It is what the French call un coup de jeune -- an influx of youth -- and, as well as Lance Armstrong's effervescent form, the usual series of horrendous crashes, and heavy rain, it is what has set the opening phase of the Tour de France apart. It is many years since so many young riders made such an impression.
To his fans, Marco Pantani was Il Pirata. Since his death in The Roses apartment hotel in Rimini on the evening of Valentine's Day, Pantani's other, hidden life has been brutally exposed. It was not Stevenson's “drink and the devil” that did for this pirate, but men in smart suits peddling cocaine and its derivative, crack.
One of the great sporting metaphors inspired by the Tour de France is that of the race as a road to Calvary. Le calvaire has been routinely used throughout the 100 years since the great race was born to describe the process of a cyclist continuing in the face of great affliction - be it injury, illness or the mental agony that follows the death of a close relative.
Things American may not be the flavour of the month in France right now, and motor-mouthed Texans least of all, but in one far-flung corner of old Europe a small-time farmer bucks the trend. Except that this is no ordinary paysan, and he is not thinking of George W Bush.
Last week should have been a triumphant one for world cycling champion Mario Cipollini. But injury was piled on top of insult as Italy's most charismatic cyclist slid across the road at 48kph on his backside, just 160m from the finish line in the little Veneto town of San Donà di Piave. With bruising to his ribs and back, Cipollini was unable to complete the race.