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Le Tour '07: The Wide Open Roads

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First, I can't tell you how nice it is to blog about something other than another stage of another training race. Not exactly feeling refreshed after a jam-packed, thrilling Giro d'Italia, I have more or less had it with trying to hang with the peloton every day when, like the riders themselves, I'd rather be gearing up for the race of races. I've also had it with Cycling.TV, a vital service to the English-speaking world... but which plays on a screen that is 10% as large as I wished, when it's not disrespecting my Mac. I want a break, then I want to watch racing on the TV, with Phil and Paul, and without the broadcast competing with my blogging. Hello July!

There is much work to do in getting ready for the Tour, though it won't be easy. As noted in a column I wrote two weeks ago on the Tour's one-hit wonders, the battle for yellow will feature no past winners for the second year in a row, but for only the third time since 1988. But there's more to it than that: none of the favorites come without asterisks caveats.

Alexandre Vinokourov is an all-rounder with a history of occasionally blowing up on long climbs. Alejandro Valverde is an even better all-rounder, with a history of getting hurt, and last seen turning green in the Rhone Alps. Andreas Klöden has the best Tour track record, but is a supporting cast member on Astana. Cadel Evans, Levi Leipheimer, Denis Menchov, Carlos Sastre... all guys who had their chance last year or earlier, to no avail. Mick Rogers at least can say he hasn't had his shot yet, and maybe that's why a T-Mob win would be the best story of all.

The points competition, by comparison, is littered with distinguished characters: past winners Thor Hushovd and Robbie McEwen, past world champions Oscar Freire and Tom Boonen, and whatever you want to call Alessandro Petacchi. But Ale-Jet, after a steady, powerful romp, has struggled with his form for two seasons, as Hushovd has this year too. Freire is always either winning or hurt, usually the latter. Boonen was last seen in France talking to himself as guys like McEwen, Freire and Jimmy Casper kept taking him on the line. McEwen is has the fewest known hurdles, unless you count turning 35 and a knack for relegations.

We'll sort it all out over the next two weeks, piece by piece, and unlike the Lance years in Yellow or the Zabel years in Green, the debates probably won't end til the race does.