Tour de France

Stage 4 of the Tour de France is a loop of about 19 miles, which elite riders—dispatched one-by-one, without the wind-blocking aid of the peloton—should complete in about an hour. With no Tour prologue this year, this will be the first opportunity for the favorites to measure who’s fit, who’s ready for the Alps ahead, and who possibly peaked too soon in the Giro or Tour de Suisse. The circuit to and from Cholet—located in France’s west-central provinces—is basically flat, meaning powerful time-trial specialists like Switzerland’s Fabian Cancellara will be favored. But those who hope to wear the maillot jaune in Paris on July 27 need to prove their strength: Australian Cadel Evans, American Levi Leipheimer, and Alejandro Valverde of Spain are included in this elite group. (Last year’s champ, the young Spaniard Alberto Contador, had the bad luck to be on a team that wasn’t invited back by the Tour’s organizers, those fools.) The margin of victory will likely only be a few seconds, meaning racers use their most aerodynamic bikes, helmets, and costumes—all made of carbon fiber and other space-age materials costing more than your car. A time trial (or “TT” in bike-geek speak) is all about intense, concentrated exertion, yet it must be carefully measured over the pavement. Each rider will have an earphone to relay his split times versus those who launched ahead of him. Such an early TT means the best riders will start randomly within the field (whoever’s wearing yellow is seeded last). Veteran broadcasters Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwin will help you sort out the true contenders from the one-day wonders. And though he may not make an appearance in the broadcast booth until later, expect plenty of references to Lance Armstrong, the seven-time champ now turned serial celebrity-seducer (Kate Hudson being his latest conquest, with the sheets still warm from Ashley Olsen). Isn’t that guy about due for his own TV reality show? Versus Network, channels 34 & 665, Cost depends on your cable package. 8 p.m. BRIAN MILLER

Tue., July 8, 8 p.m., 2008

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