5 things to know about Tour de France
PORTO VECCHIO, Corsica (AP) -- The Tour de France begins Saturday. Five things to know:
1. THE TOUR TURNS 100: The Tour, which began in 1903, celebrates its 100th edition this year. (The race wasn’t held for a total of 11 years during and around the time of the two world wars.) This edition takes riders over 2,110 miles before the July 21 finish in Paris. The festivities begin Saturday in Corsica with an airborne display by military stunt pilots before the 198 competitors set off from Porto Vecchio to Bastia for a mostly flat stage that’s likely to end with a bunch-sprint finish. That’s if breakaway riders don’t make their mark first.
2. CORSICAN DRUTHERS: The race is visiting Corsica for the first time. The rugged Mediterranean island is known as France’s "isle of beauty" and boasts sandy beaches, white cliffs, jagged ochre-colored rock formations and forests of wild olive trees. Politically, Corsica has a nationalist streak: Low-level violence targeting symbols of the French state has been going on for years, often carried out at night -- apparently to avoid casualties.
3. THE STAGE 1 FAVORITES: Speedster Mark Cavendish -- a native of Britain’s Isle of Man who has been dubbed "The Manx Missile" -- is a favorite to win the 132-mile stage. Rivals include Germans Marcel Kittel and Andre Greipel, Slovakia’s Peter Sagan and Matt Goss of Australia. Look for overall title contenders like Britain’s Chris Froome and Alberto Contador of Spain to try to stay out of trouble in what could shape up as a frenzied finish.
4. IS THE TOUR FINALLY CLEAN?: That’s anybody’s guess. Cycling officials say they have one of the most rigorous anti-doping programs in professional sports, including a biological passport system that monitors changes in riders’ blood and a whereabouts system to keep tabs on riders both in season and out. Garmin-Sharp manager Jonathan Vaughters said Friday: "Cycling is the most rigorously tested sport in the world. We have our problems, but we work to solve them."
5. LANCE LURKING: This is the first Tour since Lance Armstrong was stripped of his record seven victories for doping. Tour tongues wagged Friday after Le Monde newspaper published an interview with the Texan -- persona non grata to many in Corsica -- in which he said he still considers himself the champion from 1999 to 2005 -- a time when he said no one could have won without doping. Jean-Rene Bernaudeau, the Europcar team manager, quipped with irony: "Pretty nice from a guy who incarnates the decade that we have to forget to lecture us. ... He better not hassle us too much: It’s horrible to hear that someone who stole glory, victories and money from us can now say, ‘You who were subjected to it, you, too, were like me."’
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