Alberto Contador aka “El Pistolero” (Astana)
Ranked as the world’s second best rider behind Alejandro Valverde, who won’t be participating in this Tour, Contador stole the Tour in 2007. Having won both the Giro and Vuelta in 2008, the Madrid native – who signals victory by firing his forefinger as an imaginary gun – also mastered the time trial in the Spanish championships. Head of the Kazakh Astana team, Contador is a serious contender for a second triumph on the Champs-Elysees.
Official website: http://www.albertocontador.es/home.php
Andy Schleck, In the name of the father (Saxo Bank)
The son of Johny Schleck - who was a teammate of Tour legend Luis Ocana in the 1970s - has been off to a good start this season with a win in the classic Liege-Bastogne-Liege race. The Luxembourg rider gave an impressive performance at last year’s Tour de France, taking the 12th position and grabbing the white jersey for the best rider under 25. If his strength hadn’t failed him in the Pyrenees, Andy Schleck could have claimed a spot in the top five.
Official website: http://www.schleck.lu/
Carlos Sastre aka “Don Limpio”, Mr Clean (Cervelo)
The Tour title-holder was recruited by the young Cervelo team after he secured the yellow jersey on the Champs-Elysees last year. This season, the Spaniard skipped his national championships to focus on the Tour. But retaining the title might be a tough challenge for someone who ranked fourth in the latest Tour of Italy, given that Contador and Armstrong are back on the French roads.
Official website: http://www.carlossastre.com/sastre_en/
Fabien Cancellara aka “Spartacus”, (Saxo Bank)
The Beijing Olympic time trial gold-medalist made an impression this season when he won the Tour of Switzerland. The Swiss athlete might be a serious contender in the stages close to his homeland, the Alps. Cancellara will also try to win the Tour’s opening time trial in Monaco for the third year in a row.
Official website: http://www.fabiancancellara.ch/ch/cancellara/en/index.html
Cadel Evans, the Aussie eternal second place (Silence-Lotto)
Coming second in the Tour’s last two editions, Evans was only 58 seconds behind Carlos Sastre in the final standings last year, when he retained the leader’s yellow jersey for five days. This season, the Aussie appeared in great shape during the Dauphine Libere, when he grabbed the…second spot behind Alejandro Valverde.
Official website: http://www.cadelevans.com.au/
Denis Menchov, the outsider (Rabobank)
The Russian has already won the Tour of Spain twice, in 2005 and 2007, and this year’s Tour of Italy. This year, Menchov, who was third in the 2008 Tour, gets another chance to claim the yellow jersey.
Lance Armstrong aka “The Texan Wild Boar” (Astana)
The seven-time winner’s comeback on the Tour is this year’s big draw. Four years after his latest title, Armstrong returns amid harsh criticism on doping suspicions. Twelfth in this year’s Tour of Italy, the 37-year-old Texan will be fighting for the top spot. Yet, the “livestrong” man will have to live with his teammate Alberto Contador, another favourite, and might have to back him if Johan Bruyneel, the Astana boss, so decides.
Official website: http://www.lancearmstrong.com/
Mark Cavendish aka “Cannonball” (Colombia – High road)
The Tour’s audience should see a lot of Mark Cavendish this year, as he proved to be the king of sprints. The Isle of Man native, 24, claimed his first win in the Milan-San Remo this season.
Official website: http://www.markcavendish.com/