» Sport ¦ What You Can Get Away With

Eight months before Le Grand Depart in Corsica, we now know the full route for the 2013 Tour de France. It’s the 100th Tour, and the organisers have clearly set out to make it a memorable one.

It follows the approach the Tour organisers have taken a lot in recent years of letting the action of the race reach a crescendo in the final week, with the first two weeks as a steady build up to the finale. There’ll be lots of dramatic images in the first two weeks, but a lot of that will cover for the main contenders waiting in the pack, conserving as much energy as possible for the Alps.

The start in Corsica will be the first time the Tour has visited the island (meaning all of European France will now have been visited by the race) and the opening stage is designed to end in a sprint finish. Of course, a break could get clear, but it looks likely that it’ll be the first opportunity to see Omega Pharma-Quick Step working for Mark Cavendish in the Tour as he attempts to shed the record of having the most Tour stage wins without ever wearing the yellow jersey.

Unlike last year, the wearer of the maillot jaune could change a lot over the first week. The next two stages in Corsica provide opportunities for breaks to get clear over the mountains, and then the Team Time Trial in Nice will shake the order up again. If the favourites keep their powder dry in the Pyrenees at the end of week one, then there’s a chance for a climber to get away and put themselves into yellow for a day or two. The big names will be able to hide in the shadows until midway through week 2, when the first individual time trial arrives on the road to Mont Saint Michel.

After that, the Tour really picks up as it heads south towards the Alps. Bastille Day will be a monster for the riders – a 242km stage over bumpy terrain but with only one categorised climb: Mont Ventoux. Because after five hours of riding, your day’s not complete without going up one of the Tour’s legendary climbs, is it? With a rest day following, this is where the big names are going to be duelling each other to the top. A hilly time trial a couple of days after that will shake up the order some more, before we come to the undisputed queen stage of the 100th Tour.

There were lots of rumours floating around about the 2013 race going up Alpe D’Huez twice to mark the 100th Tour on its most iconic climb. I heard suggestions that it would be part of two different stages, that one climb would be a time trial, even that there’d be a descent of it, but I definitely wasn’t expecting it to be climbed twice in one stage. Expect lots of shots of anguished riders getting to the top at the end of the first climb and realising they’ve got to do it again. I’ve already made sure my diary’s clear for the 18th July next year, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the camper vans are heading there now to ensure they get a good spot.

There’s still more climbing for two days after that, and it’s possible that the race could be decided on the climb to Annecy Semnoz on the final Saturday. It’s a new climb and a new stage finish location, which means the roads round there will be packed full of pro cyclists on scouting missions next spring.

The riders get a few hours longer to recover before the final stage into Paris, though. They’re departing from Versailles and passing through the gardens of the palace on their way to the Champs-Elysees, but it’ll be as the sun is getting low in the sky. For what I believe is the first time since the finish switched to the Champs-Elysees, it’ll be an evening finish with the final sprint expected to take place at sunset (around 2145 local time, 2045 UK time). It’s almost as if they asked what could be a better backdrop for the finale than Paris, and realised the only possible answer was Paris at night. Or maybe hoteliers want to ensure that people coming for the finish stay for the night, rather than getting the evening Eurostars and TGVs back home.

The big question, of course, is who’s going to win it? There’s great anticipation about Wiggins getting the chance to take on Contador and Schleck, but he’s also talked about attempting the Giro/Vuelta double next year and leaving the Tour to Chris Froome. As the course looks nicely balanced between time trialling and climbing – with the prospect of climbers having to attack on the last few stages to claw back time lost in the TTs – it does look very open. Will Nibali centre his season around it again, or will he switch back to targeting the Giro? How much will the young challengers – Van Garderen, Rolland and Pinot – have improved over the winter?

Whoever gets to wear yellow in Paris, it looks like it’ll be a fantastic race and hopefully will the spectacle and drama the Tour needs to remind people that cycling has always been about more than just Lance Armstrong.

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Back in January 2011, I looked at what would have happened if cricket’s Ashes weren’t restricted to being won by Australia and England. As much cricket has been played since that time, I thought it was time for an update to see what had happened since then.

