Then Again, Big Mig Could Eat Some Bad Gazpacho...

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, July 1995

Then Again, Big Mig Could Eat Some Bad Gazpacho...

A bettor's guide to the chase pack
By Alan Cote

Should some stroke of divine intervention stop Miguel Indurain from riding into Paris on July 23 wearing his favorite shade of...well, amarillo, there is a handful of riders capable of stepping up. Who does this year's 2,192-mile, 21-day event favor? Despite five mountaintop finishes, Tour pundits are waving off the 82d edition as an average grind. For once, however, the race might take shape early. Soon after the July 1 start, the pack will enter Belgium's rolling hills, where guys with power--like Indurain and American Lance Armstrong--could establish insurmountable leads over the wispy climbers. Get your cash down before the betting windows close.

Tony Rominger, 3-1
It took Rominger most of his 34 years to outgrow his pollen allergies, but now that the Swiss rider is racing sniffle-free, he may be able to put up a good challenge. Rominger, who has beaten Indurain at his own time-trial game (last November, he shattered the Spaniard's hour record), is confident on the flats and in the hills and is flanked by Mapei-CLAS team riders who have already won a number of this year's spring classics. Look for Rominger to make a move at the time trial in the Ardennes on July 9, since his powerful but compact build makes him slightly better suited to the Belgian hills than the six-foot-two Indurain.

Eugeni Berzin, 6-1
It seems that the Russian Berzin learned his labor negotiation skills from major league ballplayers: After a successful 1994 campaign, highlighted by a flattening of Indurain (and all the other competitors) in the Giro d'Italia, Berzin spent the off-season pouting over his team affiliation and, in his mind, skimpy salary. The 25-year-old is indeed back in a Gewiss-Ballan jersey, but now the scuttlebutt is that his teammates may not be willing to toil for him.

Piotr Ugrumov, 8-1
It's been said that Ugrumov's second-place finish in last year's Tour was a result of attrition--the race dropouts included high-profile riders like Rominger, LeMond, Gianni Bugno, and Claudio Chiapucci, and former winners Stephen Roche and Pedro Delgado had recently retired. But the low-key Latvian had to overcome health problems of his own (namely a painful dental infection) and still managed mountain-stage and time-trial wins. Early in this year's race, he may have to bide his time to see whether teammate Berzin emerges, but don't look for Ugrumov to fetch water bottles and reel in breakaways for long. By stage 16--with its famous mountaintop finish on l'Alpe d'Huez--the 34-year-old could establish himself as a contender.

Marco Pantani, 8-1
With the hopes of looking more formidable, the whippetlike Pantani recently shaved his head. Yet even without the new do, the 25-year-old Italian brings plenty to the party: He climbs effortlessly (Pantani finished third in last year's hilly race) and will be shepherded by feisty Carrera-Tassoni teammate Claudio Chiapucci--the onetime contender who never quite rose to the occasion and will now probably play out his Tour career as a domestique. The scoop, however, is that Pantani's weak time-trialing hasn't improved enough this season for him to vie for the overall victory.

Luc Leblanc, 10-1
Leblanc may have the home-court advantage, but will the French cheer on a guy who dissolved his own fan club and recently estranged himself from his parents because they all served as distractions to his career? Leblanc, who snagged the winner's rainbow jersey in the 1994 world championships, was nearly without a team at the beginning of this year, when his new Le Groupement squad was a picture of disorganization. If things can be pulled together, Leblanc could shine early, since medium-size climbs are to his liking. But look for him to crack late, in the big mountains.

Lance Armstrong, 40-1
No more early-season pudge-boy jokes for Armstrong--he took a stage in Paris-Nice last March and won the Tour DuPont. The word on Armstrong in the Tour de France, according to Motorola directeur sportif Jim Ochowicz: "We just want Lance to complete the big loop and go for stage wins." But we think he's hedging. Armstrong's time-trialing, climbing, and descending have all improved, and he could do much more than just finish "the big loop," especially if he's with the leaders on the last day of climbing, a 142-mile route through the Pyrenees. From there, a little luck and a lot of brashness could put the confident 23-year-old within sniffing distance of the podium.

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