Thursday 16 June 2011

Tour de France countdown

Less than a month to go, and it looks to be a good one with emphasis on the Alps this year. In my opinion, anti-clockwise Tours are always better than clockwise Tours because the entrants tire themselves out on the long journey through Northern France, Brittany, the Massif Central and on to the Pyrenees, then have to contend with serious mountains (though there's some proper climbs in the Pyrenees too, such as Col du Tourmalet at 2115m). Alberto Contador, now his suspension following a doping positive test result is up, will be taking part; but since he'll be under even more suspicion than Tour riders usually are and will presumably have either ride clean or risk getting caught again - whether or not he can keep Andy Schleck at bay this year will either prove or disprove his claims of innocence. Probably not worth putting any money on British (or Manx) rider Mark Cavendish this time around - he was first over the line in several stages last year, but this is not a Tour that favours sprinters - but if anyone wants to place a bet on him for reasons of national pride, Stage 5. ;-)
Col Agnel - highest point of this year's Tour and a good opportunity for those of you who only watch le Tour for the scenery.
Some interesting mountain stages this year, including 23 summit finishes with the 2645m Col du Galibier (first appearance in the Tour a century ago, when only three riders rode up it - the rest gave up and walked) being climbed twice. The Col de Montgenèvre, in Italy, should be a hard slog too, rising to 1854m. The little-known and rarely used Col Agnel is the highest point this year, going up as far as 2744m. Stage 18 finishes on Galibier, making it the highest ever stage finish. Longest stage is Stage 6 at 226.5km, featuring the very impressive Basilique Sainte-Thérèse at the end. The Casse Déserte also appears, a strange and lunar-like landscape including 10km considered by many riders to be the most difficult of any Tour route and which makes up for the omission of Mont Ventoux this year.

Casse Déserte: lunar-like. Were it not for the fir trees, at any rate.
21 stages in all, two rest days and two time trials. Total distance 3430.5km, average stage length (not including time trials) 177km. Expect all the usual circus, pain, drugs, crashes, injury, scenery, scandal, spectacle, bizarre accusations (last year's "tiny engines hidden inside frames" was a classic), frightening thigh muscles, tantrums, more drugs, German devils, cheating, broken bones, blood, sweat and tears that make every year more fun than the last.

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