For the first half of the Tour, we'll be covering the action remotely, from New York City: We'll track all the news sites, watch Versus, and provide you with news, synthesis and analysis--as well as predictions.
This 96th Tour will have 21 stages, covering 3,500 kilometers, with 10 flat stages, 7 mountain stages, one medium mountain stage, two individual time trials, and one team time trial.
Then from July 16th to the final ride into Paris on the 26th we'll be coverin
g the Tour from France. That means in addition to the daily news, we'll conduct in-person interviews with some of your favorite racers, make special on the scene observations, and help guide you, the reader, in how to follow the Tour yourself next year.
We're also hoping to provide the kind of reporting you won't see anywhere else--and that includes the juicy details of riders' personal lives... how they eat and sleep, who they're dating, and whether they allow themselves to have sex during the Tour (you know that old saying about not having sex before a race--is it true for TDF riders?)
The Round Up: What to expect Stage One:
The Tour will start tomorrow, July 4 at 4 p.m (France time), 10:00 am US eastern standard time, with a time trial in Monaco, the principality that lies directly east of the southern edge of France.
The 15.5 km race will include a category 4 climb at Cote de Beau Soleil at km 7.5, and end with a downhill back into Monaco center, at the start. The return with about 6 km to go will be very fast because it's flat and along the Mediterranean Ocean, but you can also expect much bigger crowds and the possibility of a head wind traveling east to west.
The distance is twice as long as most prologue time trials in the tour, but about the same length as the 2003 Tour prologue won by Lance Armstrong.
With Armstrong back after 4 years off and now riding for Team Astana, it would be a good wager that no one knows how he will do in this time trial--and in fact how he will do in the entire race.
In addition, Armstrong broke his collarbone just a couple of months ago, so even with his previous strength as a time trialist, wins for this stage might come from Armstrong teammate, Alberto Contador, Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank), Levi Leipheimer (Astana), Dave Zabriskie (Garmin Slipstream), and Bert Grabsch and Michael Rogers ( both of Columbia-Highroad).
Other possibilities are Svein Tuft and Bradley Wiggins (both Garmin Slipstream), and Gustav Larsson (Saxo Bank).
(Levi Leipheimer pictured)
Our predictions for Stage One:
Fabian Cancellara, followed by Levi Leipheimer, and a toss up between Dave Zabriskie and Lance Armstrong,
The next few stages will take place along the Cote D'Azur--one of the most beautiful resort areas along the South of France bordering the Mediterranean.
According to VeloNews, the Tour has not been to the South of France since 1984 when it actually started in Nice, France, not too far from Monaco. Stage 2 will take the Tour riders from Monaco to Brignoles, a small town not too far from Marseilles. The last time the tour took place in Monaco was in 1962, when some of you weren't even yet alive.
The South of France, (where BBB once actually lived as a young child), is one of the most exciting, glamourous areas of France. Home to Cannes, where the annual film festival is held, and Nice, one of the oldest resort cities on the Cote D'Azur (Blue Coast), it's also home of Marseille. The water is crystal clear, and it's possible to actually swim in the winter time. But watch out for drunk drivers on its winding, steep roads.
Marseille is one of the most diverse cities in France now, with one fourth of its residents immigrants from the closest continent to the south, North Africa. The city has a large old port, and has been the site of racial clashes between the traditional southern French, and their new immigrants. It also heavily features corruption, a now declining drug industry, smuggling, and the Mafia.
But more on Stage 2 tomorrow.
What you need to know about this years 96th Tour de France:
Tonight we give you a quick synopsis of what makes this year's race different from Tours in the past 5 years (including 2005 when Armstrong last raced:
- The most organized team: Astana (even though they almost did not make it for financial reasons)
- Team with the most prestigious, talented riders: Astana with Armstrong, Alberto Contador, Levi Leipheimer, Andreas Kloden and Haimar Zubeldia, each one has either one the Tour previously or been in the top five. The big question, who will be slated to win if they are all performing well? Can you have too many stars on one team? Armstrong is reportedly to have said he would support Contador, but would Contador support Armstrong? And what about Leipheimer? My guess is, Armstrong WILL support one of these two because he has said repeatedly he is doing this year's Tour to support his cancer foundation.
- Best Climbers among the favorites to win: Alberto Contador (age 26, Astana); Carlos Sastre (Cervelo, age 34, defending 2008 TDF winner); Andy Schleck (24, Saxo Bank); Denis Menchov (31, Rabobank); possibly Cadel Evans (32, Silence-Lotto).
- Best Time Trialists among the favorites: Lance Armstrong, (37, Astana); Levi Leipheimer (35, Astana); Michael Rogers, (29, Columbia Highroad).
- Riders to watch: Sprinters Mark Cavendish (24, Columbia-Highroad); Tom Boonen, (Quick Step), and Thor Hushovd (pictured with women in true sports clothing, or should we say, hunting clothing), and Christian Vande Velde (who broke his back in the Giro but is riding the Tour.)
Who we won't be seeing at this year's Tour (since the last time you serious
ly watched when Armstrong was riding)
- Floyd Landis, disgraced, who placed first in the 2006 Tour, but who tested positive for banned substances, and lost his place to second place cyclist Oscar Pereiro.
- Jan Ullrich, retired--remember him?--he drove Armstrong crazy in 2004.
- Tyler Hamilton, retired
- Sheryl Crow--the American singer who we saw in the tour cars watching her boyfriend win his last tour has survived cancer, but broke up with Armstrong long ago. Armstrong's new girlfriend Anna Hansen, just gave birth to a baby boy, Max Armstrong--whom allegedly Armstrong fathered naturally (and not with test tubes!) Armstrong met Hansen last year and lives with her now in Colorado. Hansen works for a Vail based organization that organizes adventure trips for young people with cancer.
- Richard Virenque--retired
- Bobby Julich--retired
Who is Tweeting this year:
- Lance Armstrong : Amazingly he actually has time to make entries. Check out his "Why I ride," entry --it's par for the course, but then check out the photos of people who have come by to wish him good luck tomorrow. You can also now see his bike.
- Levi Leipheimer: watch them tweet each other
- Paul Sherwen, TDF announcer. He's got pics of all the fancy boats in the harbor in Monaco. Must be fun luxuriating with the rich and famous.
- JenGoodSword: that's BBB. We'll be on Twitter in between tour updates.
What you can win during this year's Tour:
Where to see coverage:
- Versus--if you have cable. Usually will start in the mornings, at a decent hour if that day's stage starts late, otherwise expect to get up early, or have to wait to find out what happened. Tonight, you can expect to see highlights of the old Tours. It's mostly a Lance Armstrong lovefest because they know that's whom the American viewers come for, but you can be sure if Armstrong starts to do badly or worse, crashes out, viewership will go down.