Lance Armstrong will get preparations for a seventh Tour de France victory under way in the eight-day Paris-Nice race on Sunday.
Armstrong is bidding for a seventh Tour de France win in 2005
Armstrong faces competition from a number of potential Tour rivals, among them T-Mobile's Alexandre Vinokourov and Spaniard Alejandro Valverde.
Valverde has been tipped in some quarters as the "next Armstrong".
The event is the first race on the new Pro Tour calendar, which is in its first year.
The event, known as the "race towards the sun", is seen as one of the early indicators for pre-Tour form for a number of the big-name riders.
Armstrong's other anticipated rivals for the 101st Tour de France, Jan Ullrich, Ivan Basso, Andreas Kloden and Iban Mayo have opted against Paris-Nice for their Tour build-up.
But defending Paris-Nice winner Jorg Jaksche and Thomas Voeckler, one of the early stars of last year's Tour, will all be in the peloton from Sunday.
Armstrong has announced the seriousness of his intentions during the eight-day race by naming a star-studded Discovery Channel line-up.
That includes 2002 Giro d'Italia winner Paolo Savoldelli, Jose Azevedo and Jose Luis Rubiera.
The race starts with a 6.6km time trial in Issy-les Moulineaux and culminates in Nice the following Sunday.
Paris-Nice cycle race:
Prologue: March 6 - Issy les Moulineaux - 6.6km time trial
Stage one: March 7 - Etampes-Chabris - 186.5km
Stage two: March 8 - La Chatre-Thiers - 1912km
Stage three: March 9 - Thiers-Le Chambon - 171.5km
Stage four: March 10 - Le Chambon - Montelimar - 174km
Stage five: March 11 - Rognes-Toulon-Mont Faron - 176.5km
Stage six: March 12 - La Crau-Cannes - 184.5km
Stage seven: March 13 - Nice-Nice - 136km