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Canadian commentators look forward to Tour de France despite early wake-up calls

Audrey Lemieux and Tino Rossi are looking forward to the alarm going off very early in the next few weeks.
The pack passes Arc de Triomphe during the twenty-first stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 115-kilometres with start in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines and finish on the Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris, France, Sunday, July 23, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Daniel Cole

Audrey Lemieux and Tino Rossi are looking forward to the alarm going off very early in the next few weeks.

The two will be providing French-language commentary for the Tour de France for FloSports/FloBikes, which is showing the Grand Tour race in Canada. The 111th edition of the storied race starts Saturday and ends July 21 in Nice, 3,498 kilometres later.

English commentary will be provided by longtime British cycling broadcaster Anthony McCrossan and Ireland's Nicolas Roche, who competed in the race 10 times.

Lemieux and Rossi, who have done the French-language broadcasts for the last three years, are calling the race remotely from their Quebec homes. Given the six-hour time difference with France, that makes for an early start.

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

Both have been doing their homework. As Rossi notes, each stage of the race takes time to unfold so there is 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 was runner-up to Denmark's Jonas Vingegaard the last two years.

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

Other contenders like Vingegaard, Slovenian Primoz Roglic and Belgium's Remco Evenepoel have had to recover from a massive crash in April at the Tour of the Basque Country.

Vingegaard was hospitalized for nearly two weeks after sustaining a broken collarbone and ribs and a collapsed lung. Evenepoel underwent surgery for a broken collarbone and shoulder blade. Roglic suffered extensive road rash.

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

Despite Pogacar's form, Lemieux says anything can happen in the Tour, especially with the number of leading contenders and this year's course, which will challenge all 176 riders.

The race, which features 52,320 metres of overall elevation including four mountaintop finishes, ends with a 33.7-kilometre individual time trial from Monaco to Nice rather than the normal final sprint on the Champs-Elysees, due to the Paris Olympics.

Rossi says this year's course continues the recent trend of difficulties from the get-go. The 139.6-kilometre fourth stage includes the gruelling Col du Galibier, giving riders an early taste of the mountains.

"You will not necessarily win the Tour de France within the first week, but you can certainly lose it," he said.

Stage 9 features 32.2 kilometres of gravel road, spread across 14 sectors.

Adding to the degree of difficulty is the fact that Stage 21, the final time trial, is preceded by "two huge mountain stages," says Lemieux.

"It's going to be a special course. And sprinters are very afraid of this course … Mark Cavendish said that it will be the hardest Tour de France of his career," added Lemieux.

Cavendish, a veteran sprinter awarded a knighthood in the King's Birthday Honours in June, is going after a record 35th stage win in his 15th Tour appearance. 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 on 34 stage wins.

Lemieux and Rossi will be keeping a special eye on the Israel-Premier Tech team, whose Tour roster includes Canadians Derek Gee, Hugo Houle and Guillaume Boivin.

Gee is coming off a third-place finish earlier this month at the eight-day Criterium du Dauphiné, a key warm-up for the Tour.

The 26-year-old from Ottawa will be going for stage wins. Gee won Stage 3 of the Criterium du Dauphine and, competing in his first Grand Tour race, finished second four times and fourth twice in the 2023 Giro when he was honoured as the race's "super-combative 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 with RDS, is a veteran of stage races and knows the pain they put riders through.

"It's very brutal on 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 do it again."

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

Rossi, who also does commentary on the Lachine race series and makes appearances on Montreal sport radio during the Tour, has cycling in his blood. His father Joseph (Tino) Rossi served as manager of the cycling track at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal and, in 1978, launched the Les Mardis cyclistes de Lachine race.


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

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press