Rivals Meet Again As Tour De France Begins

July 2, 2011

Defending champion Alberto Contador and last year's runner-up Andy Schleck renewed their rivalry as riders started the 2011 Tour de France on Saturday.

The mostly flat first stage takes riders over 191.5 kilometers (119 miles) from La Barre-de-Monts to Mont des Alouettes in the Vendee region of western France.

Three-time champion Contador beat Schleck by just 39 seconds last year. The 3,430-kilometer (2,131-mile) Tour ends on July 24 at the Champs-Elysees.

The road stage, rather than a more traditional short time trial or prologue, favors sprinters like Mark Cavendish and two-time green jersey winner Thor Hushovd.

Tyler Farrar is another sprinter relishing Saturday's stage.

"Everyone wants to try to win a stage at the Tour. That's what I'm here for," Farrar said before riders set off on the grueling three-week race. "It's always a big goal of the season ... Everything's gone to plan the last month or so, so I think I'm ready."

Farrar was often beaten by Cavendish in sprints to the line last year. However, the American rider thinks Hushovd is the man to beat on Saturday, because the stage ends with an uphill finish that could take away some of Cavendish's speed.

"It's more for Thor today, it's a perfect uphill sprint for him," Farrar said.

Stage 1 also has an unusual 4.5-kilometer (2.8-mile) 'Passage du Gois,' a causeway connecting the Noirmoutier island to the mainland that is submerged at high tide.

Many fans and riders have questioned Contador's presence in this year's race following his positive test for the banned anabolic agent clenbuterol during the 2010 Tour.

Contador could be stripped of all of his titles dating to July 2010 if the Court of Arbitration for Sport rules against him in August.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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