Interesting analysis on the new Batman film, particularly in light of the events in Colorado. Darkness has gone mainstream. Slippery slope stuff, if you will. Take some time to reflect on how our entertainment choices intersect with and reveal what we really are are becoming as a culture.
Read more HERE about famine in Africa and the early warning system the US is helping to promote HERE.
The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) is a USAID-funded activity that collaborates with international, regional and national partners to provide timely and rigorous early warning and vulnerability information on emerging and evolving food security issues. FEWS NET professionals in the Africa, Central America, Haiti, Afghanistan and the United States monitor and analyze relevant data and information in terms of its impacts on livelihoods and markets to identify potential threats to food security.
Once these issues are identified, FEWS NET uses a suite of communications and decision support products to help decision makers act to mitigate food insecurity. These products include monthly food security updates for 25 countries, regular food security outlooks, and alerts, as well as briefings and support to contingency and response planning efforts. More in-depth studies in areas such as livelihoods and markets provide additional information to support analysis as well as program and policy development.
FEWS NET also focuses its efforts on strengthening early warning and food security networks. Activities in this area include developing capacity, building and strengthening networks, developing policy-useful information, and building consensus around food security problems and solutions.
James Bond Celebrates 50 Years on the Screen: From Britian With Love
THE queen is not the only one to celebrate a jubilee in 2012. It is 50 years since James Bond, another British icon, first appeared on screen. Age has not wearied the dashing spy, though his hair colour, accent and taste in women, cocktails and tailoring has changed. In celebration of 007’s glamour and gadgetry, a retrospective opens at the Barbican in London on July 6th, the first leg of a three-year international tour.
The Bond films are the longest-running and (adjusting for inflation) most lucrative franchise in cinema. Their success depends on updating each one for its time while remaining pleasantly removed from reality. Ian Fleming’s much darker novels, on which the film character is based, presented a world of champagne, fine food and foreign travel far beyond the reach of most readers. As such things became ordinary, the films came to feature ever glitzier frocks, outlandish sets and whizzy gadgets.
Each instalment holds a mirror to the fears of a generation. The villains eventually leave Russia, get hold of nukes and set up terrorist cells. But the films—and the exhibition—take in shifting social mores too. Pussy Galore is unforgettable for many reasons, but when “Goldfinger” came out in 1964, she was one of the first leading women to wear trousers on screen. Although Bond still likes a tipple, there is no sign of the 70-a-day cigarette habit he sports in the 1953 novel “Casino Royale”. A few of his high-tech toys have helped to launch commercial products, including the first digital watch in “Live and Let Die”.
Bond is not an establishment figure, says curator Bronwyn Cosgrave. Rather, he is “a wild card with a better suit than everyone else”. Though some of those suits were tailored in Los Angeles, Paris and Rome, and although the films are Hollywood productions, 007 remains essentially British. The 23rd official Bond movie, “Skyfall”, to be released this autumn, seems to sell Britishness more strongly than ever: the trailer features skyscapes of London, coffins draped with the union flag, and action sequences by St Paul’s, Big Ben and the Tube. In the year of the London Olympics the spy has finally come home.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.—John 1:1
An intelligent plain man, untaught in the truths of Christianity, coming upon this text, would likely conclude that John meant to teach that it is the nature of God to speak, to communicate His thoughts to others. And he would be right. A word is a medium by which thoughts are expressed, and the application of term to the Eternal Son leads us to believe that self-expression is inherent in the Godhead, that God is forever seeking to speak Himself out to His creation.
The whole Bible supports the idea. God is speaking. Not God spoke, but God is speaking. He is by His nature continuously articulate. He fills the world with His speaking Voice.
That God is here and that He is speaking—these truths are back of all other Bible truths; without them there could be no revelation at all. God did not write a book and send it by messenger to be read at a distance by unaided minds. He spoke a Book and lives in His spoken words, constantly speaking His words and causing the power of them to persist across the years.
