The 99th rolling of Le Grande Boucle, a.k.a. Le Tour de France, the world's most preeminent bike race, makes it annual grande depart this Saturday, June 30, from one of the great cycling towns in Europe - Liege, Belgium.
Americans will once again be able to enjoy the 21 days of non-stop racing coverage from the comfort of their living room, although any good cyclist will be straddled upon their trusty steed spinning on a trainer as the pros traverse the flats, hills and mountains of France while the dulcet tones of announcers Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen call the action on the roads.
As with years past, each stage will be televised live and then replayed each day at least four times to make sure none of us miss a pedal turned.
NBC Sports Network (DirecTV channel 603, Cox channel 69/1069, CenturyLink channel 36) is the place to find the tour and its accompanying array of endless ads, hopefully lighter on the erectile drug variety.
Defending champion Cadel Evans from Australia returns to try and claim title number two, but will be facing a field missing two of the regular favorites from the past five years. Spaniard Alberto Contador is still sitting out a drug suspension (warning - stay away from steak while racing in France) and Luxembourg's Andy Schleck is sidelined with a fractured pelvis (umm, ouch). Competition for the coveted Maillot Jaune or Yellow Jersey will instead come from Brit Bradley Wiggins, German Tony Martin, Italy's Vicenzo Nibali and Americans Chris Horner and Levi Leiphimer.
One big difference from previous years is the amount of time trial kilometers this year's tour features. In addition to the customary opening prologue time trial, two other longer races of truth are offered including a decisive 33 mile stage on the tour's penultimate day. Most experts think these long races that pit each rider against the clock will almost negate the mountain stages and present a winner such as Wiggins or Martin, both time trial experts.
Another wild card thrown into this year's race is the fact that the Olympics are just one week after the tour and that many of the riders may hold something back in order to go for Olympic gold instead of tour yellow. With the Olympics in London, look for Wiggins and fellow Brit Mark Cavendish to ease off during the final week if an overall result is not within reach.
Wiggins is a hot pick by many for the overall win this year, but because of the Olympics, a couple of hugely challenging mountain stages and the fact that his Team Sky is split between himself and Cavendish, the Cycle prognosticating team (of one) is going to stick with Evans for the overall win with Martin and Horner rounding out the podium.
But the big name to watch this year is Slovakian Peter Sagan. This 22-year old phenom has been tearing up the pro peloton all year and is carrying crazy form into the Tour after winning five of eight stages of the recent Tour of California. If he doesn't walk away with the green jersey for best sprinter it will be a shock.
Some of the key stages to make sure the DVR is set to record include Stage 1 (July 1 - a rolling course built for a breakaway that will be caught in the end as the finish is at the top of a short but steep climb), Stage 9 (July 9 - the first time trial that will set the peloton's pecking order for the remainder of the race), Stage 11 (July 12 - a classic tour mountain stage with three insane, long climbs including a mountaintop finish), Stage 16 (July 18 - the last chance for the climbers to get big time over Evans and Wiggins), and Stage 19 (July 21 - the final, long time trial that will see if the time trialists finally beat out the climbers for overall victory).
But even for the most ardent of cycling fanatic, the tour can begin to grind on, especially during those mid-tour flat stages where the group meanders through fields and past medieval castles while we sit and wait for a final sprint to decide the day's victor. So, back to the rescue comes the Tour de France Drinking Game!
As like last year, before pouring keep in mind a few things: it's not the best idea to start a hot Arizona summer day pounding booze, so choose your beverages carefully if you're playing during the live version before work, and alcohol is a calorie horse and not an ideal fitness companion when trying to stay lean like the pros. That being said, here are the rules to the 2012 Tour de France Drinking Game presented by Cycle and powered by Jackalope Ranch:
• Each time Phil Liggett says a rider is "reaching into his suitcase of courage", take a drink.
• Each time Paul Sherwen says "The elastic has snapped!", open a new bottle, fill everyone's glass and take a drink.
• Each time Liggett or Sherwen corrects the other on some incorrect fact or observation, take a drink.
• Each time Bob Roll says "Tour-Day-France", feel ashamed to be an American and take a drink.
• Each time Liggett or Sherwen remark on the riders taking a "nature break", go ahead and take one yourself.
• Every time you see the Clean Bottle, go and wash all drinking vessels.
• Every time you see a rider toss a bottle to the side of the road, throw away all empties.
• Every time you see a rider go back to his team car and load his jersey up with bottles for his team, make a run to the fridge for the room.
• Every time there is a crash, pour a shot, add five drops of Tobasco and down it.
• If Peter Sagan wins a sprint, the youngest person watching must look unimpressed while all others must slam what's left.
• If Mark Cavendish wins a sprint, the loudest person watching must slam what's left and hugs everyone in the room.
• If a cyclist from France wins Stage 14, on Bastille Day, go buy a bottle of wine from the Rhone region to consume during the day's next stage.
• If a cyclist from Belgium wins a stage go buy a bottle of Le Chouffe, one of the world's greatest beers, to consume during the next day's stage.
• If Cadel Evans attacks the peloton to win a stage, drink a full can of Fosters and have your dog bite the nearest reporter.
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Now you should be plenty hydrated so go out and ride.