What a week!
Ed Chamberlin tips up a huge week of sport, including the Ashes, the Lions and Tour de France.
Last Updated: 04/07/13 12:51pm
Get ready for the best week of the sporting year - and it even looks like the weather will play its part!
The forecast warm sunshine is good news for finals weekend at Wimbledon and let's hope it lasts for the start of the Ashes series next week.
This weekend also sees the deciding Lions Test match, the first mountain top finish in the Tour de France, plus some brilliant racing, golf and cricket.
In the next few days we will find out the first Barclays Premier League fixtures of the season which will be shown live on Sky Sports. From there excitement will build to the start of the season and my mind is already on the start of the campaign.
That excitement was accelerated this week with confirmation of the news that Jamie Carragher will be joining Gary Neville and myself on Monday Night Football. Liverpool v Manchester United on a Monday night might be quite lively!
It hasn't been as lively as I was expecting in the transfer market yet this summer but there's plenty of time for that to change. I always think the best business is done early but few clubs have shown their hand yet. That hasn't stopped plenty of life in Sky Bet's transfer markets and Arsenal fans in particular remain on the edge of their seats.
Wayne Rooney could be the signing of the summer and is a 7/4 chance to join the Gunners, with Chelsea shortening all the time and now 2/1. Rooney is 6/5 to still be at Manchester United on September 1. Those prices are likely to change at any time. As are all the other markets Sky Bet run on all the potential summer transfers. As a former odds compiler myself, seeing the speed at which stories and punters move these days, I have no idea how the Sky Bet traders do it!
Saturday's Eclipse at Sandown is a far from vintage renewal but it's interesting nonetheless and a case of putting back together the pieces of the Prince of Wales' Stakes jigsaw at Royal Ascot. Will we get a repeat with Al Kazeem beating Mukhadram and The Fugue?
Al Kazeem lacks the charisma and sexy profile of previous winners of this great race but has developed into a beast of a horse, who comes to Sandown in the form of his life and at the peak of his powers after three wins from three this term. He only won by a neck at Ascot but I thought he was well on top at the end.
Front running tactics have brought about major improvement in Mukhadram and there could be more progress to come but I'd be amazed if he got as close again to Al Kazeem. Mukhadram's card is now marked and surely he won't be given the same rope again.
Paul Hanagan was superb on him at Ascot with James Doyle the one jockey alert enough to eventually reel him in.
I backed The Fugue that day so am probably speaking through my pocket when I say William Buick didn't seem so alive to the situation and they had a mountain to climb in the straight yet still finished like a train. Buick probably wasn't helped by that being The Fugue's seasonal reappearance so she should be sharper on Saturday and the dry spell should provide the quick ground she needs. The Fugue could easily become the first filly to win the Eclipse since 1992.
However, Ballydoyle could be a major fly in the ointment if they run both Declaration Of War and Mars. The former was hugely impressive at Royal Ascot, while I have backed Mars on all three runs this season and was left encouraged by the Guineas, frustrated in the Derby then impressed in the St James' Palace.
I'm sure he would have been placed at least with some luck in what was a shambles of a race at Epsom and then he was eye-catchingly well backed at Ascot before finishing an excellent and running on third behind Dawn Approach and Toronado. The Ballydoyle team clearly retain a lot of faith in Mars and the stiff ten furlongs at Sandown should suit him perfectly. What a difficult puzzle the Eclipse is to solve.
The summer racing's bandwagon rolls merrily on to the the July Meeting at Newmarket next week. I'm not a fan of the bleak, wide open spaces of the Rowley Mile but love a day on the atmospheric July course. I'm eager to snap up some of Skybet's 5/1 on Shea Shea as soon as he gets the green light for next Saturday's July Cup.
At Ascot he met interference at a crucial time yet still burst clear to win the race on his side decisively and was desperately unlucky to be robbed on the other side of the track by Sole Power. Shea Shea smashed the course record over five furlongs at Meydan in March and could be equally devastating over six. I fancy Shea Shea to gain revenge and re-establish himself as the world's top sprinter.
The clash of the week is going to be Sky Lantern v Duntle in the Falmouth Stakes. You have to favour the former after her scintillating display at the Royal meeting, which remains the performance and ride of the season for me.
Tour de France
The 100th Tour de France got off to a stunningly picturesque start in Corsica but it's been fairly uneventful for the General Classification riders in the opening week, bar the odd crash and incline. That will all change on Saturday evening with the first mountain top finish in the Pyrenees.
I fully expect Chris Froome to be in yellow on Saturday night but I doubt he will shake off his rivals on the climb to Ax 3 Domaines. It's less than 8km long and not that severe but it will certainly set the pattern for the rest of the race.
I think Joaquim Rodriguez will win the stage with the likes of Froome, Alberto Contador and Tejay Van Garderen together in hot pursuit. Gone are the days when Lance Armstrong would burn off the opposition from the bottom of the first big climb of the race.
In this new, largely drug free era, it's a war of attrition and the kick usually comes in the final kilometre of a major climb, meaning this is a Tour that will be decided by seconds not minutes.
My bet for the podium, Van Garderen, has drifted in the market this week despite making a rock solid start to the race. I can only imagine that is because Cadel Evans has been so prominent at the front of the peloton. Don't read anything in to that and all it has done is make me go back in and back the American again.
I remain confident that after the time-trial next Wednesday and Mont Ventoux next weekend, Van Garderen will have established himself as the BMC team leader.
I seem to be one of the few who likes Warren Gatland's selection for the big game on Saturday. He had to do something drastic to try and change the momentum in the series, which has swung dramatically Australia's way. Even his dropping of Brian O'Driscoll makes tactical sense.
The biggest sadness will be if the Lions lose the series without having had a real go. They have defended heroically so far but we've seen little of them as an attacking force. I hope they don't die wondering on Saturday and Jamie Roberts and co. really take it to the Wallabies with ball in hand.
Sky Bet don't fancy their chances, though, and the betting momentum has also swung the Aussie's way. Before the first Test all the money was for the Lions but that has dried up now and it's Australia that start favourites and giving up one point on Sky Bet's handicap.
It's hard to make a case for the wounded Lions - however, I would not rule out a patriotic punt on Friday night and Saturday morning!
Unlike the rugby players, Australia's cricketers have been friendless in the betting ahead of the eagerly awaited Ashes series, which starts on Wednesday.
They go in to the series as 4/1 outsiders with Sky Bet, who have England as red hot 4/11 favourites. They are also favourites to win the first Test at Trent Bridge next week at 5/6 with Australia at 10/3. If the weather forecast is correct the draw should be a lot bigger than 5/2 as I can't see these two sides playing out five days.
My main worry for England is that they often play their best cricket when their backs are against the wall. Everyone seems to expect them to roll over the Australians with ease but it won't be that simple. It's not difficult to envisage a reality check in Nottingham.
Australia's concern must be the depth of their batting. It's inevitable in English conditions and with the strength of the home side's attack that they will take wickets with the new ball.
Do Australia have the quality at five, six and seven to counter attack in the style of Steve Waugh, Ian Healy, Adam Gilchrist, Mike Hussey and their new coach Darren Lehmann have done in the past? Phillip Hughes, Steven Smith and Brad Haddin have key roles to play in this series.