God breathed on clay and it became a man; He breathes on men and they become clay. “Return ye children of men” was the word spoken at the Fall by which God decreed the death of every man, and no added word has He needed to speak. The sad procession of mankind across the face of the earth from birth to the grave is proof that His original Word was enough.
We have not given sufficient attention to that deep utterance in the Book of John, “That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” Shift the punctuation around as we will and the truth is still there: the Word of God affects the hearts of all men as light in the soul. In the hearts of all men the light shines, the Word sounds, and there is no escaping them. Something like this would of necessity be so if God is alive and in His world. And John says that it is so. Even those persons who have never heard of the Bible have still been preached to with sufficient clarity to remove every excuse from their hearts forever.
WHEN Manchester City topped Manchester United on goal difference to win England’s Premiership title in May, it was a case of equity triumphing over debt. City, long the poorer and less successful soccer team, has soared since being bought in 2008 by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates, and has been buying players as if money were free (which in the sheikh’s case it nearly is). United, by contrast, has found its ability to buy the best players constrained by debts of nearly $700m, nervous bankers and pending European “fair play” rules designed to ensure teams do not prosper by taking excessive financial risks.
Even when he is on form, Wayne Rooney (pictured), now United’s only genuine superstar, cannot win trophies on his own. Hence the forthcoming initial public offering announced on July 3rd. This is not a return to the full public-company status the Red Devils enjoyed between 1991 and 2005, when the club was taken private by the Glazer family of Florida, which also owns the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, an American-football team. Nor is it the $1 billion offering that was widely expected to take place in Singapore, which seems to have been abandoned because of volatile financial markets. Instead, United will list on the New York Stock Exchange, and will aim to sell only enough shares to raise $100m.
United’s brand is still reckoned to be the most valuable in football, at around $2.2 billion, according to Forbes magazine. But that does not make the shares a wise investment. The filing documents list more than 50 risk factors, from the performance of the team to reliance on the laws of the Cayman Islands.
United will not have to release much financial information, since the Glazers are taking advantage of America’s Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act of 2012 to register it as a lightly regulated “emerging growth company”. (Is a 134-year-old club staffed by spoilt millionaires really the sort of “start-up” the law’s drafters had in mind?) New shareholders will have little say over how United is run, including whether it pays them any dividends. The shares the Glazers are offering are special ones with minimal voting rights. So the only return from this IPO is likely to be the victories the money raised brings on the pitch. This is an offering for fools and fans only.
Joint Commissioning Service for 2012 Summer teams to Uganda and Northern Ireland Sunday, July 9, 2012 at 7:30 at Southland Christian Church
On Sunday, July 8, 2012 there will be a joint commissioning service for the summer mission trips to Northern Ireland for FUSED and to Uganda for work at New Beginnings in Uganda. Please join us at 7:30 at Southland Christian Church (right after the 608 service) in Room E109 (to the right of the service center) to celebrate and commission both teams.
Children at New Beginnings
FUSED Staff and Volunteers
For the eighth year, a team of students from Lexington (made up of high school students, young adults and 608 and CSF types) will work in and around Newcastle, a town of 4,000 or so that sees its population more than double in the summer with vacationers from Belfast and other nearby communities.
We will join forces with nearly 30 workers from local churches (mostly young adults and students from Baptist, Presbyterian, Brethren and Elim churches) to do morning, afternoon and evening programs for all ages—from elementary to middle school to high school—as well as young adults and families. We usually see over 200 students in the program. The combined team will live in community at Ardaluin House for the two weeks and meals will either be “self-catered” or be provided by the local church.
The dual goals of this work is to provide discipleship to young people and additionally do outreach to youth, adults and families throughout the Newcastle area. In a country torn by denominational divisions and other political and economic issues, it is unprecedented to see a number of local congregations come together as one body, as the church, to do a program of this type. It is also unusual to see a program that is community-wide and focused on outreach. The church is largely irrelevant in Northern Ireland (and Europe for that matter) and membership in a local body is for the most part defined by your surname or neighborhood. In short, either you are “born” into a church through family, or you simply don’t belong. And even if you start in a church, it is often the case that by the time you are a teenager church has become dull and unimportant so you leave.
