TV screen showing 2005 Tour de France

Time does fly. It seems like only yesterday that the Spring 2005 catalog from World Cycling Productions arrived in my mailbox. Now, already, the Tour de France is about to begin once again.

Over three weeks, the toughest cyclists in the world will ride 21 stages across France, this year beginning in Vendée on France’s west coast with a time trail on the island of Noirmoutier on Saturday (July 2), then crossing the country day by day east to Germany and Alsace, south into the French mountain ranges — the Vosges and the Alps — and back west through the Pyrenees. The journey finishes in Paris on the Champs-Elysees on Sunday, July 24.

OLN (Outdoor Life Network, Channel 68 on Time Warner cable here in Kenosha) is where you’ll find TV coverage of the Tour. OLN’s coverage of the race, Stage 1, first airs Saturday morning at 7:30 a.m. and then repeats at 1:30, 4:00, 7:00, and 11:00. OLN will follow a fairly similar schedule each day for the three weeks, giving anyone who’s interested plenty of chances to see the most beautiful and inspiring epic in sports.

CBS Sports presents a one-hour summary of the race at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday, July 10 at 2:00 p.m. (Central time), another on Sunday, July 17 at 4:00 p.m., and their finale on Sunday, July 24 at 1:00 p.m. The CBS coverage typically features lots of artistic panoramas of mountains and sunflower fields set to the poetic insights of Armen Keteyian. It’s a picture postcard intercut with brief highlights from the stages, a great introduction for viewers unfamiliar with the event.

OLN, on the other hand, is for sports fans. It’s home to Bob Roll, a charming goofball of a cycling analyst, plus the expert British team of Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen. Phil Ligget is the dean of cycling announcers, every bit as masterful as baseball’s Vin Scully (check out this Phil Liggett fan page and sign up for Phil’s daily reports), and seven-time Tour competitor Paul Sherwen is Phil’s perfect complement. It’s going to be fun to have these friends back in my living room for three weeks.

This Tour, of course, is said to be the last for Lance Armstrong, riding this year with the Discovery Channel team (meaning even more TV coverage, including some in HD). I first saw Lance race here in Kenosha, in our “Food Folks and Spokes” stage of Superweek. That was in July 1996, just before he was diagnosed with cancer. It’s astounding to think about the life he has led over just nine years. It would be a thrill to see him win a seventh Tour de France, but he has proven everything already.

If you’ve never seen the Tour before, be sure to catch it this year. I have a feeling that coverage in the USA may be scaled back after Lance hangs it up.

Between the physical demands of riding over 100 miles per day (much of it up and down mountains), the strategic jockeying by men and teams for placement and points, the hair-raising downhill mountain turns, the wild sprints to the finish line each day, the wind and the rain, the heat and the cold, the crazed and dangerous fans, the precision technology, the physical and medical science, the French countryside, the Alps, the villages, the glorious final Sunday laps in Paris — it’s the best event in sports.

Plus, it’s a sport that you probably can do. You may not be able to dunk a basketball or absorb a hit from a 300-pound linebacker, but most likely you can get on a bike and ride a mile. Or two. Or ten.

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