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This is what it's all about.

Tomorrow, the rubber meets the road for the first major race of the year, Het Volk. While the winter races have whet everyone's appetite, tomorrow for the first time in 2007 we will see a star-studded peloton locked in mortal combat. We will see cobbled pathways lined with throngs of fans waving all of the flags of the sport: the Lion of Flanders, il tricolore, Belgian, Dutch and maybe even Basque flags. And by see it, I mean live, as it happens.

Sure, this rite happens every year, but its significance in 2007 cannot be understated, after the winter that seemed like it might never end. For a lot of us, the Het Volk countdown served as an emotional lifeline during post after post about scandal, conflict, and mass confusion.

Even now, it seems like everything about the sport remains in horrible limbo. The cloud of doping has hardly lifted, as teams and institutions struggle to devise effective countermeasures. Over at the UCI, tweedledum keeps hurling bombs at tweedledee over whether to race most of the sport's greatest races, as if mutually assured destruction were a desirable outcome. The dispute threatens to divide teams from races, or some teams from other teams, or maybe teams from their own riders. Even our fan experience, which relies almost entirely on Cycling.TV, is still evolving. If there were a way to fast-forward two or three or five years, most Cycling fans would be sorely tempted to do so.

Which is why, more than ever, I can't wait to tiptoe down to the basement tomorrow at 5am, fire up Cycling.TV and the Podium Cafe, and live-blog Het Volk. Interestingly, February was this site's third-busiest month (after last July and Landis-gate/August) -- which says more about this being our second year, but at least suggests that the fans aren't going away. IMHO, the crises engulfing the sport make tomorrow more important, a chance to be reassured that at least one day a week my favorite sport is in full health.

Drew previewed Het Volk a few posts down, and now the big media are taking their turn. CN is up; Pez is all over it; and VN... I'm sure they have a plan.