Into this dynamic we insert our team, a group highly energized by the challenge of Northern Ireland. Our team helps act as a catalyst for the larger team and that encouragement is a big part of what we do. Many of our team members see themselves, their own life and faith journey, in the youth of Northern Ireland who are struggling with life and church. We form relationships with youngsters, teens and families that show us that God and His church is so much bigger than Lexington or Southland. And in a way we bring water, the living water, to a dry land that needs the hope that only Jesus can bring.
For the second year, another team of young adults from Kentucky and Tennessee will be joining forces with another team from Northern Ireland to spend two weeks working in northern Uganda to help orphans and the surrounding community with everything from building projects to Bible lessons and just daily reminders of God’s love.
New Beginnings (NBCT) is a non-profit making organization set up by a group of volunteers in Northern Ireland. NBCT works closely with an experienced and carefully selected team in Africa to help bring a better quality of life to some of Uganda’s most vulnerable young children.
NBCT has purchased approximately 8 acres of land beside a small rural village in the Nakasangola District in Uganda adjacent to the local school. We plan to purchase additional land for farming in the area.
This area has suffered greatly both from the effects war and from AIDS.
Uganda has a population of approx. 30,000,000 people there are an estimated 2,300,000 orphans below the age of seventeen. NBCT aims to bring hope to children who feel hopeless, and embrace the rejected. Children are selected from the following backgrounds:
AIDS Orphans from the Nakasongola district.
Direct from those sleeping rough on the streets.
National Rehabilitation Centre; for captured street children, abandoned children and young offenders.
Domestic Violence Victims — Some communities in Africa still use harsh disciplinary methods towards children and some need to be rescued.
Those orphaned due to war — many children have lost both parents due to the war in Northern Uganda and need help and support.
Abandoned babies —babies who have simply been abandoned and on the streets.
NBCT aims to offer care, protection and love through the establishment of Children’s Villages in which:
House parents will be a mother/father figure to approximately eight children accommodated in a traditional African style village.
The development was started with the construction of three larger homes, cooking area and toilet facilities followed by a number of smaller traditional homes.
Children will be encouraged in academic, vocational and basic life skills, to enable them to become productive and self-sustainable members of the community.Each child’s medical needs will be monitored, and catered for.
Counseling will be offered to each child. It is hoped that some of the children, with short term problems, will eventually be reunited with their families.
NBCT works with local authorities and local communities to ensure that this work done in a way that does not alienate the people of the area, but rather involves them in the project. We want to encourage community ownership and support.
Wood Takes a Thrilling Turn: Some of the Best Roller Coasters in the World--In Santa Claus, Indiana?
From the NYT; full story HERE. Link to Holiday World on the Logo at the bottom of the post.
SANTA CLAUS, Ind. — The first drop is a doozy. From the summit of the wooden roller coaster called the Voyage, 163 feet above the Holiday World theme park in the rolling woodlands of southern Indiana, the track drops 154 feet at a 66-degree angle. The cars quickly reach a top speed of nearly 70 miles an hour.
Those gasp-inducing numbers help explain why more than a million people a year visit Holiday World, which is a ways off the beaten track, and why the Voyage, one of three large wooden coasters at the park, earns high marks from connoisseurs.
But for Chad Miller, one of the ride’s designers, the most important feature of that first hill is the curve at the top.
“The secret of the first drop is shaping up that parabola and getting it exactly right,” said Mr. Miller, 38, an owner of the Gravity Group, one of about a dozen coaster design firms in the world. “It gives you just the right amount of air time, especially in the back seat.”
