As is usual at this time of the year, doping investigations seem to be dominating the news in the run up to the Tour. Pippo Pozzatto has been formally charged with doping offences as CONI seek to slap him with a year long suspension for his involvement with dirty Doctor Ferrari between 2005 and 2009. It comes at a bad time for Pippo who has ridden a pretty decent season so far and who's goal of performing at the London Olympics now appears to be in tatters.
A formal investigation is also underway into the use of corticosteroids and intravenous solutions of vitamins within the Europcar team during the 2011 Tour de France, much to the surprise of team manager Jean-Rene Bernaudeu: "The first I knew about all this was when someone called me at 8:55 yesterday evening when I was in the middle of dinner in a Paris restaurant. It was quite a shock and the allegations they made were difficult to believe." He said "We have a good reputation dating back to the foundation of Vendée U in 1991. Our philosophy is one of transparency." On the up-side for Europcar, Tommy Voeckler inists he has recovered from a knee injury and the utterly exciting young talent that is Pierre Rolland is gearing up to take on the role of team leader speaking of ambitions of a podium place and the King of The Mountains jersey.
The Big (and not so big) favourites have started their respective media campaigns to downplay their chances or of course to talk them up. Omega Pharma's Levi Leipheimer is pleased to be coming into the Tour as a 'Dark Horse' citing that the lack of pressure on him in the wake of the Bradley Wiggins and Cadel Evans showdown could work out well for him. Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) was his usual self, shrugging off his massive loss to Bradley Wiggins in the Dauphine TT as just a 'stepping stone' on the way to the Tour. He said of his fellow competitors: "Yes, Wiggins and the Sky team we've seen so far this year are extremely strong, but not every race is the same. There are also a lot of other riders that we shouldn't discount: Gesink, Van den Broeck, and also Menchov, who people shouldn't ignore." I concede that I quite agree with Vincenzo - anybody counting out the likes of Menchov, Van den Broeck and Westra would be a fool to do so. Giro winner Ryder Hesjedal takes to the Tour as Garmin-Sharp team leader once again and he certainly isn't ruling out a Giro / Tour double: ''I think I can win" was his simple message. He claims taking time off after the Giro and easing his way back in now leaves him in the best form of his life. Alberto Contador may have failed in his fight for the Double last year, but the Giro route was a killer and the Tour much tougher than this year. If I was a betting man (I am a betting man) I would have a tipple of Hesjedal. He can climb and TT with the best. He thinks he can win and so do I...
Team Sky though are clearly confident that Wiggins has this one wrapped up. Mark Cavendish and his right hand man Eisel have both now dismissed any hopes of Cav winning the green jersey this year. They are there for stage wins and to serve Bradley Wiggins only. I'm not surprised, Cav has done Le Tour green and his eye now is clearly for Olympic Glory. Cavendish has specifically shed 4kg for the Olympics. Improving his climbing and even sacrificing his top-end sprint in the process tell us all we need to know about Cav's objectives...roll on, roll on. The clock is ticking.