Cycling’s premiere event, the Tour de France, gets underway today with the world’s best riders preparing for another challenging race. This year’s Tour promises to be an exciting one as the teams go head-to-head through 20 grueling stages that culminate on July 22 with their arrival on the Champs Elysees in Paris.
The competition for the famed Maillot Jaune, or Yellow Jersey, which is worn throughout the competition by the race leader, should prove to be an interesting one. Former Tour champ Alberto Contador, widely considered the best cyclist in the world, is out of the race while serving a controversial drug suspension. His chief rival, Andy Schleck, is also out after suffering a fracture to his back in the Criterium du Dauphine at the start of June. This opens the door for any number of riders to claim victory in Paris, including defending champ Cadel Evans and Bradley Wiggins of the U.K. They’ll be pushed by Ryder Hesjedal of Canada, Robert Gesink from the Netherlands and Frank Schleck of Luxembourg.
When the race begins later today it will be on the streets of Liège where the cyclists will ride a short 6.4-kilometer (4-mile) Prologue that will determine the preliminary rankings before heading into the first road stage tomorrow. Stage 1 will be a mostly flat and fast affair covering 198 kilometers (123 miles) between Liège and Seraing. This will give the Tour’s sprinters a chance to stretch their legs before heading into the mountains in the later stages of the race.
The course designers did a fine job of mixing up the challenges this year. The race begins with the traditional flat stages, but eventually gives way to tougher medium and big mountain stages, which is where the race is usually won and lost. Two individual time trials will also go a long way towards determining who will wear the Yellow Jersey in Paris in three weeks time.
You can follow all of the action on the Tour de France website, where daily updates show rankings, stage results and individual highlights. For cycling fans, it is going to be an exciting event.