There is only a fine chance that the Tour de France will be
overshadowed by Germany ’06. Australians love a winner, and with the Socceroos
now on the plane home, there’s space on the local media-scape for any
Australian stage victories.

In 2003, when Australian riders Bradley McGee and Baden
Cooke stormed to stage wins, the French sports newspaper L’Equipe labelled them
les kangourous. It was apt: they inherited the moniker of former great
Phil Anderson who was nicknamed “Skippy”when blazing a path to European professional road-racing in the 80s.

McGee is injured this year while Cooke transferred to a
team not invited to ride the tour, yet potential success awaits this year’s
Australian contingent. Cadel Evans, riding for Davitamon, has a fighting chance
of reaching the podium in Paris and is our only candidate for overall success.

Australians are expected to excel on the flatter stages
which end in sprints, a product of this country’s rich track cycling culture, a history which
can be traced to Sir Hubert Opperman, who also held Amanda Vanstone’s position
as Minister for Immigration 43 years
ago in the Menzies government.

Robbie McEwen of Davitamon is a 5’7” package of pure aggression. He has won a total of eight
stages and will be out to reach ten on this tour. Stuart O’Grady is in the CSC
team of race favourite Ivan Basso and may need to put his individual race on
the backburner for the benefit of his highly fancied teammate.

Michael Rogers is on co-favourite Jan Ullrich’s T-Mobile team
and will be required for support, yet might produce a result in two of the time trials.

Simon Gerrans of AG2R broke
his collarbone three months ago, missing the Commonwealth Games, yet has made a
Herculean comeback. This validates the prediction from his VIS coach that he
would ensure survival of the species after a nuclear apocalypse. He will be a
candidate for breakaways.

Australia only has five representatives this year, coming down
from ten riders in 2005 and nine riders in 2004, a drop at least partly related
to the lack of opportunities Australian riders face without a national trade
team.

The race starts tomorrow night in Strasbourg with the winner
crowned in Paris on 23 July.

Peter Fray

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