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Tour De France Under Way in Luxembourg - 2002-07-06

Europe's top biking race, the Tour de France, got off to a rainy start in Luxembourg Saturday. American champion Lance Armstrong is favored to win and is attracting big crowds.

Tens of thousands of people lined the narrow streets Luxembourg city to witness the start of the tour. Belgian businessman Wim Debouck brought his two young boys, ages two and five, to see for themselves.

"It's good for children because they are very impressed for (by) Lance Armstrong. It's a cool guy, they say to me," he said.

Reporter: "So Armstrong's making an impression on the young people?

Debouck: "Absolutely, because he is very sporty, he has a lot of discipline. So he gives a very good influence to our children.

The Tour de France lasts for three weeks, goes for more than 3200 kilometers, and takes riders up the mountains. It is almost one century old and an established tradition in Europe. Lance Armstrong is going for his fourth straight win and has quite a following.

Armstrong does not have much serious opposition this year. His two key rivals are not taking part. 1998 tour champion Marco Pantani failed to qualify after being caught up in doping charges. German Jan Ullrich, who won in 1997, is recovering from a knee injury and also recently failed a preliminary drug test.

But people still love the race, and they love Lance Armstrong. Many say his recovery from cancer several years ago sharpened his character and he is driven to win.

Analysts say the route for the tour this year is a little bit tougher, with the crucial mountain stages in the last week or so. The mountains are considered to be the most demanding part of the race and the true test of a rider's strength.