Two-time defending champion Alberto Contador is once again the favorite as the Tour de France heads into the Pyrénéan climbs this week and next week’s Alpine stages.
Mark Cavendish blew kisses to the crowd as he crossed the finish line in Lavaur, France yesterday. HTC-Highroad’s British sprinter was celebrating his third stage win of this year’s Tour de France, but also bidding adieu: He won’t have many more chances to win a stage until the Champs-Élysées.
Mr. Cavendish and his fellow sprinters are now moving aside as the battle for the yellow jersey – professional cycling’s most coveted prize – begins in earnest, when riders tackle steep gradients and long descents throughout the Pyrénées.
Once again, the two-time defending champion Contador is favored heading into the Pyrénéan climbs and next week’s Alpine stages.
Unlike last year, he has outside pressures that could affect his performance. He’s riding in this year’s race despite testing positive for clenbuterol, a banned muscle-building drug, during his 2010 Tour win. A hearing in August at the Court of Arbitration for Sport will determine his fate; if he’s found guilty, he’ll be stripped of all of his titles since last year’s Tour de France, including a victory in May’s Giro D’Italia.