Equal parts travelogue, party, and sport, the Tour de France enthralls us every year with spectacular scenery and fierce competition. The 99th Tour this year covers 3,497 kilometers over 20 stages and a prologue, and can loosely be divided into three parts: the mostly-flat “sprinters'” stages in the first week, the high passes of the Alps in the second week, and the sharp ascents of the Pyrenees in the third week. Throughout, millions of fans with no need for tickets crowd the roads for the largest free sporting event and rolling party in the world, which unfolds in the world’s largest stadium: the entire country of France, with bits of Belgium and Switzerland tossed in for good measure. The race itself is shaping up as a showdown between defending champion Cadel Evans of Australia and Bradley Wiggins of Britain. Disrupting matters was a devastating high-speed crash that took down almost half the peloton on stage six, already infamous as the Metz Massacre. The list of grisly injuries astonishes: broken tibia, punctured kidney, ruptured spleen, punctured lung, broken collar bone, fractured wrist, broken ribs, and more. Already almost 20 of the original 198 riders have abandoned with serious injuries from multiple crashes. Gathered here are images of the first week of the Tour, from the favorites to the domestiques, the gorgeous scenery, and the passionate fans. Thanks to photographer Veeral Patel for making his images available. — Lane Turner (33 photos total)

A fan cheers on the peloton riding in the sixth stage of the 2012 Tour de France cycling race starting in Epernay and finishing in Metz in northeastern France on July 6, 2012. (Joel Saget/AFP/GettyImages)

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