At that point, India held the Ashes, holding them after a drawn series with South Africa. Their next series was in summer 2011, when they visited England, and lost 4-0, thus handing the Ashes back to England.

England, however, weren’t able to hold onto the Ashes very long, and lost them 3-0 to Pakistan in their first series. I believe this is the first time the Ashes changed hands outside a Test-playing country, as the series was held in the neutral territory of the UAE.

Pakistan also failed to keep a grip on the Ashes, travelling to Sri Lanka and losing the series there 1-0. Sri Lanka remain the holders of the Ashes, and will make their first defence of them against New Zealand at home in Novemeber.

Following that, the alternative Ashes will next be up for grabs in the Australia-Sri Lanka series around New Year, or in England’s visit to New Zealand in early 2013.

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So, unless they suddenly remember a third set of sporting events they’d agreed to hold in London this year, that’s it for the 2012 Games. There’s been a lot of talk about how we can carry forward all the good feeling and the spirit of the Games, but rather than go into a general ‘why the Olympics and Paralympics prove we must support my politics‘ piece I wanted to look at sport on TV, following on from this post I wrote during the Olympics about BBC Sport.

I was prompted into it by noticing that while Channel 4’s coverage of the Paralympics was excellent, the only mention of sport on C4 in the future was all the horse racing coverage they have coming up in the next year. As with the Olympic sports, there’s been lots of talk about how exciting and interesting the Paralympic sports have been to watch, but few moves to bring them to the viewing public. Yes, people could get up off their couches to watch it live, but not everyone has what they want to see available on the doorstep, or the means to travel and see it.

The point I’m ambling towards is that this summer has shown that not only are there great athletes competing in a huge variety of sports, but that there’s an audience that wants to watch them. Surely it’s not beyond the wit of the TV companies to realise that and bring it to our screens? It doesn’t have to be the huge sporting glut of the last month – though I expect sports channel viewing figures to go up as people avoid going cold turkey with their viewing habits – but a return of something like Grandstand or World Of Sport. Rather than shunting each sport off into a separate programme, have something that shows everything, that – like the Games did – can surprise you by introducing you to something fascinating that you’ve never seen before.

Rather than the absurdity of watching men watching football on screens we’re not allowed to see and shouting the score, why not give the public actual sport, played by a wide range of people?

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It’s all still ongoing, but I wanted to set these down before I forget them.

First, the Olympics Live red button coverage has been great. Just getting to flick through and watch everything that’s going on live, without someone deciding what we should be watching is a whole new way to watch sport. So why not continue this after the Olympics? Every weekend, there’s lots of sport going on across the country – and further afield – so why not make the live coverage (there doesn’t have to be commentary) available? They could even rebrand the multiple feeds as a revival of Grandstand, which always had the aim of showing viewers a range of different sports in an afternoon.

Second, should BBC Sport introduce a system of parity for men’s and women’s sports? Not just in terms of one-off events, but as a culture – if Football Focus and Match Of The Day are concentrating on the Premier League, then there should be equivalent programmes covering the Women’s Super League, for instance. There have been lots of laments recently about there not being enough live sport to cover because Sky have bought it all up, but that only seems to apply to the men’s versions of them – why shouldn’t the national broadcaster focus on the sport played by the majority of the population instead?

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Wiggins, Froome, Cavendish, Boasson Hagen, Eisel, Rogers, Porte, Knees, Sivtsov. Just as dedicated football fans like to recite the England team that won the 1966 World Cup, in years to come those nine names will show you know your cycling history and can name the team that rode Bradley Wiggins to Tour de France glory.

And in the spirit of professional cyclists for over a century, they’re already focusing on their next race. For Wiggins and Froome, that means riding in support of Cavendish in the Olympic road race on Saturday, then trying to repeat some of their feats of the last few weeks in the time trial next Wednesday. Others will be there – notably Edvald Boasson Hagen trying to get one over his team mates – and the road race especially will be an interesting tactical battle.

Crossing the line on the Champs-Elysees also signals the start of professional cycling’s summer silly season. Under UCI rules, no contracts can officially be signed until September, but that hasn’t stopped the rumours starting as riders who’ve shone in the Tour look to cash in on their moment in the sun. Vincenzo Nibali is reportedly off to Astana, with Roman Kreuziger making way for him by moving to Saxo Tinkoff. RadioShack-Nissan-Trek appears to be on the brink of collapse which raises the prospect of just where their riders will go next year and which team might step up to take their place on the World Tour (my guess would be Europcar).

