Garmin-Chipotle Makes its Tour de France Debut

<strong>David Millar was second overall at the 2008 Amgen Tour of California (seen here during Stage 5) and won both the 2007 road and time trial British National Championships.</strong><br><br>Photo: Jesse Hammond

They used to be called Slipstream-Chipotle, but with the recent signing of GPS maker Garmin as their title sponsor the team has a new name: Garmin-Chipotle. They are still presented by H30, a sports marketing firm based out of Greenville, South Carolina, but finally having a big bucks title sponsor is a positive sign for the team and the sport in general.

Jonathan Vaughter's boys made a huge splash at the recent Giro d'Italia when they beat all the Pro Tour teams and won the opening team time trial in and around Palermo, Sicily. That win also gave them the maglia rosa, the pink leader's jersey, which Christian Vande Velde wore proudly. With their primary mission accomplished they still finished strongly; Vande Velde and Danny Pate came in fifth and sixth in the final-stage time trial.

Now the Tour de France is in their sights and the team is hoping that its nine man roster will leave its mark there, as well. The squad is led by Vande Velde, who first rode the Tour to help Lance Armstrong win his first ever yellow jersey in 1999. Over the past several years, Vande Velde has emerged from the shadows as a support rider into a legitimate overall contender in his own right. A Tour victory may be a bit of a stretch for Christian, but he can clearly be a factor in smaller stage races. If Vande Velde can find a way to elevate his game a notch, he can definitely finish in the top 10—and possibly higher.

David Millar has worn the yellow jersey at the Tour, so he is no stranger to what it takes to be competitive at the biggest show in cycling. The articulate Scotsman has become a poster boy for cycling clean and carries the extra burden of preaching about how the sport can survive without drugs. This dual role can be distracting, but hopefully he can concentrate on riding his bike in France. He is clearly a threat in the time trials and in a breakaway with a small group. Millar needs to conserve energy on the other stages so he can put forth maximum effort when it will pay the most dividends.

Magnus "Maggy" Backstedt is having an up-and-down season. He is a former Tour stage winner and is clearly capable of doing that again if he can get in a breakaway with the right mix. The powerful Swede is a monster on the flatter stages. Let's hope he can make the most of his opportunities and turn around his season with a stage win.

Julian Dean spent the past few Tours riding as a leadout man for his former Credit Agricole teammate and green jersey winner Thor Hushovd. While Julian was an integral part in the Mighty Thor's multiple stage wins, he is a fine field sprinter in his own right, and with a little luck he might just get a stage for himself.

Australian Trent Lowe will be making his Tour debut. He will be Garmin-Chipotle's go-to climber, having proven himself with a podium finish in the recent Tour de Georgia. As his time trialing skills are still on the upswing, look for Lowe to contend for a stage win in the mountains and, if Vande Velde is well-positioned for the overall, he may well be riding alongside his team leader in the hills.

Ryder Hesjedal is also making his first start in the Tour. The former mountain bike pro has ridden the Giro for both Discovery Channel and just this year for Garmin-Chipotle, so he does have experience in three-week races. Ryder is a wild card who has shown flashes of brilliance in all disciplines. If he gets the right opportunity, he can also be a potential stage winner.

Danny Pate is a huge talent—witness his win in the U23 Time Trial World Championship in 2001. A solid performer who is known in the States for his audacious solo breakaways, if he gets into that same frame of mind at the Tour we could see a late-stage move in search of a win.

Will Frischkorn has been quietly working his way up the ranks in the cycling world for over eight years. At this spring's Milan-San Remo, his race-long, three-up breakaway showcased his talents and garnered a lot of publicity for the team. This will be Frischkorn's debut Tour, and he will be on a steep learning curve. As soon as he starts feeling comfortable in the group, look for the Boulder, Colorado, rider to go away in an early move and try to hold it to the line.

Martijn Maaskant was the revelation at this year's Paris-Roubaix with his stellar fourth-place finish. This guy can definitely motor on the flats, which means he will be looking to leave his mark in the first week of the Tour and in-between the Alps and the Pyrenees.

One rider noticeably absent from the squad is Dave Zabriskie. The back injury DZ suffered at the Giro has not yet fully healed, so he will be on the sidelines. But hopefully he's on track to coming back strong for the Olympics.

It will be a tall order for Vaughter's boys to upstage the Pro Tour teams, but they did it at the Giro so I am not ruling anything out. Here's hoping that they can ride well enough to show that they are truly a team on the rise.

Bruce Hildenbrand is a freelance journalist covering cycling and a host of other outdoor-related sports. He splits his time between Mountain View, California, Boulder, Colorado and Europe.

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