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Prepare for Drugs, Bikes and the Mountains: Your Tour de France Preview

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Men on bikes, drugs -- but not anymore, except yes, still pretty much on drugs -- and mountains. France porn via helicopter. Soothing dulcet tones of British announcers. Lance Armstrong. It's the Tour De France! And you probably don't care about cycling!  ↵

↵Neither do I, really, but once I became a "full time blogger" (read: "unemployed") a few years ago, I carved out the time to watch the Tour in the background as I went about the blogging. Much to my surprise, I found it somewhat interesting despite cycling's status as perhaps the most objectively boring sport you can watch. ↵

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↵Hey: men on bikes! [Four hours pass.] Yep. Still on bikes, those guys. Mostly in one big pack. ↵

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↵But when Floyd Landis shot off the front of the field a few years back and pulled off an audacious final-opportunity attack to win the tour, it was simultaneously boring as hell and riveting. (Landis immediately got suspended for doping because that's what always happens.) ↵

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↵So it's weird. Suggestion: DVR and fast forward the flat stages, watch the mountain stages in more detail, and roll with the punches when that guy who won yesterday's stage is booted for doping. It's good in the background. ↵

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↵A brief overview of what to expect this year: ↵

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↵Who's on drugs, other than everybody? Tom Boonen, the Belgian sprinter, is in trouble, but his drug of choice is a lot more fun than injecting blood cells into your veins. You see, Rudy, Boonen loves cocaine. He's tested positive for nose candy three times. Woo! He's currently out of the Tour but appealing. ↵

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↵Meanwhile, Kazakh superstar Alexander Vinokourov, dismissed from last year's tour in shame, remains suspended until late July. A bunch of other minor guys are also out, FWIW, but those are the main two. ↵

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↵Who's going to win? The European bookies have Alberto Contador, the Spanish guy who won in 2007, a heavy favorite. In a 180-person race, Contador comes in at 1 to 1 on most sites. The rest of a rough top five: Lance Armstrong, who you may have heard of, Andy Schleck, Cadel Evans and Denis Menchov. ↵

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↵Awkwardly, Contador and Armstrong are on the same team. Normally, each team will have one guy they back for the yellow jersey, and the other guys will ride in support of the leader by pacing him, shielding him from the wind, and whatnot. At some point in every Tour there's a showdown on a mountain-goat worthy climb where the big men of the tour attempt to break each other with repeated accelerations. Teammates aren't supposed to do that to each other, but Armstrong didn't come back to finish second. He's kind of a ... well ... he's very headstrong, let's say. ↵

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↵If Contador and Armstrong are locked in heated competition, it could come down to accusations of betrayal and hatred and all that, which would recall one of the most famous Tours in history. In 1986, teammates Bernard Hinault and Greg Lemond finished 1-2. It would also be great fun, for a given definition of fun. ↵

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↵WTF is up with that team, anyway? Yes, the Contador-Armstrong team is "Astana," which happens to be the capital of Kazakhstan, which is a really weird thing a team to be named. Title sponsors are usually companies in search of branding exposure. Astana is a city, and presumably does not need to advertise. ↵

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↵So what happened? Well, once Vinokourov started ascending towards the top of the cycling world, he instantly became the only famous Kazakh not named Borat, so a bunch of "powerful political and economic interests" over there banded together to create a team designed to get Vinokourov a TDF win. Vinokourov, of course, immediately got suspended for doping because that's what always happens. ↵

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↵When should you bother watching? You want mountain stages, when everyone drops like flies and you get to watch four hours of pure misery from the comfort of your couch. Time trials turn out to be critical but are just sinfully, painfully boring even by the high standards for boredom set by cycling. ↵

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↵You want July 10, 11, 12, 17, 19, and 21 for the big mountain stages, and then there's an unusually late big hilltop finish on the penultimate stage on July 25 that will be for all the marbles. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.