American fans of one of the world's great sporting events face a good news/bad news situation this year.
The good news is they can find same-day coverage of every one of the 21 stages of the Tour de France bicycle race on their television sets.
The bad news is they can only watch it on cable, via the all-sports ESPN network, a basic-subscription service in most areas.
The grueling endurance event began Saturday and concludes July 26 on the Champs Elysses in Paris. And midway through the first week, American Greg LeMond, a three-time winner, remains among the favorites after a seventh-place finish last year.
ESPN has screened daily shows since Saturday. Coming up, a half-hour report is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. today, and a one-hour wrap-up of the first week's racing is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Saturday. (See below for complete schedule.)
For the first time in a number of years, no U.S. broadcast network is screening any portion of the race. For several years, ABC had included the event in its "Wide World of Sports" weekend broadcasts, with ESPN doing some mid-week coverage.
This year the cable network offers viewers an interestingly European touch, for it is screening race footage provided by the world feed of French TV -- as can be seen in captions reading "tete de la course" when cameras are on the leading riders.
As expected from long practice, the French camera work is sometimes stunningly intimate, often literally from among the riders as motorcycle cameras accompany the racers. Aerial shots, too, offer striking glimpses of the peleton, or main group of riders, as it forges through quaint towns.
But stateside viewers will need to adjust to the Gaelic touch, for it dwells hardly at all on personalities.
For example Greg LeMond, the perpetual focus of American cameras in recent years, has been little seen this week, as secondary riders from France and Spain have scored surprising early victories.
Commentators Phil Liggett, Paul Sherwen and Barry Tompkins have talked about the most successful U.S cyclist ever, but rarely has he been on camera. Similarly, the fortunes of the American-based professional Motorola Cycling Team are of little interest to the French telecast.
Here are the remaining Tour de France broadcasts on ESPN:
Today -- 6:30-7 p.m.
Saturday -- 1:30-2:30 p.m.
Monday -- 1-2 a.m. and 5-5:30 p.m.
Tuesday -- 5-5:30 p.m.
Wednesday -- 7:30-8:30 p.m.
July 16 -- 5-5:30 p.m.
July 17 -- 5-5:30 p.m.
July 18 -- 5-6 p.m.
July 19 -- 5-6 p.m.
July 20 -- 5-5:30 p.m.
July 21 -- 5-5:30 p.m.
July 22 -- 5-5:30 p.m.
July 23, 6:30-7 p.m.
July 24, 6:30-7 p.m.
July 25 -- 8-9 p.m.
# July 26 -- 3-4 p.m.
Elsewhere on The Weekend Watch:
THE SIMPSON SYNDROME -- Memories of the Three Mile Island incident and the movie "The China Syndrome" will be stirred by a repeat tonight of a satirical episode of "The Simpsons" (at 8, Channel 45). Homer inadvertently prevents a nuclear meltdown and becomes a hero -- but only temporarily.
AN AIDS BENEFIT -- Elizabeth Taylor welcomes Robert Guillaume, Carol
Burnett, Dustin Hoffman, Linda Lavin and Shirley MacLaine among the guests on "In a New Light," an ABC special Saturday (at 8 p.m., Channel 13). The show includes performances and updated medical information about the disease.
THE CABLE CONNECTION -- Political upheavals may have changed the world map, but baseball is baseball -- and baseball movies are almost always worth watching. In "The Comrades of Summer," an HBO premiere movie Saturday (at 8 on the premium service), Joe Montegna stars as an American manager hired to teach the game to Russian athletes for the 1992 Olympics.
THE SPORTS SCENE -- In real life, the Orioles are in action in prime time Friday and Saturday on Channel 2. Coverage of the Baltimore/Minnesota games from Camden Yards is scheduled at Friday and 7 o'clock Saturday.
AH, NOSTALGIA -- One of the tube's best loved series gets a marathon treatment Sunday on Channel 54, with 12 episodes of "The Andy Griffith Show" beginning at noon, and followed at 6 p.m. by "Return to Mayberry," a 1986 reunion film. And later Sunday, at 9 p.m. on ABC (Channel 13), "Get Smart, Again" offers a 1989 reunion of secret agents 86 and 99 (Don Adams and Barbara Feldon).