Hugging the Tour, 2008 style

I’ll admit to sharing some of Byron’s disappointment in this year’s Tour de France.

Organizers have disinvited last year’s winner, Alberto Contador, and his entire Astana team, barring U.S. podium finisher Levi Leipheimer and former T-Mobile rider Andreas Klöden, as well as perennial Tour scrapper Chris Horner (who I hope winds up a race commentator based on his consistently excellent interviews). Also disinvited? QuickStep’s Tom Boonen, the defending green (sprinter’s) jersey champion, who tested positive for cocaine in an out-of-competition test in late May. Slipstream-Chipotle’s David Zabriskie (back injury) and Tom Danielson (fitness) won’t get a chance to show off the team’s new sponsor and name, Garmin-Chipotle.

And, since it’s apparently impossible to announce a cycling doping verdict during the 50 weeks of the year that don’t precede the Tour, we’ve got a final (maybe) Floyd Landis verdict arising from the ‘06 Tour and a Michael Rasmussen decision arising from the ‘07 Tour. This doesn’t smell like the recipe for a great Tour.

On the other hand, we’ve got two U.S. teams in the Tour this year. Garmin-Chipotle and Team High Road, rechristened Team Columbia and arising from the ashes of the old T-Mobile team, are two teams that are in the forefront of longitudinal testing, where teams track a number of blood markers and measurements throughout the season. The UCI plans to bring a similar program, which they’re calling the biological passport, to all teams next year. It’s not foolproof, but it looks like the best way to move beyond one-shot blood tests to a comprehensive and contestable doping defense in depth. Maybe the sport is starting up the hors categorie climb back to credibility.

Garmin-Chipotle brings two American riders without a lot of grand tour experience, Will Frischkorn and Danny Pate, to ride in support of seasoned team leaders David Millar and Christian Vande Velde. George Hincapie looks to be back doing his natural thing in support of Kim Kirchen (and possibly young Kanstantsin Siutsiou) rather than trying to ride as a team leader. And Canada – Oh Canada – finally returns to the Tour, with Ryder Hesjedal becoming the first Canadian Tour starter since Gord Fraser in 1997.

As always, I’ll be covering all the action over at TdFblog, where Byron has promised to drop by for the occasional guest post. I’ve also got a Twitter feed and welcome contributions at my reference wiki, TdFwiki. If you find an interesting link, a news story, or a photo gallery, please feel free to drop it in the wiki.

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