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Who, What, Where To Watch

July 03, 2009|Diane Pucin

What is it

The 96th Tour de France cycling race, 2,175 miles beginning in Monaco on Saturday and ending in Paris on July 26, making a counter-clockwise trip through France.

Stages

There are 21 daily stages, including 10 flat stages, seven mountain stages, one medium mountain stage, two individual time trials (Saturday in Monaco, July 23 in Annecy), and one team time trial (Tuesday, Montpellier).

Key stages to watch will be three Pyrenees stages July 10, 11 and 12; Alps mountain stages July 19, 20 and 22; and the penultimate climb July 25 up legendary Mont Ventoux, a steep, rocky and potentially hot finish.

Last year's winner

Carlos Sastre became the third consecutive Spanish winner (following Oscar Pereiro in 2006 and Alberto Contador in 2007).

Top five riders to watch

Contador of the Astana team, who is especially hungry because he was unable to defend his 2007 title when his team was barred from the 2008 race because of past doping issues; Contador's Astana teammate and seven-time Tour winner Lance Armstrong; Saxo Bank rider and good mountain climber Andy Schleck of Luxembourg; consistent stage racer, Russian Denis Menchov of Rabobank; two-time Tour runner-up Cadel Evans, an Aussie who rides for Silence-Lotto.

What about Lance?

Armstrong has been downplaying his chances in his Tour comeback, citing an unexpected injury (broken collarbone last winter) and the fact that at age 37 and after four years away from his last Tour victory, dominance is no longer likely or expected. His toughest competition (Contador) is on his team so Armstrong isn't even guaranteed to be his team leader.

Fun facts

California-based Team Columbia-HTC's charismatic young sprinter Mark Cavendish brashly, and wisely, calls himself the fastest racer in the world. He won four sprint stages last year, becoming the first British racer to win so many Tour stages and he'd like to top that this year.

There are seven Americans expected to be among the 189 racers on 21 teams: Christian Vande Velde, Dave Zabriskie, Danny Pate and Tyler Farrar from Garmin-Slipstream; Levi Leipheimer and Armstrong from Astana; and George Hincapie from Columbia-HTC.

Television

The Versus cable network will offer live daily coverage beginning at between 5:30 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. PDT, as well as nightly recap shows from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Commentators include Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen.

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diane.pucin@latimes.com

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