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AG2r Prevoyance come to this Tour with probably their strongest team to date, and therefore their stage chances are their best ever. As it has been for quite some time now, their best bet remains the Estonian Wolf Jaan Kirsipuu, who took second and third in finishing sprints last year. But if (or rather a matter of when) the Estonian abandons, Jean-Patrick Nazon will take over the burden of sprint hopes. However, Laurent Brochard is a seasoned rouleur and he has a knack for picking the right breaks. Although the core of the team is still young, there are several talents in 2003 Irish champion Mark Scanlon, Kirsipuu's sprint-apprentice Samuel Dumoulin and Mikel Astarloza. If things go right for AG2r, it will be a very good Tour for them, that could lead to their selection as one of the French teams in the Pro Tour.
Mikel Astarloza Chaurreau
Born: 17th November 1979, Spain
Since his encouraging Tour Down Under victory in 2003, some might say that Mikel Astarloza has vanished from cycling's radar. But that is certainly not the case - he took third in the Spanish National ITT championship that summer, and had an audacious escape on the road to Alpe d'Huez in the Tour, before being caught on one of the legendary hairpin bends as US Postal cranked up the pace. Indeed, he took 29th overall that year and second in the young rider competition. This year Astarloza has been quieter, but still took second in a breakaway up the Alt del Campello in the Tour of Valencia (2.3). He's a very talented climber, and will have been honing his form for this race. I think he's still eligible for the young riders competition, so Astarloza should be the best rider on AG2r, and he's definitely a contender for the white jersey too.
Laurent 'Lolo' Brochard
Born: 26th March 1968, France
Nobody can really blame long-haired Lolo for not having such a good year as 2003, where he won four races including the Criterium International. Nonetheless, he's still looking evergreen having taken two stage wins in 2.3-ranked French races, second overall in the Four Days of Dunkirk as well as fifth overall at the tough Tour Languedoc-Rousillon, beating Lance Armstrong. Brochard is a true rouleur - he can sprint, climb and time-trial well, and is still just as dangerous as when he was younger. Definitiely one to look out for in breakaways, especially on transition stages.
Born: 20th August 1980, France
Dumoulin was one of the youngest riders at the 100th anniversary Tour last year, and he came through the experience well to finish in Paris. Now he's a year older, and a year faster, and could be a surprise in the sprints. As well as taking the Tro Bro Leon over tough roads in late April, he came second in final sprints in the first two stages of the Tour Languedoc-Rousillon to Thor Hushovd, and also took third in a Dauphine sprint whilst that man Hushovd won again. As we saw at the recent Route du Sud, Dumoulin can also get over the climbs with his fragile physique. He might pop into the top 10 on flat sprints, and when the going gets hilly, he has a much better chance. Still only 23, Samuel Dumoulin has a very promising future.
Born: 13th March 1970, France
Goubert is probably the unknown Frenchman who few people talk about, but he consistently does impressively at the Tour. Placing 17th in 2002 and 31st overall in 2003, he could do better this year, as he's shown good form already. Goubert took second on the attack in the final stage of the Route du Sud over some legendary cols to Loudenvielle le Louron. Goubert also took 10th on the Ventoux time-trial in the Dauphine, which led to 13th overall. If Astarloza doesn't go well, Goubert should be the best AG2r rider.
Born: 17th July 1969, Estonia
Although this season hasn't been as good as others for the Estonian, Kirsipuu remains one of the most prolific winners in the peloton. He took double stage win at the Etoile des Besseges and Three Days of West Flanders, and also took second in GP E3-Harelbeke and third in Gent-Wevelgem. Last weekend, the man from Tartu took his national time-trial, although was poor in the road race. Kirsipuu definitely offers the best chance of a stage, but this year there are many more competent sprinters to have to beat. Is age catching up with Jaan - or is it just the other sprinters?
Born: 7th February 1979, Ukraine
Krivtsov is another team member who comes to the race in good form, having won the Ukranian time-trial championship, beating Giro star Sergei Honchar and 2003 winner Sergey Matveyev in the process. However, Krivstsov is also a good sprinter when the hills come - he took third in Bayonne when Tyler Hamilton broke away, behind Erik Zabel. Indeed, he also took a top 30 on the Ventoux time-trialing, showing that he can climb when he needs to. This year, he also took second in a Languedoc-Rousillon stage. Krivtsov is an outside bet for a prologue top 15.
Born: 18th Janruary 1977, France
Nazon was a star for Jean Delatour last year, wearing the yellow jersey briefly and winning on the Champs Elysees. This year, he had a good early season with a win at the Criterium International as well as top three finishes in Tour of Qatar and Four Days of Dunkirk stages. Since then though, he's vanished. Hopefully his form is good enough for one or two top three finishes, but you never really know with Nazon. He's not as consistent as teammate Kirsipuu, but can be much more explosive and spectacular. Although he isn't a very good climber for a sprinter, he's got a much better chance of surviving to Paris than road leader Kirsipuu!
Born: 23rd April 1979, France
AG2r Prevoyance have yet another young prospect in Nicolas Portal. He's a very aggressive rider, which paid off recently in the Dauphine when he attacked his breakaway companions before soloing into victory. His form, furthermore, looks to be good as he took a solid fifth in the French national time-trial. If he picks the right break, he could take a stage.
Born: 10th October 1980, Ireland
Marginally the youngest rider in the team, at 23, former Junior World Champion Scanlon is riding his first Tour. He won both races in the Estonian weekend (Baltic Open and Tartu Tanavsoit, 1.3) which meant many UCI points, although he also came second in the GP Denain and fourth in the Trophee des Grimpeurs. Scanlon is a good climber, and can sprint nimbly from small groups, though it's more likely he'll just be looking to survive his first Tour rather than get into escapes.
Thanks to the AG2r Prevoyance team site for photos and info.