It’s the beginning of July and that means it must be the start of the Tour de France: the annual road race through the beautiful cities, countryside and mountains of France (though this year the race actually started on 30 June). The Tour always produces a reaction, whether it is horror and shame at the terrible crashes and drug taking, or admiration of the sporting heroes that pound the streets of France each year looking to get to Paris in the shortest time possible.
For the first time in history, this year’s Tour sees a British rider, Bradley Wiggins, installed as one of the favourites for the race. Wiggins is superb at time trialling, particularly in the shorter distance of the Prologue: the traditional opening stage of the tour. Only a fantastic ride by Fabian Cancellara, another time trial specialist, prevented Wiggins from taking the first yellow jersey of this year’s Tour. With Alberto Contador suspended, the main battle of the Tour is expected to be between Wiggins and defending champion, Cadel Evans.
…the deciding stage…
This year’s route is as challenging as ever and many predict that Stage 16 in the Pyrenees, which involves the two beyond-classification times of the Col d’Aubisque and the Col du Tourmalet, might be the deciding stage. Wiggins will need to be on his best form and ride in a similar way to how he rode on Mont Ventoux in 2009, which secured him his best finish of 4th place. Stage 19, the exceptionally long 33 mile time trial, is also expected to be a showdown between Wiggins and Evans and the Tour could well be decided over a matter of seconds.
So far, it has been the Tour of the sprinters. Cancellara’s prologue win aside, it has been Peter Sagan who has set the roads alight with two sprint victories on Stages 1 and 3, either side of a typical Mark Cavendish win on Stage 2. The Manxman is now sixth in the list of all time Tour de France stage winners with 21 wins and looks set to win many more.
Despite the scandals that have rocked the Tour in recent years, it still remains an intriguing sporting event and perhaps the toughest annual sporting challenge. There remains a certain charm about the race as it winds its way past beautiful chateaux and up stunning mountain passes. Let’s hope this year’s race is one to remember and that a Briton finally wins this magnificent race.