By Bob Beane, Coalition of Arizona Bicyclists
Whether you are an experienced bicyclist, new to the sport or a curious spectator, you probably “only have so much time” in your life for TV viewing of sporting events. For the uninitiated, Le Tour de France is a 3-week odyssey, pain-fest and festival of sport that happens every July (Note: This year, it starts on Saturday, June 29). It will be broadcast in the USA on the NBC Sports Network (formerly OLN, Versus). Broadcasts will be both live and repeat each day. Here are my Twelve Tips for getting the most out of limited time for following Le Tour 2013:
- Check the standings from the Criterium du Dauphine and the Tour de Swiss (two one-week tune-up races) to see who is in “good form” coming into Le Tour.
- Race within the Race, Part 1 – Sprinters abound this year. These guys have no chance to win the overall title, because they can’t climb big mountains like the more slender “angels” who ride steep climbs as fast as I ride flat roads. Watch for Brit Mark Cavendish, Peter Sagan, Andre Greipel and American Tyler Farrar to contest stages that are fairly flat with fast finishes.
- Race within the Race, Part 2 – There is a special White Jersey for the best young rider. Last year, American Tejay van Garderen won it, and he could again (though his ambitions are higher, I think, coming off his recent win in the Tour of California).
- Corsica – This island is the only area of France not to host Le Tour in 100 years. This year, Stages 1-3 will be raced there. Other than sprints, the main concern for potential “GC” (General Classification) contenders will be avoiding crashes.
- Time Trials – The time trials will likely be too short this year to factor much in the overall result. The quick team time trial of Stage 4 will be won by seconds or less, but should be meaningless beyond bragging rights for the winning team.
- The First Sort-Out – Saturday and Sunday, July 6 & 7 involve some significant tests in the mountains along the border of France and Spain. The pretenders will be separated from the contenders.
- Race within the Race, Part 3 – Breakaway wins by a lone rider are highly prized within the pro peloton. Notching one of those can secure a place in cycling history. Look for a rider such as Jens Voigt to go for such a win on the undulating terrain of Saturday, July 13’s Stage 14.
- A B____ of a Bastille Day – The win on Bastille Day, normally a main objective for French teams, will be contested on the slopes of the intimidating Mont Ventoux. Normally, I would expect top French cyclist Thomas Voeckler to be a favorite for this day, but the bulk of the route seems too flat for him to escape early on. Look for a climber who is contesting the King of the Mountains jersey to win the stage, and the overall contenders to further sort out potential podium spots.
- A stage for the ages – Put in your vacation request now, or plan a “sick day”, for Thursday, July 18. Never in the history of Le Tour has L’Alpe D’Huez been climbed twice in a single stage. If you only watch one cycling event in your life, watch this one. This is, after all, the 100th Tour de France. The fans along the road will be out of their minds, and the racing will be epic.
- Are you kidding me?! – After L’Alpe times two on the previous day, the organizers “kindly” scheduled a 204.5KM stage with two “Hors Category” (above categorization) climbs as a “recovery ride”. This is cruel and unusual punishment…but it will help decide the overall winner.
- And more!!! – Then, on Saturday, July 20, the penultimate stage will finish with a painful HC climb to Annecy-Semnoz. The leader at the end of the day will win the Tour.
- Pomp & Circumstance – One of the most beautiful traditions in sport is the final day of Le Tour. It begins with a casually-paced, rolling photo opportunity for the various leaders and stars of the Tour…Champagne will be sipped and congratulations will be exchanged. Then, the riders reach the Champs-Elysees in Paris and the afterburners are ignited. Rarely can anyone get “off the front” for a solo victory. Usually, we are treated to a Sprint Royale in the shadow of the Arc de Triomphe, and that is what I am expecting for the finale this year.
As a cyclist of 25+ years, I’ve seen a lot in our sport/activity that is amazing and positive, and some that is “not so much”. I expect this year’s Tour to be, as commentator Phil Liggett would say, “One for the history books.” I intend to view every minute I can of what I expect to be an epic show of talent, effort and stamina. Viva Le Tour!