The 2010 ProTour season is upon us with the Tour Down Under kicking off on the 19th and, of course, Lance is grabbing many of the headlines. That's a good thing, because if Simon Gerrans or Josep Jufres's name popped up on the news in most of the world, nobody would pay attention any more than I pay attention to high school football players' names in the local paper. So, anyway, Lance brings a huge spotlight to bear on the sport of cycling and focuses the attention of millions of otherwise indifferent people. Proof of his popularity in Australia was the reported crowd of 750,000 spectators who lined the course for last year's opening crit. This year's opener saw Lance break away with a group of five riders and demonstrate that he's still a force, ultimately getting reeled in by the pack, but showing that he has made progress in his form over the last year. The crit isn't a stage in the Tour but is more of an exhibition event.
So, cycling will have huge audiences this season, with the build up to the 2010 Tour de France already full bloom before the end of the 2009 Tour was even decided. The rivalry between Armstrong and Alberto Contador was well-established and the shape of the 2010 Tour started to become clear when Lance announced the formation of Team Radio Shack after the 18th stage of last year's race. There have been many, many high level rider transfers beyond the move of virtually all of Astana sans Contador to Radio Shack, including Cadel Evan's late transfer to BMC, joining George Hincapie. North America will be very well represented with Garmin-Transitions, HTC-Columbia, Cervelo Test Team and BMC either ProTour or ProContinental teams. New British team Sky V has already shown the colors by taking the top two places in the aforementioned crit.
It is going to be exciting. If you have never followed ProTour racing other the the Tour de France, this would be a great year to tune in. The one day classics like Paris-Roubaix and Milan-SanRemo differ from the Grand Tours in that they are just that- one day events. The first man across the finish line wins and some of the battles are epic.The Tour of California has taken on new importance with a later date and more North American teams.This whole season looks to be packed with trash talk, drama, and intense competition. Start now, and by the time the Tour rolls around, you'll have a much better appreciation for the race and the riders, though you will still have to explain to your coworkers why Lance doesn't win every race.