Cycling fans across the globe are celebrating today as the 2013 Tour de France gets underway for the first time from the Isle of Corsica. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the race and to commemorate the occasion Tour organizers have put together a course that is designed to create drama and test the skill and endurance of the riders. For the next three weeks they will be battling it out on the roads of France, with the winner ultimately being decided on the slopes of the Pyrenees and the Alps.
Typically the first day of the Tour is a short prologue that is over quickly and helps to determine the initial positioning heading into the first real days of racing. That won’t be the case this year, however, as the riders hit the road in Corsica this morning for a 213-kilometer (132-mile) ride from Porto-Vecchio to Bastia. The course won’t feature any massive climbs just yet, but it will undulate through the hills, nonetheless. It does include some relatively flat portions, particularly near the end, that will allow the sprinters in the field to stretch their legs and show off their early form.
Last year’s Tour winner Bradley Wiggins is out of this year’s Tour while he nurses an injury to his knee. That means the race is wide open, although the odds on favorites heading in are Wiggins’ teammate Chris Froome of the U.K. and Spanish cycling legend Alberto Contador who returns to competition after sitting out much of last year for a failed drug test. Contador is one of the best riders of his generation and he has won the Tour on three separate occasions, although one of those was stripped due to the aforementioned doping violation. The Spaniard is riding well this year, however, and he seems as determined as ever to win the race.Other contenders include Spanish rider Alejandro Valverde and Andy Schleck of Luxembourg. Schleck missed last year’s race due to an injury and has finished as the runner up three times in the past. He is hoping to be in contention in the final days once again this year. The 2011 winner, Cadel Evans of Australia, hopes to return to form and claim a second Tour victory, but should he falter as he did last year, his team could rally around 23-year-old American Teja Van Garderen who shows signs that he is ready to contend for the coveted Yellow Jersey worn by the race leader.
The famous maillot jaune isn’t the only jersey up for grabs, however. The world’s top sprinters will be battling it out for the Green Jersey with the U.K.’s Mark Cavendish likely to be in the mix along with Slovakian rider Peter Sagan. The Polka Dot Jersey is awarded to the race’s best climber in the King of the Mountain category, who should be in the mix with the top riders heading into the final stages in the Alps.
The next three weeks will be exciting ones for fans of the Tour. Last year’s race was often described as “lackluster” with little drama in large part because Wiggens and his team were just so dominant. That isn’t likely to be the case this year with more mountain stages to challenge the legs of the leaders. It is very likely that race won’t be decided until the final few days, with the winner enjoying his victory lap on the Camps Élysées on July 21.