The 91st Tour de France, July 3-25, 2004
You're going to be hearing about it for the next month, so here's a little background.
On Saturday, 189 riders embark upon the 91st Tour de France. The objective is to cover roughly 2,107 miles through the French countryside in a series of 21 races in the shortest aggregate amount of time. Each day's race is called a stage and for the Tour there are 20 different stages, in addition to the first day's individual time trial/warm-up called the Prologue. There are 21 teams with nine riders each. One rider is the team leader who the rest of the team is working to support to the finish. The rest of the team is composed of sprint and climbing specialists to guide the leader through the stages and domestiques (the guys that do the grunt work). This year, 11 of the stages cover flat, rolling terrain and six are in the mountains of the Pyrennees and the French Alps. For these stages the riders move within the peloton: a swirling, belching, farting, joking, cutthroat mass of adrenaline where teams and individuals constantly jockey for position. The remaining stages are conducted as time trials where riders are solely racing against the clock. For this year's Tour, there are two individual time trials, plus the prologue, and a team trial where the team races as a group with individuals receiving the time for the fifth rider on the team.
For such a prestigious sporting event, the Tour has a relatively small purse. 3 million Euros, split up with 400K going to the overall winner (tradition dictating that the winner divides that among his teammates) and the remainder spread out for various bonuses, individual stages, and other standings. The Maillot Jeune, the famous yellow jersey of the tour, is awarded daily to the rider with the lowest total time. Additionally, riders compete for the a green, polka-dot, and white jersey for best sprinter, climber, and best rider under 25 years old, respectively.
LANCE ARMSTRONG (U.S.) U.S. Postal/Berry Floor
Trying to make it six, how much does Armstrong have left in the tank? Last year he contended with a failing marriage, stomach flu, and outright bad luck. This year he has a new girlfriend and faces doping allegations revealed in a new book (which he denies). Still the man to beat although many of his rivals saw last year as the beginning of his decline and are entertaining hopes of being spoilers.