There were 6 Aussies to race in Le Tour this year however with Astana-Wurth definitely now out of the race we are down to 5, our lowest showing by numbers for quite a while and half that of last year.
The stars are Cadel Evans, great climber, excellent time trialler and the general classification rider for Davitamon-Lotto. He was 8th last year overall, with 3 of the 'implicated' riders ahead of him on GC, namely Basso, Ullrich and Mancebo. Which would by simple maths leave him looking at a 5th place. Of course Vinokourov is out because his team (Astana-Wurth) was outed by sheer loss of numbers (not enough team members to form a quorum as it were). So if last year was any guide to this year Cadel's looking at a 4th place! Until you remember that Armstrong - now long retired and also long-suffering in this business of drug-use accusations) is also not here. Suddenly Cadel is looking at top 3! Of course he has to ride the race without incident, stay fit and meet new challengers, but what an opportunity!
I wouldn't wish these sorts of accusations on anyone, least of all champions like Ullrich and Basso, but this is the reality of 2006. The truth may be very different, but what we have is what we have. Vinokourov particularly is hard done by - there is no evidence against him, it's just that his team has evaporated! It's also worth remembering that these 'implicated' riders have not failed a drug test, either.
And we still have a race for the sprinters, with only Aussie Allan Davis implicated in the Spanish Affair. It will still be Aussie Robbie McEwen vs Belgian Tom Boonen in the sprint stakes, with Thor Hushovd and Stuart O'Grady not far behind. Aussie O'Grady must be wondering what has happened to his good luck. He moved to CSC after last year's disappointments and now finds himself in a team shaped around a Tour favourite, a favourite (Basso) who now will not be riding! Perhaps O'Grady will be released for sprint points duties and stage wins?
Similarly TT specialist and climber Mick Rogers from Canberra has found himself in a new team this year (T-Mobile) and his leader (Ullrich) suddenly gone. It opens up some possibilities for Mick but most likely he will now ride in support of another GC hopeful in his team.
And the 5th rider is young Simon Gerrans, a protege of Phil Anderson. It's his 2nd Tour and has picked up some handy stage race wins this past year, although hampered by injury in a crash a few months back. He'll ride his way into form and is riding for a strong French team now missing a key rider (Mancebo, implicated like the others), so expect to see Simon go for long breakaways and a decent GC placing.
The Herald-Sun has some good coverage of this whole affair here and here. CyclingPost here. And Cyclingnews.com has crashed under the weight of all of the hits!