There are three things to consider about this year's Tour de France - so far.
1. It's not a lay down for Alberto Contador. The three-time winner is embroiled in a doping scandal and his complete disregard for the rules of the road last year have alienated him from other riders and cycling fans (he took a loud booing during the team introductions on Friday).Last year, leader Andy Schleck had an issue with his bike chain on a climb. Instead of sitting up until the leader was back in the race, Contador accelerated, leaving Schleck in the dust. Cycling fans have long memories, and so does the peleton. Don't look for any mercy for Contador should he have difficulties this year.
Then there was the big crash on day 1 that left the Spainard caught out at 1:42 behind the leaders. Considering that he only won last year's tour by some 39 seconds, it could be curtains for Contador.
2. The team time trial is still one of the prettiest sights in all sports. Seeing nine riders flying down the road in formation, taking their turn at the front, then peeling off and fading to the back is testament to the teamwork it takes to stand on the podium in Paris.
Barring injury or other misfortune, we have two riders, Chris Horner and Levi Leipheimer, who have a chance at being in the top three.
We also have a sprinter who can win stages. Today, Tyler Farrar of Garmin Cervelo took the stage in a gritty sprint to the finish. His team was perfectly positioned to lead him out in the final kilometer.
It was an emotional win for Farrar for two reasons. He rode 10 stages of last year's tour with a broken wrist before bowing out and going home. On May 9, Farrar lost his best friend and fellow cyclist Wouter Weylandt of Belgium in a horrific crash during a descent in the Giro d'Italia. He dedicated his win today to his fallen friend.
And, of course, there's the old man - George Hincapie, who is making his record-tying 16th appearance in the tour. Hincapie was Lance Armstrong's first lieutenant for seven years, leading U.S. Postal and Discovery to victory. He is now riding for Team BMC. Hincapie's long career has never once been tainted. He should be the poster boy for American cycling.
Young rider Teejay Van Garderen of Team HTC Highroad (American) is one to watch. He's riding for Tony Martin, but look for stellar performances from this kid. This year, he was second behind Fabian Cancellra in the time trial during the Tour de Swiss and he was voted the best young rider in the Tour de California. This is his first TdF.
Tomorrow's 179 km run will be interesting. The first stages of each tour usually favor sprinters, but there's a wicked kick up at the finish line that will test even the hottest of shoes.
Viva le Tour.
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