“Air time” is coaster vernacular for negative G-forces that lift the rider out of the seat, and results from changes in the car’s speed. Along its 1.2 miles of track — it’s the second-longest wooden coaster in the world — the Voyage has plenty of steep drops and tight curves that affect speed, making for 24 seconds of air time, an unofficial record.
But shaping parabolas is just one of many tasks facing engineers like Mr. Miller. Designing roller coasters is a Jekyll-and-Hyde job: The first priority is to make riders safe; the second is to make them scream.
Mr. Miller and his three partners, who work in a small suite of offices on the outskirts of Cincinnati decorated with coaster posters and odd leftovers from various projects, crunch the numbers carefully, using their own programs (with names like Splinal Tap) that can turn the squiggly lines of a rough initial design into a more polished one. At regular intervals along the route, the software calculates G-forces — up and down, side to side and forward and back — on riders in the front, middle or back of the car.
The designers stay well within G-force limits for amusement rides established by the standards organization ASTM International (which regulatory agencies in most states follow, too). But their goal is to shake riders up — beginning, on the Voyage, with that first hill, which is immediately followed by two others with drops of more than 100 feet.
After that the hills are less severe, but the track twists and turns (one section is affectionately called the spaghetti bowl), banks up to 90 degrees, weaves in and out of the supporting structure and dips through tunnels and under perfectly safe, but threatening, beams (“head choppers,” another bit of coaster vernacular).
“It’s 6,400 feet of track,” Mr. Miller said. “We had so much track to work with, we said, ‘Let’s do some really cool stuff.’ ”
The Gravity Group works on wooden coasters, which have rails made from laminated pressure-treated pine, laid on wooden boards called ledgers, with only thin ribbons of steel where the car wheels make contact. There are purists who say the supporting structure must be of wood, too, but the Voyage is one of many wooden coasters — the Cyclone at Coney Island is another — with steel supports.
New wooden coasters are relatively rare these days, as park owners opt for steel-rail designs that are generally faster and higher (and less expensive to maintain) and have more queasiness-producing features like barrel rolls and corkscrew loops. But the Gravity Group is churning out designs. A small coaster opened last year, to positive reviews, at Quassy Amusement Park in Connecticut, and the group has undertaken several projects in China, where the growing middle class has fallen head over heels for amusement parks.
The Voyage, built in 2006 at a cost of $9.5 million, remains the company’s signature ride, consistently ranked among the top wooden coasters in the world by what are politely called coaster enthusiasts.
Perhaps you think the world does not need another Spider-Man, since Sam Raimi, Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst did such a nice job with him, circa 2002-2007. Even if their third installment had less zing in its swing, it seemed unseemly for Columbia Pictures to reboot the franchise so soon, like those people who finish a remodel on their home and start another a year later. Obviously, Columbia is greedy, but can’t we just enjoy what we already have?
Marc Webb’s ebullient, satisfying The Amazing Spider-Man might leave youwith a new attitude about crime-fighting superheroes; it certainly did so for me. They’re becoming like venerable Broadway plays, trotted out with different casts and directors on different occasions, proving themselves surprisingly flexible to new ideas, new stars. You don’t say, “Oh, I’ve already seen Death of a Salesman,” you say “Philip Seymour Hoffman as Willy Lohman? I’ll bite.” (Provided you had the chance while it lasted.)
It so happens that Andrew Garfield, the new Spider-Man, played Biff to Hoffman’s Willy in Mike Nichol’s Death of a Salesman this spring and got great notices. He deserves more of the same for his Peter Parker. The character is young, a senior at Midtown Science High School, and stays the same age throughout. The bony, almost bulbous-nosed Garfield (Never Let Me Go, The Social Network) is 28 in real life, a bit old for high school, but between the lanky physique and puff of hair, he manages a credible teen. He does very well with Peter’s goober tendencies as well as the tenderness Peter feels toward Aunt May (Sally Field) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen). This Spider-Man is a full of moist sincerity; he’s always tearing up. But Garfield has the edge on Maguire in terms of Peter’s sex appeal, which grows apace—along with his sarcasm—with each street fight won and building scaled. That famous Dunst-Maguire kiss? The Amazing Spider-Man has one just as good, between Peter Parker and his pre-Mary Jane love, his high school classmate Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone of The Help and Easy A). Gwen is beautiful, brilliant (she interns at Oscorp) and the daughter of police captain George Stacy (Denis Leary).
