Tour de France. Awesome birthday gets extra awesome-ness.

 

Happy birthday TDF

On fait la boum, mes amis! The 100th birthday édition of Le Tour de France is shaping up to be a tres awesome party because the guest is so good and just got better.

Thanks to his mystery ailment and subsequent exit from the Giro d’Italia, Ryder Hesjedal now resets his major goal of the season and it’s Le Grand Shindig that kicks off in Corsica.

This means Garmin-Sharp will have Hesjedal as a serious GC threat with Pitbull Andrew Talansky ready to stir things up and create some strategic mayhem. Team boss Jonathan Vaughters will bring a powerhouse squad and his usual sartorial flair to the party. Look for JV to honor the race with some dazzling new apparel and footwear.

That’s just one of many exciting events because we also have Bradley Wiggins of Team Sky. The Brit promises to enliven the festivities with his biting wit and media distain but mostly his note-perfect Bernard Hinault imitation as he attempts to usurp teammate Chris Froome as team captain.

The reigning Tour de France champion will arrive in Corsica after a flame out in the Giro d’Italia thanks to illness, miserable weather and even worse descending skills.

He’s banking on sunnier weather in July and that a knighthood trumps any case Froome can muster for who’s top dog. Control freak and analytics junkie David Brailsford has himself a flesh-and-blood drama that could rip his team apart. Psychological counseling may be required and our guess is that Wiggins and Froome will stay at separate hotels.

These two stories alone should make the 100th Tour a memorable show in more ways than one. We’ve got anger, betrayal, disappointment and revenge to go along with the birthday candles and balloons and sassy French podium girls.

We haven’t even addressed the other delicious and spicy story on the horizon: the Cadel Evans and Tejay van Garderen narrative that’s picking up steam. Old man Evans is riding surprisingly strong in the Giro while young Tejay knocked monkey from back with his first overall stage victory in California.

The road will decide, right? But in the meantime, we can watch team boss Jim Ochowicz and DS John LeLangue play a delicate game of diplomacy with their two stars. This drama will be a daily episode in Le Tour.

Fact is, it doesn’t hurt to have two riders capable of a podium in the biggest, grandest and most beautiful race on the calendar. You just have to have the skills of a UN negotiator to deftly juggle the egos and agendas. As my screenwriting instructor liked to say, “no small task.”

In all this sound and fury on the way to Paris, let’s not forget birthday invitee Alberto Contador. The Spaniard can’t wait to attack the tour after three years of major disappointment. The UCI stripped his 201o Tour title, in 2011 he was too exhausted from his Giro win to be a factor and in 2012 he was still under suspension for his steak con clenbuterol doping positive. El Pistolero has witnessed the Sky juggernaut and it’s just the kind of challenge he and team boss Bjarne Riis will relish.

The guest list at this birthday party is A-list and high wattage: Wiggins and Froome, Evans and Van Garderen and Alberto Contador and his old buddy. That’s right, we’re talking about Andy Schleck, the rider who inherited Contador’s 2010 Tour title.

Schleck put in an excellent block of racing at a demanding Tour of California. He’s finally back on track and he’s proven several times how quickly he can round into form in late May and June. Nobody expects Schleck to get too close to the podium but might Contador find an ally from Luxembourg on one of the tough climbs in the Alps or Pyrenees? Another possible birthday gift.

That would be plenty of thrills and chills for most stage races but the birthday edition will also feature the last year’s number one ranked rider Joaquim Rodriguez on the Russian Katusha squad.

He’s built his entire season around a podium shot and the route this year suits his abilities as a top climber. He is motivated and hungry to go for the overall after last season’s second place in the Giro and third in the Vuelta.

The pocket rocket is just the kind of rider who makes Sky nervous because they never know when he might attack. He defies logic, the script, the plotted variables in the Sky master plan. The fact that he’s a good friend of Contador makes the possibility of an alliance in the mountains a distinct possibility.

Finally, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde. Okay, we did that. The convicted doper will again bring his climbing talents and skilled race tactics to France.

There’s no avoiding Valverde and if you like dramatic casting then having the old Operacion Puerto guy making noise on the climbs is a good thing. Valverde provides the dissonant note, the dark lining, the razor blade hidden in the apple.

All in all, the 100th edition of Le Tour de France promises to be a fantastic party. There will be a fireworks show on the final evening in Paris and fireworks from kilometer zero in Corsica. On fait la fete!

 

 

 

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