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A modern version of the yellow jersey, that wa...

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Just hate rest days on the Tour de France. Not that I’d ever begrudge the cyclists the well-deserved rest. It’s just that… well, by now I am so hooked on the Tour that I eagerly anticipate each stage. This is just a glimpse of the upcoming Tour Withdrawal that begins next Monday (sigh).

Anticipation seems one of the key words for Le Tour 2011. When are the top contenders going to come out and fight for the yellow jersey? Thus far, heroes with heart have carried the legendary jersey from the opening stages, through the Massif Central, across the sunflower fields and up and over the legendary climbs of the Col de Tourmelat and Plateau de Beille. Mighty Thor Hushovd captured a stage from Pau to Lourdes that no one ever expected him to win. Thomas Voeckler refuses to relinquish the Maillot Jaune, riding with the extra power legend claims it lends to those who wear it on their backs.

But as for the pre-tour favorites, the assumed contenders, the tour progresses without sparks or drama… to this point. Seemingly content to play games of cat and mouse, neither Andy nor brother Frank Schleck, nor Alberto Contador demonstrate any interest in shaking the pack from their wheels or capturing that yellow jersey. Contador, who has the most to gain, continues to play it safe, marking the Schlecks, all three staying within striking distance of the leader. It took a gritty move from Cadel Evans chasing down an attack to lodge the favorites from their apparent lethargy.

Sure, during the jaunt through the Pyrenees we saw signs of what could be exciting battles as Andy and Frank traded attacks on the climbs to Tourmelat, the Col d’Aubisque and the Plateau de Beille. Contador, Evans, and surprisingly (to some) Voekler responded in kind, and in the end, the powerhouse sprinter from Norway wowed the crowd by chasing down the breakaway on the Col d’Aubisque, eventually leaving it in his dust, and claiming victory on a mountain stage. Everyone knows sprinters barely make it through the mountains, much less capture a stage. No one told Thor Hushovd.

So we wait for the fireworks… the moment when the cyclist throws down the gauntlet and challenges the rest of the Peleton to catch me if you can. The moment of the Lance Armstrong look when he turned to Jan Ullrich before sprinting away from him and the field on his playground in the Alps. We waited for the moment that never came last year when Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador rode contentedly side by side through the mountains… leaving the final time trial to determine the winner.

Perhaps that strategy rules this tour also, though it’s extremely doubtful that Contador can make up the minutes he’s lost in a single time trial. Perhaps Andy and Frank are content to place either first or second, but surely Cadel Evans seeks more than just a spot on the podium. With George Hincapie as the lieutenant at his side, Cadel may be planning some surprises in the final week in the tour.

If not, my pick is the one rider who proves each and every stage that he wants that yellow jersey. How sweet would it be to see French rider Thomas Voeckler at the top of the podium next Sunday in Paris?

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