A Marvel obsessive may take exception over the way the fleet of screenwriters, including Harry Potter stalwart Steve Kloves, have handled the story. The Amazing Spider-Man is neither a pure return to the source material nor a prequel to the Raimi narrative; it wavers somewhere in between. It helps to be forgetful (which comic book fans don’t tend to be). I didn’t rewatch the first Raimi film until after I’d seen Webb’s ((500) Days of Summer is the only other film he’s directed) and the sum of my memory of it had faded to Fun! Good kiss! Cute Tobey! Good swinging! But even so, when the new Uncle Ben goes down in the street and the light leaves Martin Sheen’s eyes, all I could think was how many more times are we going to see this old man’s blood run into the pavement?
TheAmazing Spider-Man covers Peter’s bite and subsequent transformation in greater detail, playing off his bafflement about it to fine effect, as well as his dawning realization that being part spider is awesome. There’s a nifty scene on a subway car, with Peter apologizing left and right as he discovers his new strength and the challenges of having organic Velcro on his fingertips (he yanks off a woman’s top). How would it be to go from geeky teen that can’t get a date to someone who can move like Mikhail Baryshnikov at warp speed? Thrilling, and that’s what it looks like here. None of this is new to us, but Garfield and Webb make it feel convincingly fresh and exciting.
The main narrative difference here, other than his youth and love interest, is that Peter is more focused on the absence of his parents, Richard (Campbell Scott) and Mary Parker (Embeth Davidtz), who leave him with Aunt May and Uncle Ben in a prologue and then go off and die in a plane crash. As a teen Peter finds some of his father’s old files from Oscorp and pays a fateful visit to Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), his father’s former colleague and best friend, although it turns out, not a very loyal one. “He never even called,” spits Uncle Ben. (That backstory clearly awaits us in The Even More Amazing Spider-Man, should the box office respond to this one.) Sheen is just right as Uncle Ben, and Field is good too as Aunt May, although I found her youthful mane of dark, cascading curls distracting. I’m not used to Aunt May (or Sally Field) seeming hot.
Like Norman Osborn, Dr. Connors dabbles in his own genetically engineered serums which restore a missing arm (plus!) but turn him into a lizard (negative!). Ifans handles the furtive aspect of pre-lizard Dr. Connors nicely, but when he goes reptilian, the man and the villain hardly seem connected, unlike Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin, who always seemed like an adjunct of Norman. Also, even in 3-D, I found the lizard version of him mechanical and fake, straight out of a B movie. I appreciated Captain Stacy’s withering comment to Peter, mid-lizard-denial, “Do I look like the mayor of Tokyo to you?”
Nearly as many sparks fly between Peter and the cop as they do between Peter and Gwen. For their first date, Gwen invites her classmate to share a special dinner with the family. “We’re having branzino,” she promises. This trendy fish is often served whole on the plate. I think, from the teasing way Gwen repeatedly says “branzino” to Peter, that she finds both her mother’s culinary reaching and Peter’s cluelessness about the treat he’s being offered amusing. They lob the word back and forth flirtatiously, which is weird and yet delightful.
