Tour de France

100th TDF underway

2013-06-29 12:21
Tour de France (File)

Bastia - The 100th edition of the Tour de France started in blazing sunshine in Corsica on Saturday, with the first stage a 213km ride up the Mediterranean island's east coast from Porto-Vecchio to Bastia.

It is the first of three stages to take place on the island, which had never previously welcomed the sport's most famous race, first run back in 1903.

To celebrate reaching 100 editions, the entirety of this year's Tour is taking place on French territory, something which has not happened since 2003.

It is hard to believe that the race's organisers could come up with new ideas for the Tour, but the first visit to Corsica has also seen them set up headquarters on a ferry for the days before the return to the French mainland at Nice next Tuesday.

The huge vessel towered over the small harbour in Porto-Vecchio before setting sail for the first-stage finish line in Bastia overnight on Friday.

Anticipation has been building all week on Corsica, in particular in the idyllic town of Porto-Vecchio in the south-east of the island which hosted the Grand Depart.

The Acrobatic Patrol of the French Air Force flew over the bay at Porto-Vecchio as excited crowds gathered to see off the 198 riders from 22 different teams, while excitement slowly grew up the coast in Bastia, which was due to welcome the leading members of the peloton around 1700 local time (1500 GMT).

In a bid to start the race with a bang, Tour organisers have done away with the prologue for this year's race, something which had become the tradition in recent years.

The ride down the coast to Bonifacio and then back up to Bastia is set up for a sprint finish, and Britain's sprint king Mark Cavendish, 23 times a Tour stage winner, is hoping to triumph and get his hands on the overall leader's yellow jersey for the first time in his career.

If he does so, he is unlikely to hold the famous shirt for more than 24 hours, with a ride across the rugged interior of the island to Ajaccio lying in wait on Sunday.

This year's race is the first since the Lance Armstrong doping scandal, which cast a long shadow over a sport which had already endured a troubled recent past.

Indeed, no matter how hard cycling tries to rid itself of the spectre of doping, it never seems to go away.

Friday's build-up to the start of the race was overshadowed by an interview given by Armstrong to French daily Le Monde, in which he said it was "impossible" to win the Tour without doping.

That sparked an outcry from riders including 2011 Tour winner Cadel Evans, who insisted that he was "proof that that is not true," while UCI president Pat McQuaid accused Armstrong of attacking the Tour de France, before the American himself sought to clarify that his claims only applied to the period in which he dominated the sport.

It remains to be seen whether doping will play a role over the next three weeks, but it is hoped that the focus will be purely on cycling ahead of what promises to be a spectacular race, concluding with a first-ever night-time finish on the Champs Elysees in Paris on July 21.

With Bradley Wiggins missing due to injury, the outstanding favourite to win the 2013 Tour is his fellow-Briton and Team Sky colleague, Chris Froome.

It seems as if he has been the focus of more attention than all the other 197 riders combined in the days leading up to the start.

"I feel like I'm in super condition," said Froome ahead of the race. Favourite he may be, but the Champs Elysees is a long way away from idyllic Corsica, and he still has it all to do to justify the expectations.

Read more on:    tdf  |  cycling

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