Come Saturday morning and continuing through most of July, will be taking the annual trek around France—virtually, this year—via the Tour de France. This one hundredth edition of the race inspired Tour organizers to devise what may be the most grueling route yet.

Like mountain stages? This Tour serves up an unusually brutal menu of six mountain stages with  four summit finishes. You’ll likely find your favorite—the Pyrannees’ Col de Peyresourde (Stage 9); the race up the moon-like Mount Ventoux (Stage 15); not one, but two ascents up the fabled Alpe d’Huez (Stage 18); the Col de la Madeleine (Stage 19) or the mountaintop finish on the Annecy-Semnoz (Stage 20).

Here’s hoping the Sprinters survive to compete in Stage 21, a night-time arrival on the Champs Elysees that will—for the first time—include the circle around the Arc de Triomphe in the ten-lap circuit that concludes the nearly 2,200-mile odyssey.

Missing during this celebratory tour will be many of the cyclists who have made the Tour a household name, especially in the US. The Tour de France without George Hincapie, who completed 16 TDFs? Very hard to imagine. He, like Levi Leipheimer, retired last year in the wake of the USADA’s investigation into Team US Postal Service/Discovery Channel/Radio Shack’s history (and admission) of using Performance Enhancing Drugs.

Also missing is last year’s Tour winner, Bradley Wiggins (injury) and the ever-popular Spartacus (Fabian Cancellera) who elected to skip the Tour to concentrate on the upcoming World Championships.

Mark Cavendish, photo courtesy Wikipedia

Who to watch? The Manx Missile, Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), hoping to add an opening stage yellow jersey to his 23 stage wins. Then there are the American young guns—Tejay van Garederen (BMC), Andrew Talansky (Garmin)—and veteran favorites Jens Voigt (Radio Shack-Leopold) competing at age 41 and Cadel Evans, 36, (BMC) one of the pre-Tour favorites.

Just can’t help but wish that the rose-colored glasses hadn’t cracked and that Lance Armstrong were competing in this tour, his seven Tour victories intact and his place in the 100-year history of this incredible sporting event celebrated.

However, in the end, although Armstrong may have sparked my interest in the Tour, the Tour itself captured my heart.

® M. L. Burdett
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