Tour de France Preview and Predictions
The 2003 Tour de France will be the centenary edition of La Grande Boucle.
going to be one of the toughest Tours...I believe that this Tour is tailor made for [Lance] Armstrong [U.S. Postal Service]." Pedro Delgado, winner of the 1988 Tour, declared, "This is a very balanced Tour de France...This is not a Tour for the best climbers. So [the] number one favorite is Lance Armstrong, and also Jan Ullrich [Team Bianchi]." Richard Virenque (Domo) stated, "There's something for everyone...for the sprinters, climbers, rouleurs, and attackers."
Greg Lemond should have the last word. The three-time Tour winner (1986, 1989, and 1990) likes the course. "I like it - it's a nice Tour," he said. "It's not particularly hard, and it's a good 'dosed' race, I guess you'd say. I always look at the course as kind of irrelevant. The strongest usually wins, on a hard course or an easy course. You have to be at your best in July."
Who will be at his best in July? Four-time defending champion Lance Armstrong (U.S. Postal Service) figures to be. His spring benchmark races, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the Amstel Gold Race, went well, and the man from Austin repeated as the winner of the Dauphine Libere. The addition of Spanish mountain goat Manuel Beltran has strengthened Armstrong's supporting cast. It all adds up to one thing, a fifth consecutive Tour victory for Lance Armstrong.
Second place is less certain than first. Jan Ullrich's (Team Bianchi) training has gone well, and he placed seventh in the Tour of Switzerland. The Kaiser might not have enough racing under his belt to finish second in the Tour, however. The Tour's two long time trials will suit him, and he might ride himself into form as the race proceeds. If Ullrich does so, then second place is a good bet for him.
If Ullrich cannot finish second, then Giro d'Italia champion Gilberto Simoni (Saeco) should do so--if he has recovered from the Giro. Simoni might be the only climber who can put Armstrong in difficulty in the mountains. However, Simoni stands to lose at least three minutes in the two long time trials. His mediocrity against the clock should keep him off of the podium's top step.
Joseba Beloki (ONCE) has the tools to win the Tour. Perhaps he lacks the killer instinct to do so. The Basque rider has never won a major tour, and he will not open his account with the 2003 Tour. As Beloki has done in the past, he will ride consistently but not brilliantly. He will not ride well enough to win the Tour, and he might not ride well enough to finish on the podium.
Santiago Botero (Telekom) makes cycling fans shake their heads in disbelief. The time trial world champion has the climbing ability and the time-trialing skill to win a three-week race, but he has never done so. The reason for the Colombian's failure is his inconsistency. Botero will climb like a champion on one stage and will lose 15 minutes on the following one. During the 2003 Tour, that pattern will continue. Botero will finish in fifth place.
Tyler Hamilton (CSC) has improved