Next week you need to know about . . . the Tour de France
The growing number of people running marathons and competing in triathlons tells you something about the human fascination with endurance, and one of the most arduous events of all begins today, with the prologue of the Tour de France commencing in Liège, Belgium.
Over the next three weeks nearly 200 riders from 22 teams will cycle 3,497km across France, from Normandy to the Alps, from the Pyrenees to Paris, making detours into Belgium and Switzerland along the way. The sight of the peloton gliding through France is one of the most familiar images of the summer.
Of course, the spectre of performance-enhancing drugs has been hanging over the sport for decades, and recent claims against Lance Armstrong have highlighted credibility problems facing cycling. The romance of the tour endures, however, and the main focus will be on the two favourites for the yellow jersey, defending champion Cadel Evans, of Australia, and British Olympic gold medallist Bradley Wiggins, of Team Sky. Irish interest will focus on Nicolas Roche (below) of the AG2R La Mondiale team: can he mount a challenge for the title his father, Stephen, won in 1987?