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Despite the sport of cycling being plagued by countless doping scandals, few would argue that the Tour de France is one of the world’s toughest sporting events.

Held over 22 gruelling days and covering an extraordinary 3642 kilometres, the race pits some of the world’s best athletes against each other in an absorbing contest of stamina and mental toughness.

It is hard to describe why it’s exciting watching hundreds of men in tight lycra ride bicycles. But trust me, it is.

There is the agony of watching exhausted climbers push themselves up mountains to the point of collapse. There is the excitement of cheering on a breakaway as they attempt to evade the grasp of the methodical peloton. And then there is the scenery.

The real star of the tour is the glorious French countryside. As the race weaves its way through small villages and whizzes past historic chateaus, it is almost disappointing when the cameras return to the cycling action.

Happily, SBS has provided decent coverage in recent years, with the excellent commentary being another highlight of the event. The legendary duo of Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen could make a Senate Estimates hearing fascinating viewing and will be back to offer their expert views.

In the lead-up to the 2010 tour much of the spotlight has been on the battle between seven-time winner Lance Armstrong and two-time winner Alberto Contador. However, this year’s field looks to be one of the most open yet, with a score of other riders in with a shout of claiming the famed maillot jaune.

The Australians will also be in strong attendance, with Cadel Evans and Michael Rogers providing our best chances for a top 10 finish. Young climber Matthew Lloyd also has form and could spring a surprise after wining the mountains classification at the prestigious Giro d’Italia in May.

The details: The tour is broadcast live on SBS1 nightly. It starts this Sunday at 2am (AEST) before moving to the slightly more palatable time of 10pm. SBS1 will also broadcast replays from 7.30am and 6pm the day after each stage.

You can also join in the conversation at our Tour de France open thread.

Peter Fray

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