Who's ready for some bicycling!?
The Tour de France kicks off June 30 and all eyes will once again be on Lance Arm...oh, wait, he's now facing doping allegations. Again.
It will be interesting to see how much attention the commentators give these doping allegations that plagued the sport in recent years, most notably among the Americans.
Heading into the Preakness and the Belmont, for example, I wondered how often the TV analysts would comment on the big pink elephant in the room and address the horrible state the sport of horse racing is in, most notably how the famous Aqueduct track in Queens saw a record number of fatal injuries this past year.
But I digress.
This year, all eyes will be on Cadel Evans, the Australian who was the overall winner in last year's Tour de France, besting the Brit, Mark Cavendish who lost even though he finished with the most points.
Will Evans, who last year became the first Australian to win the Tour, do it again or will the Brits win it all this this year?
A Spaniard has won it four of the last six years. Will Spain win the Tour again?
Or will France, which typically produces riders that absolutely dominate the mountains on their home terrain, take home its record-setting 37th overall win?
If Evans repeats and wins it again, should we expect doping allegations for him, too? People love to hate whoever is on top, and the longer someone stays at No. 1, the tougher it becomes to hold on.
Going into the race this year, there's also the question of how bikers will perform in the later stages of the race, in comparison to past years when doping was more prevalent.
Think of it like wondering whether there would be more strikeouts in baseball now that batters are supposedly off "the juice." Consider that there have been 22 perfect games since 1880, and six have happened in the last three years (I'm counting Armando Galarraga and now Matt Cain). Think about that for a second as it relates to steroids.
Look for the "Puncheurs"—the firecrackers of cyclists, or in other words, those known for bursting ahead with an explosive speed that's beyond sprinting in order to separate from the pack—to come out strong early on in the race.
The finish line for the first stage will be found after climbing a nearly two-mile hill, so reaching the finish at that point will be a matter of who can really separate themselves from the sprinters who will still have a lot of energy early on. The fastest of the fastest don't necessarily win the entire Tour because the race is so much more than just a test of pure speed, but the first stage will certainly reward those who are the fastest, as was the case in Brittany in 2008 and in Vendee in 2011.
There will be mostly flat terrain for the first week, but there are some long stretches of plains that they will have to fight through. The Americans can plan on spending their Independence Day with sore bums. They will be in the midst of the longest stage of the race when they bike 132 miles from Abbeville, one of nine new stage towns for the race, all the way to Rouen.
It will be the start of a real endurance test because they'll be biking about 500 miles over the next four days as the cyclists head into the mountains in Tomblaine on July 7.
One cyclist to keep an eye on this year is Bradley Wiggins, who is on the same Sky Procycling team as Cavendish and became the only person in history to win the Paris-Nice, the Tour de Romandie and Critérium du Dauphiné in a single season. The Vegas guys have Wiggins favored to win the Tour this year, and if he is in fact the victor with the spotlight on him, he will become the first Brit ever to win the Tour.
Cavendish told Orange Sport on June 26 that now is as good a time as ever for Britain to take home its first Tour de France.
"I probably won't win as much personally, in stages, but to be part of a team that holds real ambitions of winning the Tour de France overall, it's an honour for any bike rider," Cavendish said. "In Bradley we've got the biggest chance we'll ever have as a nation, with a British team and with a British rider. It's exciting to go in and follow that ambition."
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