The 2011 Tour de France got underway over the weekend, much to the delight of cycling fans across the globe. If you’ve been watching the race thus far, you probably already know that the course has been well designed this year to add a lot more excitement to the race early on, and changes to the point system have made for some interesting duels out on the road already, as every Sprint and Climb point is now very important.
The early stages of the race are often designed for the sprinters to strut their stuff, but this year the course designers have added a few smaller climbs to the mix, which has made for a more interesting start. Two of the four stages have already had hilltop finishes, which has made the top contenders of the General Classification pay more attention and stay closer to the front of the Peloton. The sprinters have had their fun as well, but have only had a single sprint finish thus far, which will change over the next few days.
The race kicked off on Saturday, when Belgian rider Philippe Gilbert, who has been having an amazing season, took the win in Stage 1, pulling away from the crowd on a climb to cross the finish line in front. His stay in the Yellow Jersey was a short one however, as on Sunday the Team Garmin – Cervelo won the Team Time Trial, putting their man Thor Hushovd in Yellow. The god of thunder continues to wear the leader’s jersey after successfully defending it out on the road over Stages 3 and 4 as well.
Yesterday, the battle for the Green Jersey heated up, with the sprinters taking center stage. There were plenty of points to be earned out on the road and at the end of the day, it was Jose Rojas of Spain who grabbed the lead in that competition. The stage win went to American Tyler Farrar however, who looks to have taken the label of “promising” off his back and is now a serious contender in all of the sprints. At the moment, Mark Cavendish, who is one of the top sprinters in the world, is strangely absent from the competition for Green.
The Polka Dot Jersey, awarded to the top climber, now rests on the shoulders of Cadel Evans after he claimed a huge stage win today, edging out defending champ Alberto Contador at the line. This is Cadel’s first stage win ever in the Tour de France and shows that he is in fine form for this year’s race. He has been amongst the top contenders for several years, but has not had luck always go his way.
The biggest news thus far is the position of Alberto Contador, widely considered the run away favorite to win the race once again this year. Over the weekend, Contador found himself blocked by a massive crash out on the road which cost him 1:20 in time to his main rivals, namely Evans and Andy Schleck, who has finished second to Contador the past two years. The Spanish rider tried to make up time on the final climb of today’s stage, but ended up gaining nothing and looked rather gassed in the process. He’s already in a deep hole, which should lead to some big risks and great head-to-head battles in the days to come.
The next few stages are definitely designed for the sprinters, which means that it is likely that Thor Hushovd will stay in Yellow for a couple of more days. He holds just a one second lead over Cadel Evans, and was expected to surrender the Jersey today, but an inspired ride kept him in contact with the leaders. It is likely that he’ll now stay in Yellow until Saturday, when Stage 8 takes the riders into the Pyrenees for the first time.
The only other jersey in play is the White Jersey, which goes to the best young rider on the Tour. At the moment, that is Thomas Geraint of the U.K. Geraint rides for Sky Procycling, which has a number of good young riders on the squad.
Stay tuned for daily updates on the race. The first few days have been good ones, and if it continues like this, we’re in for a classic Tour it seems.
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