Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Just Call Him "Gotland"

Is anyone paying attention to the Tour de France this year? Following the doping scandals of 2006 and 2007 at the biggest pro cycling race in the world, I don't see as much enthusiasm from followers of the 2008 event. The story is buried in the U.S. sports headlines (which don't tend to devote a lot of time/space to pro cycling to begin with, but always paid close attention to The Tour prior to the most recent doping scandals). I'm following the Tour and a couple of interesting Swedish stories from the race this year.

Five stages into the 2008 Tour, a Swede contends for the lead, in the "top ten" in the overall standings. Following Stage 5, the longest stage of this year's Tour, a 232 km course from Cholet to Châteauroux, Thomas Lövkvist sits only 47 seconds off the pace, at 8th overall. Fans and friends call Lövkvist "Gotland." He hails from the city of Visby (on the Swedish island of Gotland). On the 2008 Tour, he competes for Team Columbia. Lövkvist turned pro in 2004 and won the Swedish time trial championships that year. In 2006, "Gotland" won the title at the Swedish road championships.

Another Swede to watch at the 2008 Tour: Magnus Backstedt of Team Garmin Chipotle. He's not in the top ten, 8 minutes and 53 seconds off the lead, but he did finish in 17th place in Stage 5 and offers us this video diary from the race.

Germany's Stefan Schumacher wears the yellow jersey as The Tour's overall leader through 5 stages. The Tour's title will be be decided on July 27th on the Champs-Élysées in Paris.

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