Tour de France: 'Manx Missile' aims for yellow

British sprinter eyes Stage 1 win; Contador, Froome favored overall
2013-06-29T00:00:00Z Tour de France: 'Manx Missile' aims for yellowThe Associated Press The Associated Press
June 29, 2013 12:00 am  • 

PORTO VECCHIO, Corsica - Soccer's World Cup. Football's Vince Lombardi Trophy. Hockey's Stanley Cup.

And, of course, cycling's yellow jersey. No list of the most famous trophies in sports can be complete if it doesn't include that gaudy shirt from the Tour de France - and British speedster Mark Cavendish aims to get his hands on the first one this year.

Over the next three weeks, 21 of them will be distributed to race leaders at the 100th Tour. None will be more important than the last one - worn by the overall winner on the Champs-Elysees in Paris on July 21: Many pundits believe that will be either Britain's Chris Froome or two-time Tour champion Alberto Contador of Spain.

But it would be a mistake to reduce the Tour to a two-horse race. Multiple heartbreaks, crashes and other dramas await over the meandering 2,110-mile trek along wind-swept seasides, through flat plains and Alpine and Pyrenean mountain punishment, and even to a medieval island citadel in the English Channel.

The first story could be written by Cavendish: The "Manx Missile" is a favorite to win today's mostly flat Stage 1 (132 miles) from Porto Vecchio to Bastia on the French Mediterranean island of Corsica.

The Briton, from the Isle of Man, is the finest sprinter of his generation because of his timing and accelerations. He has already won 23 Tour stages and other coveted prizes in his sport. In 2011, he won both the green jersey given to the best Tour sprinter and the rainbow-striped jersey awarded to cycling's road-race world champion.

The yellow jersey, however, has eluded his grasp.

"It's not just one of the most iconic symbols in cycling, it's one of the most iconic symbols in the world of sport," Cavendish said. "To be able to wear that for at least a day in your life, it's a thing you dream about when you're a child. It would be a beautiful thing."

Cycling could use some beautiful things. This is the first Tour since Lance Armstrong was stripped of his record seven wins for doping, which he finally admitted after his years of denials were exposed as lies by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

Contador, 30, was stripped of his 2010 Tour title and missed out last year over a doping ban. He could be the biggest danger for Froome. Both riders excel in mountain climbs that feature heavily this year.

"This year won't just be the story of two riders; we'll have more actors in this film," he said.

Long shots include 2011 winner Cadel Evans of Australia, 36, and his young BMC teammate Tejay Van Garderen of the United States, plus Spaniards Alejandro Valverde and Joaquim Rodriguez.

Bradley Wiggins, the 2012 Tour winner and a Sky teammate of Froome's, is injured and out this year. Froome was more impressive than Wiggins last year in the mountains, but that race was weighted to time trials, Wiggins' specialty.

Froome has had a nearly flawless run-up to the Tour: The Kenyan-born Briton, 28, won four of five races he started. He said he's confident, but not fond of the "favorite" moniker.

"It's an absolute privilege for me to be in this position, (but) there is a certain amount of pressure that comes with it," said Froome, who added that Valverde, Contador and Rodriguez could "gang up" on him as a Spanish alliance.

Andy Schleck, who inherited Contador's 2010 title, said this year's mountainous course suits him. But he's coming off a rough year, including a crash injury to his lower back that kept him out last year. The Luxembourg rider considers himself an "outsider."

"The Tour's always full of surprises," said Garmin-Sharp team director Jonathan Vaughters, insisting his U.S. squad could have contenders like Canada's Ryder Hesjedal and Andrew Talansky of the United States "The easy answer is: Yes, it's Chris Froome vs. Alberto Contador, but I think we're going to try and make the answer not as easy."

Today

• What: Tour de France, Stage 1

• Where: Porto-Vecchio to Bastia

• When: 4:30 a.m.

• TV: NBC Sports Network

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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