Monday, June 26, 2006

TOUR de FRANCE COUNTDOWN

Question: When does the 2006 Tour de France begin?

Answer #1: Not soon enough!

Answer #2: What?!

Answer #3: Saturday, July 1st...just a few days from now.

UNADULTERATED ENTHUSIASM. Excuse me if I get a bit weird over the next few weeks. July is the one month out of the year that I express unadulterated enthusiasm, caring less about who scoffs, rolls their eyes, criticizes, dismisses, or makes fun of me. I go in for the Tour de France like some folks go in for the World Cup or NASCAR or the World Series. This 2,000+ mile race from July 1 to July 23 grabs my heart and I follow it ever so closely.

POST-ARMSTRONG FREE-FOR-ALL. Even without the phenomenal American cancer survivor Lance Armstrong riding the TdF, I am anticipating the thrill of this year's spectacular race, one stage (day) at a time. Every Tour develops different dynamics and race leadership can change dramatically. Without one dominant rider now, there are about ten world-class cyclists--including three Americans--who can take the lead or stand atop the podium in France. It could be a free-for-all.

FOR THE REST OF US. To spare disinterested bikehiker blog readers too much Tour de France commentary and insider cycling verbiage, I've developed a special Tour de France blog that I call "The Tour de France for the Rest of Us." Feel free to check there daily for easy-to-understand Tour information and updates, links and comments, reviews and projections.

FAVORITES AMONG MANY CONTENDERS. There are many riders who could win this year's Tour de France. A contender is one who has a record of recent wins or high placements, a strong team, and a balance of abilities in time trialing, mountain climbing, and aggressiveness. My favorite to win? Ivan Basso. This Italian finished second to Armstrong in last year's Tour. He was the only rider to consistently stay with Armstrong last year. He has proven himself strong in spring racing, winning the Giro d'Italia (Tour of Italy) going away. He is supported by a solid team. Basso is a mountain climbing specialist, but he is just above average in individual time trials.

OTHER POSSIBILITIES. Other possible winners:
  • Jan Ullrich, the only previous Tour winner in this year's race. Ullrich is reported to be in great shape and highly motivated. He recently won the Tour of Switzerland. He is an individual time trial monster.
  • Alexandre Vinokourov, the ever-aggressive Khazak (should his team be permitted to begin the race; it has been implicated in a doping scandal).
  • Floyd Landis, the former Armstrong teammate and American waiting in the wings.
  • Levi Leipheimer, the Montanan who will make his move in the mountains.
  • Cadel Evans, the Aussies' great hope.
  • And, as a long shot, big George Hincapie, the ever-faithful and always capable Armstrong lieutenant.

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