LEEDS, England – The 101st Tour de France gets going Saturday through bucolic countryside in northern England, where officials have paid for the right to host it, hoping to draw tourists, capture media attention and feed the recent cycling craze among Britons.
It could first require getting over a nagging belief, after Lance Armstrong’s doping exposure, the sport might still be dogged by drug cheats. Cycling chiefs and experts generally agree the era of widespread doping is over, but few would claim to know that this year’s pack is fully clean.
Drugs testers are to conduct hundreds of blood and urine checks during the race.
Bookmakers’ odds foresee a victory either by defending champion Chris Froome, a 29-year-old Briton who leads Team Sky, or two-time champ Alberto Contador — a 31-year-old Spaniard with Tinkoff-Saxo Bank — to take home the yellow jersey when the race finishes on Paris’ Champs-Elysees on July 26.
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Few of the 198 riders on the 22 teams stand a realistic chance of winning. Most are domestiques who race above all to help their team leaders win. Vincenzo Nibali of Italy and Spaniards Alejandro Valverde and Joaquin Rodriguez seem to have an outside chance.