Tour de France: up in the air in 2008

Is there a clear favourite this year?

Having spent a lot of time during the Lance Armstrong era of the Tour de France hoping that someone would come along and knock him off his Tour-winning perch – or at least give him a decent ring for his money – I’ve spent a lot of the last couple of years wishing for the certainty of the Armstrong years.

In fact, the last two Tours have produced much more unpredictability than almost anything seen during Armstrong's era, and not just as a result of the doping scandals that have afflicted them. But for magazine editors, they’ve left a dilemma – establishing the identity of the riders who can replace Armstrong as cover stars who can guarantee sales.

At other times of the year, there is no dilemma – it’s Tom Boonen (oops!) or Fabian Cancellara for the Classics, Paolo Bettini, Gilberto Simoni or Damiano Cunego for the Giro, with plenty of classy Americans and (at last!) Brits to fill the covers in between. But for the biggest race of all there is no clear-cut choice at all.

Last year, for the Tour at least, we were helped out by the Grand Départ being in London. This year, though, we spent a lot of time mulling before deciding that the best draw was the yellow jersey itself, backed up with a DVD of the greatest moments from the last 20 years of the race.

As for Procycling, we’ve decided that an exclusive interview with Armstrong is, in the absence of the defending champion or an outstanding favourite, the best option. I imagine a lot of readers will be thinking we should be moving on, but the dilemma of where we should be going still remains.

I’m hoping that Alberto Contador will fill that void. The Giro showed that he’s a great rider, certainly the best we’ve seen since Armstrong. If this Tour throws up a couple of exciting talents in the same mould – Thomas Dekker and Roman Kreuziger perhaps – then the 2009 Tour starting in Monaco with Contador back in the line-up should be a cracker.

But back to this year and how to sell the race to often disillusioned fans. The best option I’ve seen is that taken by our Dutch counterparts to sell their Tour Guide. Chapeau to them for coming up with an hilariously unique way of selling their mag...


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