Le Tour de France
Saturday kicked off the 102nd Tour de France. It was dramatically different from the 60 riders (21 finished) in 1902, who were pedaling one-gear bicycles that weighed over 30 pounds. Aerodynamics are in. Corporate sponsorships are in. Big bucks are in. All others need not apply.
By D.C. DeMilio, Voice Sports Reporter
In 1903 the Tour consisted of six stages as the riders challenged a first-ever course of 2,428 kilometers. Other bike races, however, held considerable favor. There was Paris-Rouen, Paris-Bordeaux and the killer ride, Paris-Brest-Paris which was 800 miles. In 1899, prior to the bicycles touring the French countryside, there was a Tour de France for automobiles with unheard of speeds of 30 miles per hour. To do the same thing on a bicycle? Tres impossible!
Tour de France appeal and spectator interests have increased. There are now 21 stages with 22 teams challenging the course. Each team has nine riders on the road and a long roster. Fans flock to the villages en route. They camp in the meadows along the way and they squeeze the mountain roads to one-bike rider width, or less. They number in the hundreds of thousands.
American cyclist and Texas native Lance Armstrong will be attempting to win his seventh consecutive Tour. He stands alone with six straight victories and has said this will be his last Tour. His team is sponsored by the USA Discovery Channel.
In 1996 Armstrong was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Armstrong's response: He survived and authored a critically acclaimed best-selling book, "It's Not About the Bike". Armstrong's other response: In 1998 he began his string of Tour victories.
During the next three weeks the Tour will travel from Saturday's time trial, 19 km, in the Atlantic Coast town of Challans then head northeast to Luxembourg and the Germany border. The riders will then turn south for three mountain stages.
The Tour will take aim at five more mountain stages on the Spanish border before before it swings north and pumps toward a July 24th rendezvous on the Champs-Elysées in the City of Lights.
Defending six-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong served notice Saturday that this year's ride would be an Armstrong Tour de Force. David Zabriskie, an American riding for CSC of Denmark, won the 19 km prolog time trial in 20 minutes and 51 seconds. Armstrong finished in second two seconds behind. After leaving the start house one minute behind long-time opponent Jan Ullrich, Armstrong swept past him toward the end of the course.
Sunday's second stage, a 181.5km relatively flat course from Challans to Les Essarts, was won by Belgian's Tom Boonen, riding for Quick Step, in 3:51:31. This stage was a test of sprinting and breakaway maneuvers.
Despite a few minor spills all 189 riders were still on the road. Overall classification after 2 of 21 stages had Zabriskie in the leader's yellow jersey, Lance Armstrong remained in second, at +2 seconds, and Langlo Bodrogi, Credit Agricole, was +47 seconds back. Ullrich, T-Mobile, was in eighth place +1:03 behind.
On the 212.5km course Monday from La Chataigneraie to Tours, Boonen repeated his Stage 2 win. Zabriskie retained his yellow jersey and Armstrong remained two seconds back in second place while Ullrich had fallen out of the top-10 rider's classification. All 189 riders were still in the saddle.
Tuesday's Stage 4, 67.5km was the Tour's only team time trial event.
Team USA Discovery Channel not only won the team time trial Tuesday but set a Tour record covering the 67.5km route in one hour, 10 minutes and 39 seconds elevating Armstrong to the leader's yellow jersey. Another American, teammate George Hincapie, came in second at +55 seconds. Discovery Channel's average speed was 57.3km/h which shattered the previous mark of 54.93km/hr.
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