Garfield and Stone have serious chemistry (they’re dating in real life). Maybe it’s partly Stone’s husky, Bacall-like voice, but their dialogue has an old fashioned feel to it—two smart kids sparring, with occasional pauses to kiss. They’re intellectual equals (she’s first in her class; he’s second, according to Gwen) but she’s still swayed by that physical power business. “I’m going to throw you out the window now,” Spider-Man tells her during a fight sequence, and when he does and she lands safely on the ground, from the look on Gwen’s face you’d think he’d said “I’m going to peel your clothes off now” and done it. I look forward to seeing more of them together and I suspect audiences will too. The Amazing Spider-Man has a little more than two weeks in theaters to prove itself before The Dark Knight Rises. Speaking of, it may seem unfathomable now, but someday in the not so distant future, someone will replace Christian Bale too. Blasphemy or economic reality? The latter. And we’ll all be just fine.
50 Years of Walmart (Good and Bad): Ten Ways Walmart Changed the World
On July 2, 1962 — 50 years ago today — Sam Walton opened the very first Walmart store in Rogers, Arkansas. Little did he know at the time that he was laying the foundation for an American institution that would reshape not just the retail industry, but America itself. 4,400 stores later, Walmart’s size and reach truly boggle the mind.
Walmart is the world largest private employer — only the U.S. Department of Defense and China’s People’s Liberation Army employ more people. Its more-than-2.1 million workers exceed the population of 15 states and the District of Columbia. Each week more than 140 million Americans shop at a Walmart, a figure that far surpasses the audience of the 2012 Super Bowl or the voter turnout of the 2008 presidential election. And though Walmart’s revenues — $443 billion for the latest fiscal year — are comparable to some of the world’s largest oil companies, they absolutely blow away its nearest retail competitors. Target’s latest fiscal year revenues were just shy of $70 billion. As Charles Fishman wrote in his book The Wall-Mart Effect,
“Walmart does more business by March 3 than Target does all year. Target doesn’t have a single store outside the United States; Walmart’s international stores alone generate almost twice Target’s total revenue.”
Not bad for an outfit that was no more than a lone outpost in small town Arkansas just 50 years ago.
Of course, you don’t become one of the most powerful private organizations in the history of human civilization without turning over a few apple carts. Walmart’s relentless drive for efficiency has bankrupted companies, put downward pressure on wages, and upset a retail culture that some believe was less efficient but more personal and aesthetically pleasing. In this sense, Walmart’s story is the story of American capitalism. It is the story of an unwavering pursuit of innovation and efficiency and the casualties of that pursuit.
There have been winners and losers in Walmart’s headlong march to the top, and along the way the firm has transmuted the global economy and America itself. Here are 10 ways that Walmart has changed the world.
LIÈGE, Belgium — The Tour de France has every reason to be lackluster this year. Alberto Contador, professional cycling’s best rider, is serving a doping ban. Andy Schleck, a perennial contender, is sidelined with an injury. And the Olympic road race in late July, just days after the Tour’s end, has some competitors thinking about saving themselves for the one-day event.
But the 99th edition of cycling’s premier race may prove to be one of the most compelling in recent years, thanks to Bradley Wiggins of Britain and the defending champion, Cadel Evans of Australia.
As the Tour starts its nearly 2,173-mile journey Saturday, the yellow jersey spotlight is fixed firmly on Wiggins and Evans.
Wiggins, 32, is the favorite to stand atop the podium in Paris three weeks from now. With a lanky frame and modish sideburns that hark back to 1960s-era Britain, he looks as if he would be more at home in an Antonioni film than in a bike race.
The extra facial hair has not increased Wiggins’s drag coefficient this season. The Team Sky captain, Wiggins has had a torrid start to 2012, winning three of the five stage races he has entered, including a victory over a field that included Evans in the Critérium du Dauphiné in June.
“Bradley is in form and on the up,” the Team Sky sport director Sean Yates said. “He’s done so much in the last six months, and he’s the favorite for the Tour now.”
Though Wiggins has often made the shortlist of contenders in recent years, his Tour performances have proved inconsistent. A former Olympic champion track cyclist, he finished fourth in the 2009 Tour, his best result, before struggling to 24th place in 2010.
