2. Tour de France
Date: July 5-27
Location:England and France
That's right, we said England. Occasionally, the Tour kicks off in other nearby countries before heading back into France. This year, the first stages take a route from Leeds to London via the Yorkshire countryside.
Just picture the backdrop of Downton Abbey with a lot more spandex and cycles zipping through it.
It's only fitting, since the past two tour winners (Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome) were Brits and joined Australian Cadel Evans and Spaniard Carlos Sastre in cleaning up the mess of the Tour's doped-up '90s and 2000s. It's been eight years since Floyd Landis took the last of eight-straight tainted U.S. Tour titles and four years since Alberto Contador gave the Tour its last doping-diminished champion in 2010.
The Brits helped restore some faith in the Tour when there was none and served as squeaky clean bookends to the stripping of Lance Armstrong's seven sullied Tour titles in October 2012. Fans could once again bask in the sweeping, pastoral images of the European countryside without wondering if the cyclists riding through it had been injecting EPO and testosterone behind the hedgerows the night before.
The Tour's newfound, fragile integrity is also great news for NBC, which has made the Tour one of the cornerstone events on its NBC Sports Network. During its prior incarnation as the Outdoor Life Network, the channel picked up the Tour in 1999 and rode the combination of Armstrong's emotionally charged lie, the Tour's photogenic nature and commentator Bob Roll's animated insight into the U.S. sports subconscious. The Tour took hold here in small, but committed niches and became a favorite midsummer distraction for those either bored by baseball or seeking to supplement it.
The niche audience for the Tour and NBC Sports Network's early incarnations as OLN and Versus allowed the channel to give the event the on-air real estate it needed and, eventually, to build an ecosystem of apps and streaming content to complement it. Today, the Tour is now a sprawling offering of streaming video, photography, interactive maps and constantly updating times and stats.
It's been a tough road for the Tour, but one that's only helped NBC hone its cycling coverage and create one of the best multimedia sporting events on the calendar.