Last year I had the most amazing time watching the Tour (see here, here and here for some old posts). It was the first time I'd actually sat down and actually watched it. Previously I'd seen highlights and kept up with it in the paper, but boy I'm glad I got to see it. I'm so glad I got to see Lance Armstrong, the most amazing athlete I've ever seen in my life (and I've seen a few).
So, Lance is retired and now the Tour is looking for a new champion. Who will it be? What will happen this year? You can totally find out by watching OLN starting Saturday. The race is 3 weeks of hell to ride but just amazing to watch. I know.. I know it seems like watching a bike race would be like watching paint dry but it really isn't. It's a team sport with tactics and athleticism. It's a thinking mans sport. It's amazing.
I urge you all to give it a shot. But I need to give you an idea of what you are going to see. Each day is a stage (there will be 20 this year) and each stage is different. Everyone has a time for finishing the stages and when added together, they have what is called the General Classification. The person with the lowest GC at the end is the winner. At the end of each stage the person with the lowest GC also gets awarded the Yellow jersey.
Anyway, there are essentially 4 stage types. The first is a time trial. This is an individual race against the clock where riders try to finish a course as fast as they can. They are on the course alone while they ride. (There is also a team time trial, but not in the Tour this year). The other stages are all done as a group (well, they start that way). The second type is a flat stage where they ride a course that averages about 200 km (or 125 miles). It is the type of stage where riders will generally stay in the main pack (called the peleton) and finish all within a few seconds of each other. Sometimes a group of riders will break away from the peleton and try to make up some GC time. Depending on how high up they are in the GC, the peleton may or may not decide to chase them down. The flat stages are peaceful and beautiful to watch. The third stage type is similar to the flat stage but has a few relatively small mountains or hills in it. This is called a rolling stage and it begins to test the riders. The last stage type is the mountain stage and I can't even begin to describe what happens here. It is in the mountains (which begin on July 12) that the real race is generally fought.
So, on Saturday you'll see a time trial and then in the following days a number of flat and rolling stages. You should try to check out one or two days to get a feel for the riders and who is looking like they have the legs to ride the whole thing to the end. If you watch nothing else, watch a mountain stage in its entirety, you will not be disappointed.
Ok.. so that's my little blurb on the Tour. Of course I need to give you my predictions for the finish. Here is my top 10 in the GC followed by the Green and the Poka Dot jersey winners:
1. Jan Ullrich
2. Ivan Basso
3. Alexander Vinokourov (could win if he has a strong team effort)
4. George Hincapie (will have an incredible team with him but had a bad crash earlier this year)
5. Floyd Landis
6. Alejandro Valverde
7. Levi Leipheimer
8. Yaroslav Popovych
9. Cadel Evans
10. Christophe Moreau
green jersey : Thor Hushovd (with Tom Boonan a very close second)
poka dot : rassmussen
Vive Le Tour!