Last year, he adjusted his pre-Tour training regime with the help of Tim Kerrison, a former coach for the Australian national swimming team. But he failed to see the fruits of his labor in the Tour, breaking his collarbone during Stage 7 and abandoning the race.
Fully recovered, Wiggins has benefited from his increased fitness this season.
“With that improvement, and with race results, comes confidence, and there’s a snowball effect,” Yates said.
Evans, the 35-year-old Team BMC Racing leader, has not enjoyed as much success leading to July as he did last year. A sinus infection forced his withdrawal from Amstel Gold, a one-day race in the Netherlands in April, and he returned to form only recently, finishing third at the Dauphiné.
For the notably private Evans, who has sought inner peace in past Tours by locking himself in hotel bathrooms with noise-canceling headphones, spending the spring under the radar has helped him prepare mentally for the title defense.
“In some ways, I suppose not having the best race results keeps people’s attention away from me and helps make my life a little easier,” he said in a teleconference last week.
The two riders are similarly matched. Their teams, among the highest-salaried in the Tour this year, have world-class support riders. And both Wiggins and Evans are excellent all-around riders, as comfortable in the mountains as in individual time trials, stages in which riders race one by one against the clock.
Last year, Evans won the race during the individual time trial in Grenoble, snatching yellow from the leader, Andy Schleck, with an inspired ride.
Time trials will play a bigger role in this Tour than in the recent past. In 2009 and 2010, there were two solo time trials; last year, just one. This year the course, which winds clockwise around France, features three individual time trials.
The defending champion, Cadel Evans, riding alongside a team car during a pre-Tour training session.
RIDERS TO WATCH
• Bradley Wiggins
Age: 32 Country: Great Britain Team: Sky
Last year’s finish: Withdrew after breaking collarbone during Stage 7
Wiggins, long Britain’s best yellow jersey hope, arrives at the Tour in the best form of his career. A former track cycling star — Wiggins was a gold medalist at the 2008 Olympic Games — he won three major stage races this spring, joining the cycling legends Eddy Merckx and Jacques Anquetil as the only riders in cycling history to win both the Paris-Nice race and the Critérium du Dauphiné, which Wiggins won last month. He’ll have support from his loaded Team Sky squad, which helped him best his rival Cadel Evans in the Dauphiné. Though he rode to a fourth-place finish in 2009, Wiggins has seen many of his Tours end ingloriously. In 2007, his Cofidis team quit the race en masse after a positive drug test by one of its riders, Cristian Moreni. Last year, Wiggins broke his collarbone during Stage 7 and was forced to abandon the race.
• Cadel Evans
Age: 35 Country: Australia Team: BMC Racing
Last year’s finish: Winner
Evans, the defending champion, has had a quieter lead-up to this year’s Tour than in seasons’ past. Beset by a sinus infection in April, he missed many of the month’s spring classics — a series of imposing one-day races held in Belgium and Holland — and had an undistinguished finish at the Tour de Romandie, which he won in 2011. Though he failed to win the Critérium du Dauphiné, Evans showed the pro circuit his form during a breakaway win in the race’s first stage. Like Wiggins, Evans is a strong climber as well as a savvy time-trialer, which will be of utmost importance on a course that features more than 100 kilometers of racing against the clock.
Schleck won’t have his teammate and younger brother Andy, out with a fractured pelvis, in his quest for a repeat podium finish. Schleck, who led the 2008 Tour for three stages, has had an uneven season: he pulled out of May’s Giro d’Italia with a shoulder injury, then finished second in June’s Tour de Suisse. But he seems to be peaking at the right time and will benefit mentally from the absence of the team director Johan Bruyneel, who, along with Lance Armstrong, has been charged with running a doping conspiracy by the United States Anti-Doping Agency. Bruyneel and the Schleck brothers have reportedly had a tense relationship since the beginning of this season; in May, Bruyneel publicly questioned Fränk Schleck’s commitment to racing after the Giro abandon.