Friday, July 03, 2009

The Tour de France 2009

The Tour de France, the world's most demanding sporting contest, starts tomorrow. This year the riders will cover 3,500 kilometers over two mountain ranges in 21 stages. The favorite is Alberto Contador of the Astana team. Contador has won each of the grand tours he's entered over the last two years. Lance Armstrong, who will be riding with Contador, sums up his place on his team in the New York Times:
“The trick is trying to be a responsible teammate and co-leader and understand that Alberto could not just be stronger, but could be a lot stronger,” Armstrong said of Contador, who won the 2007 Tour as well as last year’s Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a España.
I don't recall Armstrong ever admitting that another rider, even a teammate, is stronger. You could call this year's Astana team the New York Yankees of cycling.
The team has four riders who have finished on the podium in the Tour de France: Armstrong, Contador, Andreas Kloden and Levi Leipheimer. These guys will be intimidating in the mountains.
Johann Bruyneel's instructions to the team will be to deliver Contador to another victory, and if anyone else makes the podium, so much the better. Bruyneel's team (then Discovery Channel) was able to do just that in 2007, when Leipheimer came in third while riding in support of Contador.

Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto) has been runner up in the Tour two years running, and wore the yellow jersey for much of the second week. He lost the jersey on Alp d'Huez to Carlos Sastre, who rode it all the way to Paris. But because Contador didn't ride last year, Sastre (Cervelo) isn't even the favorite. Neither rider has as strong a team to keep them safe in the peleton and escort them up the mountains. If Armstrong doesn't win, he has another motivation for riding. His return to the peleton has brought more attention to his foundation:
In 2008, before Armstrong’s return, $7,675,000 in donations came in during those quarters. In 2009, with Armstrong back, $8,056,000 came in.
More yellow rubber LiveStrong bracelets have been sold, too: 1,987,000 from January to May in 2009, up from 1,298,000 during the same period in 2008.
The sprinters will get their week of glory before the Tour heads into the Pyrenees next Friday. From there, the riders will have to pull themselves through seven more mountain stages before heading into Paris on July 21.
Photo: AFP

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