Teleprompt: Tour de France

Everything you need to know about this year's cycling extravaganza

Saddle up – the Tour de France starts on Saturday
Almost 200 riders face a major cycle-logical battle – they’re going to be cycling 163 kilometres a day for the next three weeks. That’s equivalent to riding from London to Coventry every day. OK, they get a couple of rest days but you’d need them if you were planning to ride a total of 3,430.5 kilometres in three weeks. If you start from London now and stay with the pace, you’d be in Beirut in three weeks. Except Le Tour wheels around France.

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Aaah, France, home of cheese eaters
And some magnificent scenery that provides a stunning backdrop as the peloton glides along at an average speed of 25mph. You can spend up to five hours a day admiring the countryside while watching Eurosport’s live coverage. ITV4 coverage is more compact. The spokesmen start on Saturday in La Vendée. Sunday’s stage two sees the team time trial, then it’s off through Brittany, Normandy and a tour of France in an anticlockwise direction, ending in Paris.

At the front will be
Alberto Contador, who is favoured to win his fourth Tour. Last time out he got the better of Andy Schleck by the slimmest of slim margins – 39 seconds. Contador got the drop on the Luxembourger when Schleck’s chain came off while climbing an Alp.

Flying the British flag
Bradley Wiggins heads the British challenge at the front of Team Sky. No Brit has ever made the final podium, although Wiggins did come fourth in 2009. So far, Wiggins is having a good season, having won the Dauphiné, which is to the tour as Queens is to Wimbledon.

Whooosh. . .
Would be the sound of the Manx Express, alias Mark Cavendish, stealing a stage win with a sprint finish that makes the rest look like they’re going backwards. He’s won 15 stages in three tours so far but it all depends on his team-mates at HTC-Highroad getting him to the front at the right time. Apart from leg-tremblingly fast acceleration, one reason why Cav is so hard to beat is that his low position on the bike means his rivals can’t launch a coup de grace from the shelter of his slipstream.

It’s a team game

Riding in another cyclist’s slipstream can reduce the effort required to keep up by as much as 70 per cent. So it’s not just the sprinters who are surrounded by team-mates. The top riders like Wiggins have specialists to break the air for them so they can conserve energy for the decisive phases.

Diary dates
Few of us have the time to follow all the action so be aware that the serious stuff begins when the race reaches the mountains.
The first one is Thursday 14 July, a Bastille Day treat when the Tourists face the first serious climb in the Pyrenees.
The decisive day is Saturday 16 July, with six draining climbs up Plateau de Beile. Every winner here has gone on to win the Tour.
The Big One is Thursday 21 July with the highest altitude finish in the entire history of the Tour on the Galibier Serre-Chevalier. After that it’s downhill all the way to

The Finish on the Champs-Elysées in Paris on Sunday 24 July.

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Tour de France can be viewed on ITV4, British Eurosport/HD and online