has announced his intentions to go for the Green Jersey as well. If Stuey can get his team situation sorted out, he should be right there in the race for the Green until the bitter end.
- 3. Erik Zabel, Telekom. He is not as fast a McEwen in a flat sprint, but Zabel has won the Green Jersey so many times that he can never be ruled out as a favorite to add another to his impressive list of victories. With no leadout man and so many climbers on his team, it seems unlikely that the German Champion get all the support that he deserves. That and the march of time will likely put Zabel just out of reach of another Green Jersey in Paris.
Mario Cipollini, Domina Vacanze-Elitron. The World Champion should be in the race, but he's not. His absence will diminish the achievements of the sprinters in the Tour, and that's not fair to anyone. Sure, the sprints will still be exciting…but even McEwen made clear to Mario during the Giro that he felt the exclusion of the World Champion was unjust. If you asked the other sprinters they'd probably want Mario in the race so that they could beat him (and also so that his team would make sure the flat stages ended in sprints). Instead of the mighty zebra train, we get Jean Delatour. Thanks a bunch, JML.
- Alessandro Petacchi, Fassa Bortolo. He was poised to take the Points Jersey in this year's Giro before his crash late in the race slowed him down. He missed the time cut on the hardest mountain stage, but still managed to walk home with six stage victories. He proved in the Giro that he's now an elite sprinter when on form, as he smoked both Cipollini and McEwen several times. However, because he peaked for the Giro, he probably won't come to the Tour with form as good as McEwen, O'Grady, and Zabel. Still, if he finds his legs, he's fully capable of walking home with the Green Jersey and several stages.
- Oscar Freire, Rabobank. Last year he won a Tour stage in a sprint finish ahead of McEwen and Zabel before a crash inflamed his chronic back problems and forced him from the race. The former World Road Champion won a stage in the recent Volta a Catalunya, and looks to be in good form. If he can keep his back problem in check, he's capable of winning the Green Jersey. With Robbie Hunter leading him out, he should be a force to be reckoned with whenever there is a sprint.
- Baden Cooke, FDJeux.com. This member of the Aussie Sprinting Mafia came in 4th last year in the race for Green, including a 2nd in the final sprint on the Champs. He's a great sprinter, but doesn't have the climbing legs of men like Zabel, Vicioso, and O'Grady. Still, in the bunch sprints on the flat stages, he's capable of taking a stage or two.
- Andrej Hauptman, Romans Vainsteins, and "California" Fred Rodriguez, Vini Caldirola-Sidermac. The inclusion of three good sprinters on this team seems to indicate that they will take a FDJeux.com approach to the race and focus on stage wins instead of Garzelli's GC chances. Like FDJeux.com, they will likely try to get at least one of their sprinters into all of the longer breaks so that they can win the small group sprint to the line. When it comes down to large bunch sprints, it will be interesting to see which sprinter the team will choose as their top guy.
- Angel Vicioso (ONCE-Eroski) He had some good form in the Volta a Catalunya, but he'll be outclassed in the Tour. In addition, he'll probably have to do a lot of work for Beloki. Still, he can climb better than most sprinters, and if it comes down to a sprint from a small group, he could take a stage.
This is the toughest category to call. Because the mountains have such importance for the GC, the best climbers are usually involved in GC battles. Heras, Simoni, Armstrong, and several others who are capable of winning this competition will instead be putting their energy into either winning the GC or winning individual stages. To win this competition, it takes an early commitment and constant attacks that will usually not end in GC or stage glory. Two-time champ Laurent Jalabert has shown this over the last two years, but Jalabert has retired and the race for Polka-Dots is wide open. So here are my groping-in-the-dark predictions for this competition.
- 1. Juan Miguel Mercado, iBanesto.com. While his teammate Mancebo is riding for GC, Mercado will be free to light up the climbs and attack. He won the Galibier stage of the Dauphine, and has both the attacking mentality and the climbing prowess necessary to win this competition. With riders like Mayo and Sastre likely to be more involved with the GC, Mercado has to be my pick to wear Polka-Dots in Paris.
- 2. Mario Aerts or Santiago "The Battler" Botero, Telekom. Aerts was 2nd behind Jalabert in this competition last year, and could be a serious threat to win if he is allowed to ride for it. However, the freedom he had at Lotto is now gone, as he will likely be forced to ride in support of Vinokourov and Botero. For his part, Botero got 3rd in this competition last year, but this year he will likely ride for GC or stage wins. If they let him go for the Polka-Dots, Botero has both the climbing skills and the attacking mentality necessary to run away and hide from the other competitors. But he'll have to find some form quickly to do anything interesting in the Tour.
- 3. Lance Armstrong, United States Postal Service presented by Berry Floor. He'll place highly in this competition as he always does, simply because he will attack in the mountains and do heavy damage on the biggest climbs. He won't care about this competition, but will do well in it nonetheless.
- 4. Iban Mayo, Euskaltel-Euskadi. He won the mountains competition in the Dauphine by a long ways, and could easily win this competition in the Tour if he sets his mind to it. He has shown that he can climb with the best, and with his team of climb-happy Orangemen supporting him he will be a force to be reckoned with whenever the road goes up.
- Carlos Sastre, Team CSC. His team has won the Polka-Dots for the last two years with Jalabert, and may be keen to win it again. Sastre is a good enough climber to attack the mountains and not enough of a GC threat to get chased hard by teams like Postal and Once. He may be forced to work for Hamilton or his own GC position, but if he rides for the Mountains prize he could take the competition.
- Sylvain Chavanel, Brioche La Boulangere. The leader of the Yeasty Boys is an attacking rider who could well take the early Mountains Jersey on the smaller climbs in the first week. He showed in Paris-Nice that he is talented enough to make some noise on the harder climbs, but he would have to have the ride of his life to be in Polka-Dots in Paris.
- Richard Virenque, Quickstep-Davitamon. There are an awful lot of climbers better than Virenque in this race; he isn't even the best climber on his own team (Bettini is better). However, he has won this competition several times before and his single-minded devotion to it could get him into his favorite shirt one more time. It would take indifference on the part of a lot of other climbers for this to happen, however.
- Kelme-Costa Blanca. They have no GC hopeful (Oscar Sevilla is out), and no sprinter (Isaac Galvez Lopez is out). This leaves them with a team of young, hungry climbers who will likely be burying themselves in pursuit of stage wins and Polka-Dots.
Be sure to check our daily live tickers and Jambon Reports throughout the Tour. We'll see you this Saturday for the live ticker of the Prologue through Paris.