Are Gamblers Ready to Embrace 2007 Tour de France Betting?

If gamblers accept assurances that doping scandals truly are a thing of the past, then Tour de France betting should get a wagering boost when the world’s most revered bicycle race wheels out of the western naval port of Brest on July 5 to start its annual three-week journey across the country before concluding with a ride down the Champs-Elysees in Paris, July 27.

In an effort to clean up the event, which has been marred by doping scandals, Tour officials have banned the Astana Team from competing in this year’s race. That means that Alberto Contador, who finished first, and Levi Leipheimer, who crossed the line third in 2007, will not take part this year.

With Contador, Leipheimer and disgraced 2006 first place finisher Floyd Landis on the sidelines, bookmakers have established Australia’s Cadel Evans as a strong 2/1 favorite to win this year’s 21-stage race. Evans, a champion mountain biker before switching to road cycling in 2001, has made solid progress in his Tour de France appearances, finishing eighth in 2005, fourth in 2006 and second last year.

Russia's Denis Menchov, a good climber who withdrew from last year's race but finished a promising fifth in 2006, is the 5/1 second choice on most future books surveyed.

A pair of Spaniards, Alejandro Valverde at odds of 7/1, and 8/1 Carlos Sastre, also figure prominently in this year’s race. Valverde, who was sixth in the 2007 Tour, signaled his good form by winning the Vuelta a Murcia, earlier this year. Sastre, who should excel in the mountains, was fourth in last year’s Tour.

Damiano Cunego of Italy, Andy Schleck of Luxembourg, and Michael Rogers of Australia are three more worthy challengers for the cherished Yellow Jersey. Cunego, 10/1, another strong climber, was named “Best Young Rider” at the 2006 Tour. Both Schleck, 15/1, and Rogers, 20/1, are good time trial racers.

Similar to show bettors in horse racing, the faint-hearted also can wager on whether their man gets to stand on the podium as one of the top three Tour de France finishers. The price on that happening is 4/9 on Evans; 11/10 on Menchov; 3/2 on Valverde; 7/4 on Sastre; 11/4 on Cunego; 3/1 on Schleck; and 5/1 on Rogers.

In addition to win and show betting, many sportsbooks are offering prices on the nationality of the winning rider. Spain opened as the cautious 11/5 co-favorite along with “other” while Australia was listed at 7/3. You can get 9/2 that the United States produces this year’s champion and 11/2 that the winner hails from Italy. Germany, 6/1; Kazakhstan, 8/1; Belgium, 11/1; and host France, 14/1, complete the betting options.

Like golfers, the racers won’t just be competing against each other but against the course, as well. The course for this year’s Tour de France is a grueling 2,208 miles long and features 21 stages, 10 flat, four medium mountain, five high mountain, and two time trials. As is almost always the case, the race should be decided in the Alps and Pyrenees, particularly during the 16th and 17th stages of this year’s event.

Stage 16 includes an exhausting seven percent, 27-mile climb up Col de la Bonette to the highest elevation in France, 9,193 feet above sea level. The stage concludes with a treacherous 14-mile downhill dash to the tiny town of Jausiers. At this point in the race, Tour de France future book betting fans may not be able to determine if they have a winning ticket but they surely will know if they have a losing ticket.

The Tour winner likely will be settled the next day when the bicycle racers take on Stage 17, a painful 8.6 percent ascent to L’Alpe d’Huez. It was here, in 1986, that Greg LeMond cemented his victory to become the first American winner of the Tour de France.

Fatigue may be the enemy of all bike riders but the promise of a drug-free race and a highly competitive field should mean that gamblers won’t tire of Tour de France betting any time soon.