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Thursday, July 03, 2008

le Tour de France weekend preview

The Tour de France - the 'sparring' begins

This weekend is one of the great sporting weekends, as always, because it's usually the start of the Tour de France, and the end of Wimbledon. And so for a "newsy-opinion" post, I thought I'd preview these two events.

First is the Tour de France preview, and below it, you can find some discussion around Wimbledon, where the chance of a Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal finals rematch is still on!

But first, Le Tour de France...

Opening salvo

The Tour gets underway in Brest this weekend, and let's hope for a clean Tour with the bike-racing dominating the news rather than the doping, as we wrote yesterday!

For the first time in many years, we start with a mass ride, not a Prologue Time-trial, which means the first yellow jersey wearer is unlikely to be a Fabian Cancellara-type Time-trial specialist, but a strong sprinter - the stakes on that first finish line sprint will be huge! It's not a pure sprinter's stage, however, because it's hardly flat, and it will be one of the strong men of the race who survives a few jagged climbs who takes out the win - perhaps Cancellara is the man to watch, after all. I'd go with Robbie McEwen, however, as this year's first maillot jaune, because he's one sprinter who is capable of hanging on a tough day, especially so early in the Tour.

Tuesday sees the first real test for the big GC contenders, in the form of a short, 29.5 km Time-trial in Cholet. The Time-trials are very short this year, which will play into the hands of the climbers, though the Tour is, I must be honest, a little short of pedigreed climbing specialists who are capable of sustaining that level for the full three weeks. There are certainly climbers, but none who jump out as a Pantani-type overall champion. Soler Hernandez, last year's King of the Mountains will likely feature. But here again, the KoM title will go to the guy who is a good climber but also unlikely to feature in the GC, because he's given free reign to go out and accumulate points without intefering with the "real" race. I've always thought they should award bigger time-bonuses to reward the climbers a little more...

Plenty of 'snipers' and once-off stage winners are expected, but not repeat-stage winners, even in the sprinters, where the race lacks a real "boss". Robbie McEwen, for example, will have to fight for himself in the sprints, because his Lotto team are throwing all their weight behind Cadel Evans for the overall title. This, plus the absence of Tom Boonen due to his cocaine-liaison, means a wide open race on the flat stages.

GC contenders - an open race but with two prominent names

The two names to look out for must be Valverde and Evans, who've shown form all year. Evans also knows what it takes to compete in the Tour, having finished a brave second last year, and having fought with Contador and Rasmussen all the way through the mountains. Valverde fought in patches, and was particularly good in the Alps (as he has been a few times), but has never really carried that through to Paris. Perhaps his maturity and more experience will help him this time around.

This time round, the riders go anti-clockwise, which means they tackle the Pyrenees first, and the Alps only in the second week. Some great stages lie ahead, including the Alp d'Huez climb on July 23rd. France's Bastille day, July 14th, also sees a great stage with a finish on top of Hautacam, after the climb of the legendary Tormalet. This stage is really going to be the first indication of who has the real yellow-jersey credentials.

We'll look at specific stages once the race is underway, as we preview or review the action (time permitting, of course).

But, since we're never shy for a prediction, however incorrect, we'll call Evans as this year's champion, with the other contenders to follow - that's a "run with the herd prediction!"

One final article on cycling, to follow up on yesterday's post on cycling's drug culture. We received the following story from George, which grows (pardon the pun) the legend of doping history of the Tour de France:

When Pierre Brambilla (a well known user of amphetamines)lost to Jean Robic on the last day of the Tour in 1947 he reportedly buried his bike at the bottom of his garden. When asked by a reporter about the incident, he replied sarcastically it was to grow bamboo for a new pair of wheels. "Good job you didn't plant your feeding bottles then," the journalist replied, "You'd have grown a pharmacy."

Join us for race opinion over the next three weeks!