Laurent Jalabert (ONCE):
4th and Green Jersey 1995, Green Jersey 1992.
World No.1 and has been so for as long as I can remember, but still nowhere when it comes to results in the Tour. ‘Jaja’ is just not really seen as serious Tour material, but with home ground advantage and subsequent crowd and press expectation to match, he’ll no doubt be talked into contention. Noone doubts his class, but historically he hasn’t been able to compete in the mountains and lacks the consistency to back up his sprinting strength.
Alex Zulle (Banesto):
Runner-up 1995, 1999.
Myopic to the point of blindness, Zulle has a habit of riding without due care and attention. His crash last year was disastrous to his chances at a crucial stage, and there is no reason to suggest he won’t end up battered and bruised this year too. However, if he can stay vertical he can compete with the best of ‘em, as Tour of Spain victories in 1996 and 1997 can testify. Admitted to doping when a Festina team member, and banned for 5 months as a result, but is now back intending to do the biz in an above-board fashion.
Marco Pantani (Mercatone Uno):
‘El pirate’. Dogged by doping scandals over the last 12 months or so, Pantani was out of the racing scene for months until he dramatically entered the Giro at the last minute and pulled off a typically audacious mountain stage performance. This has probably made his peers sit up and take notice, but it is rare for climbers like Pantani to win the Tour outright and 1998 was probably an his one exception to this rule. He’ll be wanting to disprove the non-believers, however, and will have some bonkers tifosi to cheer him on when he needs it no doubt.