2012 Tour de France officially gets underway tomorrow with a Prologue on the streets of Liège. This 6.4km (4 mile) start will be fast and furious with the sprinters taking center stage and riders like Fabian Cancellara, who missed much of the early season, looking to put on a show. On Sunday Le Tour will move out onto the road for the first time with a flat 198km (123 mile) ride from Liège to Seraing that will give some of the faster cyclists a shot at early glory in the Yellow Jersey, but three very long weeks of riding loom ahead and the real contenders will save themselves for the inevitable showdown in the mountains.
The General Classification is probably as wide open as it has been in a very long time this year With Alberto Contador out while serving a suspension and Andy Schleck down for the count with an injury, there are a number of riders that could ride into Paris in Yellow on Sunday July 22. Chief amongst them is Cadel Evans of BMC Racing of course, who is the defending champ and has already shown he has all the skills necessary to win, even when Contador and Schleck are in the race. He'll be challenged by the likes of Robert Gesink of Rabobank and Vincenzo Nibali of Liquigas-Cannondale. But my pick to be on the podium, and possibly on top, is Bradley Wiggins of Team Sky. He's having a great year and seems poised to breakout in the Tour, provided he can avoid injuries and bad luck. Andy Schleck's brother Frank could be in the mix as well, although he lacks skill in the individual time-trial which is still a major hurdle to overcome.
The course designers have once again put together quite a challenging race this year. In addition to the Prologue, which returns for the first time since 2010, there are 9 flat stages, 4 medium mountain stages (with one summit finish), 5 big mountain stages (two summit finishes!), and 2 individual time-trials. There will also be two rest days mixed in as well. Those two summit finishes and two time-trials are really going to go along way to crowning a champ this year.
I will of course be providing my regular coverage of the race, doing my best to provide daily updates. The Tour is one of my favorite events each year and I can't tell you how happy I am to see it return tomorrow, even if the Prologue doesn't provide a lot of fireworks. On a personal note, one of my favorite riders, the God of Thunder himself Thor Hushovd is not riding this year as he is recovring from a viral infection. The big man is on the mend however and is expected to ride in the Olympics in London at the end of July, but his unique riding abilities will certainly be missed this year. At least by me. I'm not sure Mark Cavendish will miss him however.
I know cycling fans around the world are as eager as I am for the start of the race. Enjoy the next few weeks. Forget Christmas. This is really the most wonderful time of the year...
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