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Canadian commentators look forward to Tour de France despite early alarm | saskNOW | Saskatchewan

“It’s long hours, but we’re so passionate that it’s just candy for us,” said Lemieux, a competitive road racer herself for 12 years before joining forces with Robbi Weldon in the Para-cycling program.

Both have done their homework. As Rossi notes, each stage of the race takes time to unfold, so there’s plenty of time to talk.

Lemieux and Rossi see Tadej Pogacar as the man to beat this year. The 25-year-old Slovenian won in 2020 and ’21 and finished second behind Denmark’s Jonas Vingegaard in the past two years.

“All eyes are definitely on him because he just won the Giro (d’Italia) and he looked as fresh as a daisy,” Lemieux said, referring to the first of three Grand Tour races.

Other contenders such as Vingegaard, the Slovenian Primoz Roglic and the Belgian Remco Evenepoel had to recover from a huge crash in April during the Tour of the Basque Country.

Vingegaard spent almost two weeks in hospital after suffering a broken collarbone and ribs and a collapsed lung. Evenepoel underwent surgery for a broken collarbone and shoulder blade. Roglic suffered extensive abrasions.

Pogacar hopes to become the first rider to win the Giro and the Tour de France in the same year since Italian Marco Pantani in 1998.

Despite Pogacar’s form, Lemieux says anything can happen at the Tour, especially given the number of front-runners and this year’s route, which poses a challenge for all 176 riders.

The race, which covers 52,320 metres of elevation gain, with four mountain top finishes, ends with a 33.7 kilometre individual time trial from Monaco to Nice instead of the usual final sprint on the Champs-Elysees, due to the Olympic Games in Paris.

Rossi says this year’s race continues the recent trend of difficulties from the start. The 139.6 kilometer fourth stage includes the grueling Col du Galibier, giving the riders an early taste of the mountains.

“You don’t necessarily win the Tour de France in the first week, but you can certainly lose it,” he said.

Stage 9 consists of 32.2 kilometers of unpaved road, divided over 14 stages.

The difficulty is further increased by the fact that stage 21, the final time trial, is preceded by “two huge mountain stages,” Lemieux said.

“It will be a special course. And sprinters are very afraid of this course… Mark Cavendish said it will be the most difficult Tour de France of his career,” Lemieux added.

Cavendish, an experienced sprinter who was knighted in the King’s Birthday Honors in June, is aiming for a record 35th stage win in his 15th Tour participation. The 39-year-old from the Isle of Man, who reversed his decision to retire at the end of the 2023 season, is currently tied with Belgian legend Eddy Merckx with 34 stage wins.

Lemieux and Rossi are keeping a close eye on the Israel-Premier Tech team, which includes Canadians Derek Gee, Hugo Houle and Guillaume Boivin.

Gee finished third earlier this month during the eight-day Criterium du Dauphiné, an important warm-up for the Tour.

The 26-year-old from Ottawa is going for stage wins. Gee won stage 3 of the Criterium du Dauphine and, in his first Grand Tour race, finished second four times and fourth twice in the 2023 Giro, when he was hailed as the race’s “super-combatant rider” .

“He is a very complete rider,” said Lemieux.

Houle meanwhile won stage 16 of the 2022 Tour.

Lemieux, who also serves as a cycling analyst at RDS, is a veteran of stage races and knows the pain riders endure.

“It’s very cruel to the body,” she said. “Every day you have to eat, drink and think about the next day. You have to recover as much as possible, because the next day you will do it again.”

On average, the riders burn about 6,000 calories per stage.

Rossi, who also commentates on the Lachine race series and appears on Montreal sports radio during the Tour, has cycling in his blood. His father Joseph (Tino) Rossi managed the velodrome during the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal and launched the Les Mardis cyclistes de Lachine race in 1978.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 27, 2024.

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press