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Le Tour is the world's largest annual sporting event and 2004 sees the running of its 91st edition. It began in France in 1903 and has run almost every year since (exceptions being during war-time periods). The tour runs over a couple of weeks and typically covers thousands of kilometers often crossing into neihbouring countries like Germany, Spain, Italy and Belgium (where the first three stages are this year)

I first got into cycling in the late 80's after competing (very casually) for a few years in triathlon. I realised that cycling was the event I enjoyed the most and found myself hooked after following the exploits of legends like american Greg Lemond and the great spanish rider Miguel Indurain. While living in the UK I even managed to watch a couple of live stages of Le Tour and seeing these legends in action was pretty friggin amazing.

These days I'm finding it a bit harder to combine drinking AND exercising so have retired to the lounge-room as far as cycling goes, and at this time of the year you better watch out if you've got a Sky subscription coz I'll probably be round at your house with a case of Stella at about 7:30pm each night.

2004 Route Stats:

Rider Stats:

A 188-strong peloton composed of riders from 27 different countries. France is highest represented country with 40 riders, Spain and Italy come next with 31 and 30 riders each, then Germany (15) and Australia (10). The Netherlands (8), Belgium (7), USA (7), Russia (6) and Switzerland (6) round out the top 10. Oh yeah, and one Kiwi of course in the form of Julian Dean (ex team-mate of Lance Armstrong's) who has made a good recovery from a crash in May that broke both his elbows.

The Competition

Pretty much everyone knows something about a mystery Yellow Jersey having something to do with the tour, and it is the major individual competition, but there are number of others, the two most important being the Green Points jersey and the Polka-dot king-of-the-moutains jersey.

So, who's in the running this year?....

Yellow Jersey (maillot jaune)

awarded to the rider who finishes the tour with the lowest overall time after their times for each of the individual stages are added together. The thing people often find suprising is that the tour winner may not win many individual stages at all, they just finish consistantly well.

Its no suprise that Press and Rider favourite this year is Lance Armstrong (with 5 consecutive victories), likely rivals are Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile, past winner and last years runner-up), Tyler Hamilton (Phonak, 4th last year), Haimar Zubeldia, Iban Mayo (both Euskaltel) and Ivan Basso (Team CSC) who were 5th, 6th and 7th respectively last year.

Vinokourov is out (after a crash in Switzerland) and other big names like David Millar (O'Gradys Cofidis teammate), Danilo Di Luca and Cédric Vasseuer are all out following EPO use investigations. Another outside chance winner is Gilberto Simoni (winner of the Tour of Italy)

Green Jersey (maillot vert)

awarded to the person who finishes most consistantly near the front on each days racing. Points are awarded for the first twenty or so riders accross the line. The Yellow Jersey wearer is often not at the front so may not accumulate these points

Defending green jersey champion Australian Baden Cooke ( concedes he's facing arguably the greatest number of in-form rivals all vying for a piece of the maillot vert for more than a decade.

Rivals include fellow Australians Robbie Mc Ewen (Lotto-Domo, 2nd in Green competition last year) and Stuart O'Grady (Cofidis). The powerful Norwegian Thor Hushovd and even long time (ie longish in the tooth) sprint aces Mario Cipollini (Domina Vacanze) and Erik Zabel (T-Mobile Team). The man most feared though is probably the Italian Alessandro "Ale-Jet" Petacchi, who equalled and then shattered the post-WWII record of seven stage victories in a single Giro d'Italia by winning nine out of twenty stages.

Mountains Jersey:

the king-of-the-mountains (KOM) polka-dot jersey is awarded to the rider who finishes consistantly near the front as the riders crest each of the special mountain top locations during stages, with points being allocated depending on the toughness of the climb. The KOM may not finish the stage in the front (unless of course its a mountain-top finish)

The K.O.M. winner in 2003 was Frenchman Richard Virenque who has won the competition an impressive 5 times. Virenque is slated as potential winner once again this year along with other mountain-goats like Santiago Botero.

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