There are also rumours about some Sky riders as well – as has been pointed out, many of their riders would be leaders at other teams, and some may want to take that opportunity. Lots of teams are showing interest in Chris Froome, though Sky aren’t showing any desire to release him from his contract. Conversely, Dave Brailsford has said that Mark Cavendish can leave if he finds a team that will focus on him and sprint victories in a way that Sky won’t. My guess would be that he’ll end up at either Omega Pharma-Quick Step or Orica-GreenEdge, assuming either of them can afford him.

After the Olympics, it’s the third Grand Tour of the season, and there’ll be a lot of attention on this year’s Vuelta a Espana. It’s the return of Alberto Contador to competition after his doping ban as well as (hopefully) Andy Schleck’s return from the injury that kept him from the Tour and Joaquim Rodriguez’s attempt to win a Grand Tour after Ryder Hesjedal pipped him to the pink jersey in Italy. On top of that, Chris Froome has already said he’ll be riding it, presumably as Sky’s leader, which makes you wonder if after waiting 109 years for a British Grand Tour victory, two will come along at once.

As an interesting aside, the last seven Grand Tours – from Andy Schleck’s 2010 Tour victory through to Wiggins yesterday – have all gone to first-time winners, though part of that was caused by Contador being stripped of the 2010 Tour and 2011 Giro as part of his ban.

Wiggins doesn’t appear to be riding the Vuelta this year, which does raise the prospect of him riding the Tour of Britain, which could turn into a very long victory parade. However, that would suit British Cycling very nicely, as the increased public interest in professional cycling in the UK could (and probably should) result in a lot more interest from sponsors and investors. In my opinion, one of the important tasks now is to try and boost all the levels of professional cycling in this country, be it looking at ways to get a one-day World Tour race in Britain or getting more backing for the smaller teams to help them step up a level. For instance, it’d be great to see Endura Racing having the finance to be able to move up to the Professional Continental level.

By the way, I won’t be writing about the Vuelta as I did the Tour because I’m away for part of it. However, I expect it will get a lot more coverage in the British press than it’s had before. ITV4 took the risk of showing a lot of coverage of it last year, and I’d expect they’ll be doing the same again this year.

Thanks to those of you who’ve read my ramblings about the Tour this year, and see you all next year for the 100th edition. All we know about it so far is that it starts in Corsica with three road stages, followed by a team time trial in Nice. The rest will be announced in October, but expect the 100th edition to contain a lot of legendary stage locations. At the very least, I would expect the Tourmalet, Alpe D’Huez and Mont Ventoux to make an appearance. I’m getting excited already…just 342 days to go.

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And so it all comes to an end for another year. For once, the final time trial wasn’t critical to the final result, merely a final exclamation mark added on the end of what’s been a pretty emphatic victory. Wiggins has continually referenced Miguel Indurain as his hero, and this has been a very Indurain-esque victory. Wiggins has blown away the competition in the time trials, and then dared them to try and attack him in the mountains, riding down anyone who tried. It’s been a Tour of brutal efficiency rather than style and panache, but there are many ways to win a Tour and Wiggins chose the one that suited him best.

There wasn’t a major shake up of the finishing order yesterday, mostly a stretching of some of the gaps, but we did witness one sad moment as Cadel Evans slipped down another place and was caught on the road by Tejay Van Garderen. All that scene needed to be complete was for Evans to have some symbol of the BMC team leadership to hand off to Van Garderen as he passed. I hope that’s not the last we see of Evans at the Tour, as it would be sad to see that as our last memory of the champion, and I hope he comes back to support Van Garderen next year.

I’ll have a proper look back at the Tour tomorrow, but as well as Van Garderen and Wiggins, the other two jersey winners have to be noted on the final day. Peter Sagan has had an incredible impact on cycling in the last year, and the green jersey is likely to be the first of many major prizes he’ll win. The question that’s still hanging is whether he can become a Grand Tour GC contender in years to come, but I think we’ve got a few years of him demolishing sprints and winning classics before then.

