Update 6/30/2006: Those of you that are cycling fans already know this, but less than 3 hours after I wrote the words below this year's Tour de France started to unravel. A doping scandal that had been simmering in Spain for months exploded with 58 professional cyclists under investigation. Among the implicated riders are nine would-be participants in this years Tour including last year's second, third and fourth place finishers Ivan Basso, Jan Ulrich and Francisco Mancebo. All of the riders under investigation have been suspended by their respective teams and are out of this year's Tour. In addition, last year's fifth place finisher, Alexandre Vinokourov, although not implicated in the doping investigation will not start as his team, Astana-Würth has five of it's nine riders under investigation and Tour rules dictate that a team must have at least six members at the start. While none of the riders have been officially accused of doping, they are all under suspicion for having been patients of Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes who was caught with large quantities of performance enhancing drugs and has been arrested. It's a sad day for cycling but the Tour apparently will go on. It looks like the new top favorites are Levi Leipheimer, Alejandro Valverde, Floyd Landis and George Hincapie.
The Tour de France (TdF) starts Saturday. This year the world's greatest bicycle race kicks off at 12:50 CET (6:50 AM US Eastern time) in Strasbourg, France with the traditional short time trial known as the Prolog and finishes 3 weeks and 3,657 KM (2,272 miles) later in Paris on July 23rd.
With Lance Armstrong's retirement, the field is wide open this year.
Last year's runner up Ivan Basso is probably the favorite although 1997 winner and five-time 2nd place finisher, Jan Ullrich looks stronger than ever this year. Americans Levi Leipheimer, George Hincapie and Floyd Landis are among the other top contenders.
There will be live TV coverage of every stage in the US on cable channel OLN. Coverage starts at 8:30 AM Eastern time and runs around 3 hours. The complete TV schedule is here.
If you're away from the TV or computer you can catch up with the Tour from your cell phone. There are at least three sites offering live text reports of every stage.
The BBC has two mobile sites which feature brief updates every few minutes. The WAP1 site should work on almost any phone. The BBC also has a PDA site with the same text reports but more and larger graphics. The PDA site is a bit heavy for the built in browsers on most phones but looks stunning using the free Opera Mini browser which can be downloaded and installed on most Java enabled phones.
For more in-depth coverage CyclingNews has a text only WAP1 site at live.cyclingnews.com/wap/. The reporting is top-notch although I'm not crazy about the formatting of the mobile site. CyclingNews breaks their report up into over 100 individual pages each with only a single line of text. The page auto refreshes every five minutes but the reports actually come much more often especially near the finish. I find my self constantly paging back and forth so as not to miss anything.
Velonews.com has live coverage as well. Their coverage is more detailed than the BBC's but perhaps not quite as full featured as CyclingNews'. As a US based site, they tend to focus on the US riders a little more than the other two sites. Velonews doesn't really have a mobile site. But we are talking about primarily text here. By using a mobile transcoder, the Velonews live reports are very usable on a phone. The only problem is finding the right url to transcode. It's different every day and buried a few levels deep in the page. For the last couple of years, I've been hosting a page on my mobile site YesWAP.com, containing links to the Velonews coverage of major cycling events transcoded by several different engines. I originally only had a link to one transcoder but then had the the experience of having the transcoder go down in the middle of an exciting stage, After that happened a couple of times, I put up links to the content through as many transcoders as I could find. So if one link doesn't work try another one. Also, some transcoders work better than others with certain phones. The Google, AOL and Skweezer transcoders break the long Velonews page up into the two or three smaller ones and downsize images making them good choices for memory limited phones and slow or expensive networks. Finally if you have a WAP1 (wml) phone or just want to reduce bandwidth to the minimum, I have a page at wml.yeswap.com/CyclingLive.php that serves the Velonews reports transcoded to text-only wml.
For general Tour coverage including great post-stage wrap-ups, the Eurosport.com mobile site is my favorite. The BBC and Yahoo also have good general cycling coverage. There are links to all of these sites on the YesWap.com Cycling page. Just go to Yeswap.com on your phone's browser and then click Sports followed by Cycling. Enjoy the Tour.