Friday, July 06, 2007

Tour de France

The 2007 Tour de France starts on Saturday, July 7, in London. Which isn't part of France, but so what. The race is as messy and convoluted as ever. Last year's race still doesn't have an official winner, with American Floyd Landis, who finished in the yellow jersey last July, still being investigated for doping. Multiple overlapping "scandals du dopage" have driven many of the would-be favorites away from the race or even out of cycling altogether. (And the race has the dubious quality of being held forty years after the death of British rider Tom Simpson, who collapsed and died during a hard mountain stage in 1967 and was found to have been doped to the gills.)

Still and all, I think it'll still be a great race. According to VeloNews' excellent overview of the race (available through VeloNews' Tour site, where you can find a positively ridiculous amount of coverage) the course is one of the most difficult in recent years, with relatively few long, flat "sprinter's stages;" two long individual time trials; and six mountain stages, all ending at or just after a big climb. In other words, no one-shot wonders will be able to capture a key stage and take the whole thing. On the other hand, the increasing difficulty of the Tour is itself one of the reasons riders dope in the first place: it's just too hard to do without chemical help.

That aside, American Levi Leipheimer has a shot a winning, or at least finishing on the podium, and a couple other Americans might win a stage or two. Besides Leipheimer, possible winners come from all over: Russia (Denis Menchov), Kazakhstan (Alexander Vinokourov), Germany (Andreas Kloeden), Spain (Alejandro Valverde), and Australia (Cadel Evans and Michael Rogers). Maybe the most interesting situation is that of Oscar Pereiro, the Spaniard who finished second last year but might still win that race if Landis is disqualified. Indeed, with a ruling in Landis' doping case due any day, Pereiro could be in the strange and unprecedented position of assuming the defense of last year's title midway through this year's race. Yellow jersey on the road, indeed.