Despite drug cheats Tour continues to endure

Cycling is pain, but from pain can come beauty.

And few sportspeople know more the pain that needs to be endured in order to uncover beauty than a cyclist.

Only the hottest flame will forge the strongest steel.

That's why you'll see riders pushing themselves to the limit on the track and road and trail.

Professional cyclists who have burnt most of the body fat from under their skin, looking more like refugees than athletes, with their hollow cheeks and baleful eyes.

And there are those riders who have gone beyond the edge, sought a chemical advantage that ultimately not only causes themselves pain, but more pain for the sport they say they love.

The Tour de France has endured these attacks from the enemies within for so long it should have withered on the vine a long time ago.

But there's something magical about this event, something that any amount of drug cheating has been only able to diminish, not obliterate.

That's why many will endure the pain of sleep deprivation for the next three weeks as we follow Le Tour around the Grand Boucle.

The Tour is one of the those events you can enjoy on many levels.

You can appreciate the scenery, the churches and villages, the woods and lakes.

You can catch the highlights when they find you, or you can switch on for the final furious week into Paris.

Or you can take in the entire journey, all 3404km of it, riding every gear change and attack from the front of the peloton.

Choose your own level of discomfort.

New Zealand will be represented in the Tour by Garmin-Sharp rider Jack Bauer and Lotto-Belisol veteran Greg Henderson.

You might see Bauer lugging a jersey full of water bottles midway through a stage, and you will likely catch a glimpse of Henderson in the explosive final metres as he tries to position Andre Greipel for the stage win, as he did last year when he helped the big German to three stage victories.

Henderson hasn't had the same profile as the now-retired Julian Dean, but he's been every bit as brilliant as a servant for New Zealand cycling.

Bauer, meanwhile, will be making his debut on the Tour, an incredible achievement for a rider who has been something of a slow burner.

The 28-year-old was riding his fourth Tour of Southland in 2009 when he shot to prominence, finishing runner-up to Heath Blackgrove.

The following year he again impressed many observers with his power, but lost out to Hayden Roulston.

He caught the eye of the BikeNZ track programme, but it didn't stick.

A few months later Bauer took out the national road title and his career has been on an upward trend since, first signing with an English continental team before joining Pro Tour team Garmin in 2011.

He will be the 11th New Zealander to take part in the Tour, which is a massive undertaking by any measure.

According to race officials, about 4500 people make up the entire race, from the organisers to teams to media and service providers. Twelve million spectators lined the route last year.

Twenty-two teams of nine riders (198 in total) will make up the peloton for the 21 stages.

Thirty-six towns will host stages of the race, with 1450 beds booked each night.

More than 2000 journalists will cover the race for 560 media outlets, including 350 newspapers and magazines and 85 television channels.

Footage of the race will be broadcast to 190 countries, including Estonia, Israel and Kazakhstan, who will all be taking live coverage for the first time.

Last year, the tour prompted 11.5 million unique visitors to its websites, nearly a million fans on Facebook and 150,000 on Twitter.

The Tour has suffered, and caused suffering, but it endures.

The Southland Times