Tour De France And Return Of Lance The famed Tour de France bicycle race begins this weekend and ends 2,263 miles later in Paris after a 20-stage jaunt through the Alps and the Pyrenees. Lance Armstrong says this will be his last Tour, but he's said that before.
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Tour De France And Return Of Lance

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Tour De France And Return Of Lance

Tour De France And Return Of Lance

Tour De France And Return Of Lance

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The famed Tour de France bicycle race begins this weekend and ends 2,263 miles later in Paris after a 20-stage jaunt through the Alps and the Pyrenees. Lance Armstrong says this will be his last Tour, but he's said that before.

T: the Tour de Crash. The riders have gone from Rotterdam in the Netherlands through Brussels, and on to the Belgian countryside. Two riders have dropped out so far.

Teri Schultz tells us now why the cyclists will probably be glad after tomorrow, when the rest of Belgium is behind them.

TERI SCHULTZ: Surveying this year's stages in advance, Lance Armstrong made a stark prediction on Twitter about the third leg of this, his final Tour de France: There will be carnage.

(SOUNDBITE OF A SIREN)

SCHULTZ: So far, Armstrong has what he describes as a mangled bike, a cracked shoe, and a scraped elbow and hip - and that qualifies as relatively unscathed. Sunday, the first full stage, saw one crash caused by a dog running into the path, and three wipeouts in the last two miles - keeping commentators and viewers on edge.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD)

SCHULTZ: (Foreign language spoken)

SCHULTZ: Just a day in and chute and tombe, fall and fallen, along with somber ooh-la-las were already well overused. Australian Adam Hansen left the tour after finishing the day with a broken sternum, collar bone, ribs and a dislocated shoulder.

It was a day meant to be festive as the race was routed through the hometown of legendary Belgian cyclist Eddy Merckx to celebrate his 65th birthday. Merckx was waiting for the bruised bunch at the finish line with the king of Belgium.

And then came manic Monday. Leaving bloody Brussels behind, riders headed out to what must have sounded like a very enticing finish line, in the city of Spa. But it rained, the roads were slick and again, pileups.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD)

SCHULTZ: (Foreign language spoken)

SCHULTZ: (Foreign language spoken)

SCHULTZ: (Foreign language spoken)

SCHULTZ: (Foreign language spoken)

SCHULTZ: Andy Schleck, last year's runner-up, badly hurt his arm in a fall along with his brother Frank, 2009 winner Alberto Contador, Armstrong and several other riders, just 19 miles before the finish line.

And this is the situation before the stage Armstrong was concerned about. The most treacherous of Belgium's famed and dreaded cobblestones are yet ahead.

Jean-Pierre DuBois(ph), a former competitor and now the coach of Belgium's national youth cycling team, warns the riders about the special terrain.

: Two eyes is not enough.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

: You have to be very careful and have eyes everywhere to see everything along the road.

SCHULTZ: But for Armstrong, cobblestones may not be the biggest challenge ahead. His old teammate Floyd Landis, stripped of his 2006 Tour win for doping, launched new allegations last week that Armstrong engaged in illegal blood transfusions in 2004. Landis also alleged bikes donated to Armstrong's team were sold to pay for a doping program.

Armstrong has responded only briefly from the road to deny the charges and to compare Landis' claims to sour milk, saying he doesn't need more than a sip to know it's all rotten.

Armstrong fans in Belgium are holding strong. Fans like Dan Harvey(ph), who with his wife and daughters as crew, duplicated one of last year's stages in France.

: I had testicular cancer 10 years ago, so he inspired me to get on a bike. And I think for guys around the world, he's an absolute inspiration to all of us. So that's why I started to cycle, yeah.

SCHULTZ: And including 6-year-old Pierre(ph), who has one word when asked why he's waited two hours along the route.

PIERRE: Armstrong.

SCHULTZ: For NPR News, I'm Teri Schultz in Brussels.

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