Tour de France 2011 Kicks Off

The 2011 Tour de France opened on Saturday with Belgian rider Philippe Gilbert winning the 191.5 kilometers first stage from Passage du Gois to Mont des Alouettes.

Australia’s Cadel Evans followed three seconds later before a large group led by Norway’s Thor Hushovd came charging six seconds behind Gilbert of Team Omega Pharma-Lotto. Two-time defending champion Alberto Contador met an unfortunate incident late in the first stage when he figured in a crash, causing him to lose several seconds. The 28-year-old Spanish rider eventually finished in 35th place, one minute and 20 seconds behind the winner. Contador finished in the same group as main rival and last year’s runner-up Andy Schleck.

Despite an ongoing controversy over his alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs, Contador is tipped as favorite to emerge champion at the end of the grueling three-week race. Contador’s career was threatened when tests conducted after his 2010 Tour de France win found him positive for clenbuterol, an asthma drug that acts as bronchodilator, making breathing easier for patients. The world’s cycling body has banned the drug for its ability to raise aerobic capacity. However, the Spanish cycling body cleared Contador based on the cyclist’s defense that the drug came with contaminated beef that he may have eaten.

Another positive test for Contador in the coming weeks will nullify all his victories in the past year, but the Spanish rider is not letting the controversy affect him, at least that’s how he wants it to appear in public. “The outside pressure is greater than the inside pressure. I’m able to stay focused and know that my objective is to enjoy riding my bike,” Contador said, according to the Boston Herald.