Thomas Voeckler’s King of the Mountains win has been conducted in traditional Voeckler style – with a face that could take part in professional gurning championships and an ability to break, and then attack the break at the right time. With Rolland’s white jersey last year, that makes it back-to-back titles for France, and perhaps their Tour fortunes might finally be getting back on track.

It’s the traditional-since-1975 end on the Champs-Elysees, and will feature all the sights we’re used to – the jersey winners sharing a glass of champagne, the peloton hitting central Paris at high speed, riders trying to get away and being chased down and then a Mark Cavendish victory at the end.

Well, all but the last are guaranteed, but after his sprint on Friday showed what form he’s in at the end of the race, I doubt you can find many people who’d suggest other potential victors. The only problem that might have caused is that other teams may not want to let it get down to a bunch sprint and will prefer to take their chances in a break, leaving Sky on their own to chase it down. Whatever happens, I do expect we’ll see the spectacle of the yellow jersey at the front of the peloton, either leading the chase or leading out the sprint, though we probably won’t get a repeat of 1979 or 1982, when Bernard Hinault won in Paris while wearing the yellow jersey.

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Three weeks ago, we were all focused on Liege and the prologue of this year’s Tour. It seems odd that we’re not coming to the finish, with just two stages left before everything’s sorted, and this time next week we’ll be watching the Olympic road race.

And as if in practice for that, yesterday we saw Mark Cavendish at his best, reminding everybody just why he’s the world champion. It was one of the bext wins of his career, and a good way to finally match Andre Darrigade’s 22 wins as the Tour’s leading sprinter. I think the best perspective on it came from Nicolas Roche in an interview afterwards when he said he only noticed that Cavendish had gone past them when Luis Leon Sanchez started coasting to the line, assuming the bunch were about to swamp them. They hadn’t realised just how far he’d leapt from the bunch, and that if they’d carried on going, they’d have got second and third on the stage.

It’s also a signal of how confident Bradley Wiggins is in his overall victory that he was able to lead the chase through the last few kilometres and not worry about conserving all his energy for today’s stage. For anyone who hadn’t guessed it, it’s likely the same tactics Great Britain will be using next Saturday, as they’re the ones that worked out very well in Copenhagen last year. We’ll likely see a replay on Sunday in Paris, which may mean we get the spectacle of the yellow jersey leading the peloton in the last few kilometres, which will be somewhat different to the normal routine of the day.

While it’s a relatively long time trial at 51km, it’s not a very complicated route. There aren’t too many technical parts, and no steep climbs or descents, which makes it the perfect course for the power time trial specialists. It would have been interesting to see how Tony Martin or Fabian Cancellara would have done on this stage, but as it is, I suspect the winner will be either Wiggins or Tejay Van Garderen. Froome’s a good time triallist, but his best results have come on courses where he can use his climbing abilities more, but I suspect he’ll be happy finishing in the top 5, protecting his second place from Nibali.

Barring an absolute disaster, though, Wiggins and Froome will remain first and second at the end of the stage. The real battle will be taking place behind them. Van Den Broeck probably won’t be able to make up three minutes on Nibali, but it’ll be fun to watch him try, and Van Garderen probably won’t move up from fifth, but if he’s on form this could be BMC’s best chance for a stage win this year, and a chance for him to get his first Tour stage and lay down a marker for future years.

The interesting battle comes from seventh to eleventh place with just a couple of minutes separating Zubeldia, Rolland, Brajkovic, Pinot and Roche and all of them looking to grab a place in the top ten, both for the bragging rights and the ranking points. Further down the rankings, some riders will be looking to try and get their moment in the spotlight, or showcase themselves and their time trialling abilities. Others may be indulging in personal rivalries – David Millar was talking on Twitter last night about he and Dave Zabriskie will be fighting to avoid having to say that the other’s a better time trial rider.

Three weeks ago, I think we were expecting more drama on this stage, but Wiggins and Sky have dominated this Tour to such an extent that the final weekend’s a bit of a procession. Perhaps the main enemy Sky have to fight is complacency, losing focus and making mistakes. Two minutes isn’t that big a gap if you hit a crisis.

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