The 2006 Tour
de France shall hereby be known as the 2006 Green Bottles Edition, as the
favourites keep falling. The latest is the top short-priced bookmakers’ favourite,
Alejandro Valverde, who broke his collarbone in stage three.

The tour will
herald a first-time winner with the top five riders from last year
missing due to
retirement and drug suspensions. Australian Cadel Evans
(Davitamon-Lotto) is
now legitimately a top line favourite, however his team is inferior to
his
rivals. Davitamon lost one member due to a broken collarbone overnight
in stage three, and Evans’ primary climbing teammate who will be
crucial in the Pyrenees and Alps also has an injury concern.

Evans’s main two
rivals are Americans Floyd Landis (Phonak) and Levi Leipheimer (Gerolsteiner).
Neither have strong teams, though they are deeper than Davitamon-Lotto,
especially Gerolsteiner. There are a host of second tier favourites who could
win, led by Ukrainian Yaroslav Popvych (Discovery Channel) and Russian Denis
Menchov (Rabobank).

The first
crucial stage for the overall classification is the 52-kilometre time trial in
stage seven on Saturday. This will provide significant gaps in the standings,
giving some indication of the true contenders, and if Evans was to win, he would
wish to get a buffer on his rivals who are also talented climbers.

Michael Rogers
has inherited Jan Ullrich’s team leadership and came second in stage three
overnight, moving to second overall only one second outside the lead. He
could
take the yellow jersey after Saturday’s stage seven time-trial, which is
his
speciality. He still has a very strong team, even if it is down
to seven members after two suspensions. If Rogers was to win the yellow jersey he has the
team to
support, and defend, whereas if Evans was to take the lead, his team
would be
stretched beyond its resources. Evans left Rogers’s T-Mobile team in
acrimony at the end of 2004 and Rogers does not yet have the climbing
ability to win, though
he could threaten the top five with some luck.

Peter Fray

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