The headline in today's l'Equipe translates to "The Thunder of the Tour" which is a great way to describe all that accompanies the entourage that is the Tour de France. And we are finally underway in Brittany with a very hilly day from Brest to Plumelec. To steal a phrase from Phil Liggett, the course profile looks like a discarded piece of string. When the riders aren't going up, they are going down and they will do that for about 120 miles.
While the focus today is on the sprinters, the race for the yellow jersey is still the main focus. In my Tour preview I opined that Cadel Evans, Denis Menchov, Alejandro Valverde and Damiano Cunego are the favorites. Some like Andy Schleck, but this is his first Tour and at the ripe young age of 23 it might just be a learning year for the Luxembourger on Team CSC-Saxo Bank. There is the possibility that he will contend for the white, best young rider, jersey against the likes of Rabobanks' Robert Gesink who is a year younger than Andy at 22.
Another possibility is that neither Schleck or Gesink will finish the race. Some consider 22 and 23 years old to be too young both physically and mentally to race the Tour. Lance Armstrong first rode the Tour as a 22/23 year-old and was pulled, as planned, after the two mountain stages in the Alps about ten days into the race. The primary reason for pulling a rider isn't about the physical demands. It has more to do with the mental aspect and the strain it puts on a rider's confidence.
A potential Tour winner has to believe that he can someday win the race and to be overwhelmed at a young age could do damage to his psyche. So, young riders, especially those who are tipped to do well in the future are routinely pulled either after the first set of mountains or about ten days in.
The finish today in Plumelec was incredible and hopefully it bodes well for an exciting race. Stefan Schumacher's attack looked to be the winning move, but he picked up a couple of concrete suitcases and Kim Kirchen appeared to have taken everybody by surprise. But, in the end, nobody could match Alejandro Valverde. What is very cool is seeing potential overall contenders Cadel Evans, Kim Kirchen, Frank Schleck and Ricardo Ricco also in the Top 10 for the stage. They all outfoxed the sprinters and stole the show on day one. A great start for the Tour.