The 2009 Tour de France got underway yesterday with an individual time trial through the streets of Monaco. The Prologue was a short and fast 15.5km (9.6 miles) sprint that started with a steady climb and ended with the riders screaming back down the hill towards the finish line. At the end of the day, time trial specialist Fabian Cancellara took the stage victory and the famous Yellow Jersey, while the real contenders for the race, such as Alberto Contatdor and American Levi Leipheimer, lurking just off the pace. Lance Armstrong, making his return to the Tour after a 3 year layoff, finished in 10th.
Today, the race heads out onto the road, leaving Monaco behind, with a 187km (116.1 miles) stage through southern France. The route will pass through some rolling hills, but will mostly favor the sprinters who will be competing for the Green Jersey, while the climbers will wait for the seventh stage, when the race moves away from Barcelona and into the Pyrenees, where they’ll begin their competition for the Polka Dot Jersey worn by the King of the Mountains.
Over the next three weeks the top riders in the world will compete in cyclings premiere event. In total, there will be 21 stages, covering more than 3500km (2175 miles). The race culminates on Sunday, July 26 on the Champs Elysees when the leader rides into Paris with the Yellow Jersey.
In Canada and in Europe, according to the Toronto Sun, cyclists are seeing more bike paths built. New attractions and offers are being designed to appeal to cyclists, and challenging routes are gaining popularity. In honor of Toronto Bike Month, which runs until June 25, the Sun has offered a few ideas for pedal-pushers around the world.
La Route Verte (the Green Route) is the longest ride in America. At more than 2,500 miles, it crosses Quebec both north-to-south and east-to-west. Take on this challenge, and you’ll pass through 320 cities and towns on bike paths and quiet roads, enjoying attractions like the Laurentian Mountains and St. Lawrence River from a new perspective. Accommodations along the way with “bienvenue cyclists!” signs will be ready for you, including bike tools and a safe place to lock up your ride.
Also in Canada, the Toronto-Niagara Bike Train is a new program to help cyclists get out to the Niagara Region. Some VIA Rail Canada trains are now equipped with bike racks to make transport exponentially easier.
In Trondheim, Norway, look for the world’s first bike lift. If you prefer not to blast your quads attacking a hill steep enough to have a name (Bbrubakken), take advantage of the Bicycle Lift Trampe. Using an electronic key card (buy or rent), you gain access to the easiest way up.
Unless you are willing to dedicate your life to either training or discovering undetectable performance-enhancing drugs, chances are you won’t be competing for that yellow jersey. Maybe you could get a job as one of those guys who rides on the back of a motorcycle with a camera. Or you could just travel to France during the race and take in the proceedings through a haze of wine and cheese.
But there is another option. A tour operator called Ciclismo Classico will run an 8-day bicycle tour that follows the exact route of a portion of the Le Tour ’09. Before you go searching the internet for any chemicals that can help you on the trip, you should know that the 8-days are designed for casual enthusiasts; the kind of people who are comfortable in the saddle of a bike, but who lack the huge legs and emaciated upper bodies of top cyclists. The average day will mean a 50-mile pedal, roughly half of what the pro riders complete. In addition to that, those on the trip will get to watch some of the actual race.