Today at the Tour: For a limited three-week run, all of France is a stage

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CyclingTips editor Neal Rogers will be writing a daily column during the 2018 Tour de France, focused on analysis, commentary, and opinion. This first piece, however, is none of those things.

Rehearsals are over. The casting call is complete. Each troupe has announced its eight players. Some roles are minor, but each has the potential to reach the spotlight, and perhaps even steal the show.

Some will arrive in new wardrobe, resplendent in the colors of their national flags. Along the way, some costumes will be swapped for others — yellow, green, white, and polka-dotted.

An array of new props will be shown for the first time — new bikes, new helmets, new shoes.

The show opens Saturday in France’s Vendée region. The first nine stages, ending on the cobblestones in Roubaix, constitute Act I, where Peter Sagan will almost certainly be in the limelight. Act II will end in the Alps, while Act III reaches its denouement in the Pyrenees.

Some scenes will be fast-paced, others will advance the storyline, but the setting will change daily, each specially prepared. The logistics of the production are unparalleled. Two intermissions will give the entire ensemble a day to rest. It’s a limited three-week run, wrapping in Paris, the City of Light.

Every annual production is different, but at this point, the cast of characters is well established.

Chris Froome is likely to again take center stage as the man in yellow. He’s been in the lead role on 59 occasions. Some will view him as the protagonist, others as the anti-hero, but either way it will be far from a one-man show. He’ll be challenged by a crafty Italian, a swarthy Dutchman, an ambitious Australian, a gallant Frenchman, and formidable Colombians of varying ages and experience. Friendships will be put on hold. Alliances will be forged, and broken.

Peter Sagan, well rehearsed as he is, will improvise as only he can. He’s at his best when he goes off script, but somehow he’ll end up trading rainbow stripes for the coveted green garment. It’s a role he was born to play. The man is a performer.

The Movistar team could deliver the highest drama of all, with no less than three potential primo uomos. Valverde, Landa, and Quintana will form an unpredictable triumvirate, keeping viewers on the edge of their seats.

There will be 35 first-timers in the ensemble. They’ll have opening-week nerves, no doubt. They’ll affix notes to their top tubes so as not to miss any cues, however it’s a running plot, prone to twists and turns. That’s the beauty of it all.

Extras will line the course at every opportunity. Though they’re not written into the script, they will be heard and seen. They’ll be reminded to remain as extras — and to not be tempted to step onto center stage. The extras represent just one of many sounds from the orchestra, along with the whir of helicopters and the endless chorus of motorbike horns.

Unscripted incidents will occur. This is a live performance. There will be laughs, there will be tears. There are no orchestra nets. Any blood that is spilled will be real. Some will be required to exit stage left. The leading man may falter. An understudy could step in.

The press will analyze every performance. Reviews will be written, and rewritten. Some will be positive, some will be critical, some will question the authenticity of it all.

Tomorrow, the house lights will be dimmed. The director will lift the curtain, and wave the flag. It’s opening day.

Three weeks later, the curtain will come down amid pomp and circumstance, flowers and champagne, a mix of relief and sadness that it’s over.

Will the 2018 Tour de France ultimately play out as a heroic drama, a tragicomedy, or theatre of the absurd?

Which characters will be making a curtain call in Paris on July 29?

We’ll know soon enough, but let’s not rush it. For three weeks in July, all of France is a stage. Let the show begin.

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