A week before the 97th Tour de France begins, the participation of Santa Rosa athletes and teams was finalized Friday with announcement of the BMC squad that will debut in cycling's biggest race.
Cadel Evans of Australia, the reigning world road titleist and a two-time Tour de France runner-up, will lead the nine-rider BMC team. It will also feature American George Hincapie, the 13-time Tour de France finisher, and former world road titleist Alessandro Ballan of Italy.
Levi Leipheimer of Santa Rosa, as expected, was named earlier this week to the RadioShack squad, also debuting this year, featuring seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong.
The Tour de France begins July 3 in Rotterdam, Netherlands, with a short individual time trial or prologue.
The first and second stages will finish in Belgium, with the three-week race then progressing throughout France on a clockwise route to its July 25 finish in Paris.
Despite its Santa Rosa registration (general manager Gavin Chilcott lives in Santa Rosa), the BMC squad selected for the Tour de France will include only two Americans, neither from the Santa Rosa area.
Hincapie, a three-time national road titleist and former Tour de France team and individual stage winner, lives in Greenville, S.C. Brent Bookwalter, who will compete in the Tour de France for the first time, lives in Athens, Ga.
"The best result for the BMC Racing Team is looking to the highest step on the podium," said team director John Lelangue. "With Cadel, we come to the Tour clearly with one objective — one leader. All of the team will be focusing on supporting him."
Like most Tour de France teams, BMC's roster is internationally diverse.
Mathias Frank and Steve Morabito, both of Switzerland, Mauro Santambrogio of Italy, Karsten Kroom of the Netherlands and Marcus Burghart of Germany complete the roster.
Hincapie, whose Tour de France longevity is three finishes shy of the record of Dutch rider Joop Zoetemelk (16 participations/16 finishes), believes the first week of the race, not just the ominous mountain stages, will present severe obstacles.
"There are cobblestones in the mix and small roads and wind and possible bad weather conditions, so it can be very hectic," said Hincapie. "I think the first week this year can blow the whole race wide open."
Leipheimer, the three-time Tour of California champion who was dethroned this year and finished third, will be competing in the Tour de France for the eighth time. Although he has four top-10 overall finishes, including third in 2007, as well as individual and team stage wins, the Tour de France also proven problematic.
While in fourth place last year, Leipheimer crashed on a curb in the final two miles of the 12th stage, broke his wrist and abandoned the race. In 2003, Leipheimer crashed with about 50 others in the mass finish of Stage 1 and left the race with a fractured tailbone and other injuries.
Until he withdrew, Leipheim-er and Armstrong were riding as support riders for former Astana teammate and two-time Tour de France winner Alberto Contador of Spain.
This year, Leipheimer and seven teammates, including Chris Horner of Bend, Ore., will ride for the 38-year-old Armstrong — at least as bluntly stated by one of RadioShack's directors, Dirk Demol.
When the RadioShack squad for the Tour de France was announced, Demol said of the eight riders supporting Armstrong: "We chose pure slaves."
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