This year's Tour de France is so open that even the seven-time winner could not pick a favourite.
Wide open race is tailor made for in-form Evans
BREST // This year's Tour de France is so wide open that even the seven-time winner Lance Armstrong admitted this week that he could not pick out an outright favourite. Armstrong's former team-mate Alberto Contador has been denied the chance to defend his title by the Tour organisers as a consequence of his Astana team's implication in doping scandals over the last two years.
As a result, the runner-up to Contador a year ago, Cadel Evans, starts the marginal favourite and will wear the coveted No1 jersey for the 95th running of the race when it gets under way in Brest, in the heart of Brittany tomorrow. Evans, 31, has been in the form of his life this season and rounded off his Tour preparations with second at last month's Dauphine Libere. He also enjoys the full backing of his Silence-Lotto team for the first time as he bids to become the first Australian winner of cycling's blue-riband event.
After finishing second to Alejandro Valverde at the Dauphine, Evans said the runner-up spot was the ideal Tour preparation as "I don't want to be getting too good too soon". Evans' stiffest opposition over 21 days of action across 3,500km looks likely to come from Valverde. But the Caisse d'Epargne rider remains unproven in the race having failed to finish on his first two attempts and could only finish sixth last year.
None of the race favourites will be wearing the leader's yellow jersey come the end of the first stage from Brest to Plumelec, however, after the recent tradition of a time-trial start was scrapped in favour of a regular stage. Therefore, the sprinters look likely to come to the fore, with Britain's Mark Cavendish the favourite early on over the flat to challenge for stage wins. As for French hopes, their chances of a first podium winner since Richard Virenque in 1997 look a distant ambition.
This year's route plays to the strengths of time-triallers and good climbers so Evans has every chance of being the champion after the 21 stages have been completed on the Champs-Elysees on 27 July. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org