Was thinking I’d just let July slide lazily by without attending, watching, following, or otherwise devoting any energy to the 2012 Tour de France. A great month to spend by the ocean, catch up with the Braves, go to the Daytona Coke Zero 400, and maybe check in on those unrestricted free agents in the NHL. Definitely time to take a break from the annual marathon of le Tour.

Fact: the last two weeks have not been kind to two legends and heroes of the race.

Fact: the USADA’s timing and mean-spirited allegations have sucked all the oxygen from this year’s Tour, leaving those of us who choose to believe in “innocent until proven guilty” frustrated and generally unhappy.

This week, just happened to catch the end of the Tour Preview on NBCSports. With the Grand Depart this Saturday in Liege, Belgium, le Tour travels clockwise this year. Covering some favorite climbs—the Col de la Madeleine, La Toussuire, the Tourmalet, the Aubisque, the Aspin and the Peyresourde. There will be new challenges as well: for instance, the Col du Grand Colombier, the first time ever the Peleton will visit its summit.

And, yes, Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwin will again offer sage commentary, Bob Roll will entertain with his unique perspective and thorough enjoyment of the sport. Seeing these guys is just like reconnecting with old friends. We have covered many thousands of miles together throughout the past 14 or so years during Le Tour.

George Hincapie will ride in his final TDF ©Wikipedia

And then there are the riders we’ve watched and gotten to know all these years… Do you realize George Hincapie will be riding in his 17 consecutive Tour de France, finishing all previous tours and setting history when he completes this, his final ride? How will the Peleton function next year without “Big George’s” overall leadership? Of course he’ll focus on his primary mission—marshaling his team and more often than not delivering the rider wearing le maillot jaune safely to Paris. Cadel Evans surely realizes how fortunate he is that Hincapie again rides beside him on team BMC.

Then there’s our friend Levi Leipheimer, whose heart surely deserves that yellow jersey. Very strange to see him on a new team, but was looking forward to seeing both Levi and Tom Boonen riding for Omega Pharma Quick Step. Going to miss Tom in this race—he’s preparing for the Olympics which immediately follow le Tour. Tom’s form this year looked like he might give the fastest man in the world a race for the Green Jersey.

Other missing friends include Thor Hushovd (sidelined by a virus during the Giro and now preparing for the Olympics) and Robbie McEwen (retired after this year’s Tour de California to coach cycling). Saw Thor win a stage on the Champs and Robbie capture the Green Jersey championship.

Robbie McEwen on the Podium in Green ©Michael L. Burdett, 2006

Wonder if Cadel will repeat in yellow—or if this is Levi’s or Frank Schleck‘s year? With pre-race mailot jaune contender Andy Schleck out due to injury, brother Frank may just seize the moment.

Wait a second. I was not going to watch le Tour! Somehow it’s already pulled me in—two days before the race even begins.

Bonjour, July… bonjour le Tour.

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