Today is not only my cousin Ruth's birthday, quatorze juillet is Bastille day, the French national holiday. I guess France is one of the last nations to celebrate its national holiday with a large military parade, but that has always been part of this day.
The other important thing always connected with the quatorze juillet is, of course, Le Tour de France. This grand road bicycle race is usually about half-way at this date. Traditionally, French racers try to win this stage of that day, but today, it was the Ukrainian Yaroslav Popovych who arrived first in the beautiful medieval town of Caracsonne. Popovych rides for the Discovery Channel Team, the former team of last years' champion Lance Armstrong. The maillot jaune, the yellow jersey of the best cyclist in the overall standing, is worn by the American Floyd Landis, a former team mate of Lance Armstrong. It seems that Floyd Landis has good prospects to carry the maillot jaune to Paris, continuing the unique, six-year long series of American winners started by Lance Armstrong.
This year's Tour de France is special in many respect. It may not have raised the same public interest as in the last years because of its overlap with the soccer world cup, but that is not the point. It is the first Tour after Lance Armstrong, and here in Germany, there has been big hope that Jan Ullrich may have a last chance to repeat his victory of 1997. His big rival would have been Ivan Basso, the champion of this year's Giro d'Italia.
But then, two days before the start of the Tour, a big shock hit all cycling fans: As a result of a doping scandal uncovered in Spain earlier this year, both favourites were denied participation in the race, together with nearly 50 other cyclists. There are more allegations against Jan Ullrich in the meantime, which is a quite sad and tragic story.
Cycling has always had a problem with doping, probably even more so than other sports. Now, with this latest scandal, there have been fears that it may imply the end of the Tour. I strongly hope that this will not be the case, and that, on the contrary, it will increase further the awareness of cyclists, cyling teams, and the public against doping. Even without big names and dominating champions, cycling can be a very interesting sport to watch - it is not just some men sitting on bycicles and struggling like hell.
And it may also help to bring more to limelight what for me has always been the star of the Tour: La France Profonde, the wonderful landscapes of rural France. Tomorrow's stage will cross Le Midi, from Béziers to Montélimar. It is a region where you can spend a marvelous summer holiday. But even if you can not travel there just now: If you have a chance to follow tomorrow's stage on TV, you can see both the race, and marvel at the beautiful landscapes, villages and towns of Southern France that are transvered by the cyclists. I will do so.