Having followed yet another 2012 Euro 0-0 draw in the on the net last evening, I can't wait for the start of the 2012 Tour de France. The race starts in Liège (Belgium) with a prologue on Saturday. Hopefully the 2012 race will live up to the excitement and drama of last year's edition.
2012 has fewer bigger mountain stages along with fewer mountain top finishes than last year but a lot more individual time trialling kilometres – 101.4 – compared to last year. There will also be no team time trial this year. This will surely favour riders who are good time triallists and who can climb mountains but are not pure climbers. Some of the classic climbs like Alpe d'Huez are not included, although the great Pyrenean classic Pau to Bagnères de Luchon is in after a number of years of absence. This tough stage has the Cols de l'Aubisque, Tourmalet, d'Aspin and the Peyresourde before the final descent straight down to Bagnères-de-Luchon. Robert Millar won has first Tour de France stage win here back in 1983. The next day – the last mountain stage of this year will also be tough with a mountain top finish at Peyragues.
There are some new steep climbs in Alsace and the Jura – La Planches des Belles Filles and Col de la Croix – with gradient up to 17% on the later. Overall there are 25 cols at hors categorie, first or second – the same number as in 2010 and more than 2009 (21) and 2011 (23).
Cadel Evans, last year's winner, and Bradley Wiggins are many people's favourites. Hopefully both can avoid the crashes that put paid to Evans' race in 2010 and Bradley's last year.
It would be great for the UK to have its first ever Tour winner and certainly Bradley's form has been good this year with victories in the Paris-Nice and, most recently, in the Dauphine-Libre. However, there have been many instances in the past where an impressive winner of the week long Dauphine-Libre has not been able to hold on to that form when it comes to the three weeks of the Tour de France.
There will be some notable absentees – Alberto Contador, who is banned for doping until August, Andy Schleck who broke his pelvis in the Dauphine-Libre, and Thor Hushovd, the popular Norwegian rider who has a virus that forced him out of the Giro d'Italia. if Frank Schleck is to make up for brother Andy's absence he will need to produce some sustained and explosive attacks in the mountains to gain enough of a time cushion for the time trials.
NBC race preview here, official Tour de France site and Guardian interactive guide.