Pacific Northwest riders to watch in the Tour de France

Pacific Northwest riders to watch in the Tour de France
Tyler Farrar of the US celebrates as he crosses the finish line ahead of Romain Feillu of France, left, and Jose Joaquin Rojas of Spain, right, to win the third stage of the Tour de France cycling race.

Every July, 200 or so anorexic-looking (mostly) white dudes slather themselves with chamois cream, squeeze into tiny spandex and nearly kill themselves riding their $10,000+ bicycles up some of the steepest mountains in the world.
 
Sound ridiculous? It is. It’s also one of the greatest sporting events in the world and a lot of fun to watch, especially if you know how it all works and which riders to pay attention to. This year, Seattle will be well represented by some world-class riders with roots in the Pacific Northwest.  
 
Tyler Farrar of team Garmin-Cervelo
This Wenatchee, Washington native is too big and muscular (read: ripped) to ride in the front of the pack in the mountains so he targets individual stage victories.

Bad News: In his previous Tour outings, Farrar has been edged out on multiple stages by Mark Cavendish, a snooty British sprinter who will likely be in top form again this year.

Good news: Farrar has bested Cavendish on stages outside of the Tour, and with a newly bolstered Garmin-Cervelo team to back him, this might be Farrar’s year to shine.

The Wouter factor: Farrar is still mourning the tragic death of his friend and training partner Wouter Weylandt. Weylandt, who rode for the Belgian team Quick Step, died in a crash during May’s Giro d’Italia. Farrar canceled some of his spring racing schedule because of the tragedy, and his riding form is questionable heading into the Tour. Still, Farrar won a stage two weeks ago at the Ster ZLM Toer race in the Netherlands, and will likely be hungry for more wins to dedicate to his fallen friend.

Tejay van Garderen of team HTC-Highroad
Disheartened that no Yankees have reached the Tour de France top-three podium since the now dubious Lance Armstrong-Floyd Landis era? Then tune in to check out this boy wonder. Originally from Tacoma, Washington, van Garderen was pegged early on as America's next Tour de France overall general classification hopeful.

General what: General classification riders look for overall victory; that is, the fastest overall time over the 21 stages that make up the Tour de France. The 22-year old van Garderenis is in his second year as a pro, and recently landed a 5th-place finish at the Tour of California, the most prestigious road race this side of the Atlantic.

The age factor: Will he wear the yellow winner’s jersey when the Tour ends in Paris? Probably not, but he will look to snatch up the white jersey for best young rider. The award goes to the highest-ranking general classification rider age 25 or younger. This is Van Garderen’s first Tour, and while he’s expected to ride well in early stages, his ability to recover and ride consistently for three weeks will be a big question mark.

Chris Horner of team Radioshack
What rider is bald, pushing 40, a chronic overeater and probably America’s best general classification hope heading into the Tour?  This Bend, Oregon native. Horner rides for  the team formed by Lance Armstrong after his “Comeback 2.0” and following the most recent of his several retirements (I’ve lost count). Horner placed 10th in last year’s Tour and easily rode away from riders ten years his junior during the Tour of California in May.

The age and weight factors: Horner says he’s found the form of his life this late in his career because he finally got his weight under control, but it’s hard not to question if Horner’s on the same Special Sauce that his buddy Armstrong “allegedly” was. Either way, it’s hard not to root for the perpetually smiling NorthWesterner whose boisterous personality has earned him the nickname “The Redneck” among other pro riders.

Ryder Hesjedal of team Garmin-Cervelo
Every year Garmin-Cervelo finds a way to sneak a little heard of rider high in the general classification rankings. In 2010, it was this tall, skinny climber for Victoria, British Columbia. Hesjedal will look to improve upon his seventh place in last year’s Tour, but other teams might keep a closer eye on him this year and not let him slip away from the pack as much. Regardless, Hesjedal is a beast on the climbs and might contest for a mountaintop stage victory.