Le Tour got rolling yesterday, and while there is a new feel in the air, the old thrills came roaring back. With the impressive Euro 2008 finishing last week, a record setting Wimbledon concluding today, and the Olympics only a month away, many regard this summer as a gigantic one for sports. Some might say the luster, the inspiration, the sporting excellence of cycling has been lost, and other sports, other events will forever eclipse it. Don’t tell that to the people of Brittany. Le Grand Depart left Brest on Saturday and the roads were packed – as usual. The streets were lined again today for mere category 3 and 4 climbs. Two unpredicatble finishes epitomized the direction of this year’s Tour: the racing is just as exciting as ever, but the door for victories is wide open.
Le Tour may lie Sandwiched between two massive quadrennial events this summer, but it remains the the largest annual sporting event in the world. 180 riders, from countries all over the world, (including a rider from Canada this year), form 20 teams. They compete in numerous categories, over 21 days of cycling, and there will be only one to wear le maillot jaune at the end. Millions of spectators will line the streets, and many millions more will watch on TV.
Le Tour stands on its own this year. It is not sanctioned by the UCI (Cycling’s international governing body). In breaking away, the race has made a number of changes I am not thrilled about. There are riders not present I feel should be there, and there are rule changes that I feel make the race less exciting. Yet, I still woke up to watch both days this weekend, and I am still in a positive mood as I write this post. There is simply no other sport like cycling, and no other event like Le Tour. Say what you want about doping in the past. I’ve said my two bits here before, that cycling has done a better job of catching the dopers than any other sport. Unfortunately this meant the sport looked dirtier than others. In response, cycling only upped the stringent testing it employs. In fact, most teams have more strict in-house testing and rules than any governing body. Jens Voigt (one of my favourites) recently made note that the only way to increase the current level of testing in cycling would be to have someone live with him full time.
A new champion will wear yellow, someone different from last year will wear green, the polka dot and white are up for grabs. There is a lot that is different, but a lot that is the same. I think it was fitting that this “new look” Tour started in the traditional cycling stronghold of Brittany. I’m looking forward to what the next three weeks have in store. Here is a quick run down of some thoughts, and some things to watch for in the new look tour.
-No defending champion. Alberto Contador does not get to ride because his team is not invited, because of their past, even though they have cleaned house. Complicated and stupid.
-A Canadian rides in the Tour for the first time since 1997. Ryder Hesjedal is from Victoria, rides for Garmin-Chipotle, and I hope to do a bit of a profile on him.
-No Levi. Same reason as Contador. Levi Leipheimer has always been clean, he’s often been close, he was third last year. This might have been his last chance – stupid. He’s now my favourite GC guy in the sport.
-Early favourite has to be Cadel Evans. The only GC rider in this race that stood on the podium from last year – he finished second.
-For the first time ever, two American teams are in the race: Columbia and Garmin-Chipotle. They both have some great veterans, some strong fresh faces, and what appear to be impeccable drug testing regimes.
-Six time green jersey champion, Erik Zabel, is riding in his 14th Tour – amazing!
-No time bonuses at the finish line or at sprint points.
-No team time trial… again… booo.
-Alpe d’Huez…. yeaaaahh!
-No Tom Boonen, due to recreational drug use, means the green jersey is a little more wide open.
-LeMond officially visits the Tour for the first time in years, and has positive things to say!
-No one in this race has ever one before, it will be exciting to see who can rise to the occasion.
-Cyclists have to have the best names in professional sport, and the rider with the coolest handle returns: Juan Antonio Flecha. He is a great cyclist, and it would be special to see him win another stage.
You can visit the official TdF site here, or Velo News also runs a good site. My day-to-day-or-so thoughts about the Tour will appear on a separate page, and not always on this main page. Go to mon Tour de France page for more regular ramblings.