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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 July, 2005, 06:25 GMT 07:25 UK
The next Lance
Ivan BassoAlberto ContadorDamiano CunegoCadel EvansYaroslav PopovychJan UllrichAlejandro ValverdeAlexandre Vinokourov

Since 1999, the Tour de France has been about just one man - Lance Armstrong.

Thankfully, for the rest of the field, he has opted for retirement after his record seventh victory.

BBC Sport looks at eight of the contenders lining up to take over the Texan's mantle.

Ivan Basso
2006 Tour odds: 5-2

  • Vital statistics - Italian rider, team leader of CSC, third in Tour de France in 2004 and runner-up in 2005.

  • Strengths - One of the best climbers in the peloton. The faith of team boss Bjarne Riis, who will build the CSC team around him again in 2006, as well as Riis' past experience of winning the Tour are invaluable.

  • Weaknesses - Has been too in awe of Armstrong to believe he can actually beat him. That's no longer a problem. However, his time trialling is still too circumspect for a top general classification rider.

  • What Armstrong thinks - "To me, he's arguably the likeliest guy outside the Discovery Channel team to win the next Tour de France."

  • Did you know? - He loves pizza, he is a big fan of AC Milan and his cycling role model is five-time Tour winner Miguel Indurain.

Alberto Contador
2006 Tour odds: 60-1

  • Vital statistics - The 22-year-old Madrid citizen is the revelation of the Liberty-Seguros team this season but could opt for a move elsewhere.

  • Strengths - Contador describes himself as a "team man", which has enabled him to learn off the more experienced Roberto Heras and Joseba Beloki in his team. He also excels at the time trial.

  • Weaknesses - He's still an unknown quantity and has too many off days in the saddle.

  • What Armstrong thinks - "The most important thing for me is that Contador continues learning and every day improving a bit more. He could be the real thing."

  • Did you know? - Contador, a lover of canaries and goldfinches, had aimed to become a vet before opting for the career of a cycling professional. He deems himself still lucky to even be in the saddle after suffering a life-threatening blood clot last year.

Damiano Cunego
2006 Tour odds: 13-1

  • Vital statistics - The 23-year-old already has a Grand Tour under his belt, having won the Giro d'Italia in 2004 and has even called himself the "next Armstrong". He is also the youngest rider ever to be world number one.

  • Strengths - One of the most naturally-gifted riders on the ProTour, he never gives up and is undaunted even by the strongest of rivals or toughest of mental battles.

  • Weaknesses - Needs to be more a team player. Has riled fellow team leader Gilberto Simoni among others, which needs to change to get his team-mates to work for him.

  • What Armstrong thinks - "I said that Damiano Cunego is a little real champion. But he needs to be patient and not so foolhardy."

  • Did you know? - He chooses to unwind by listening to the Doors while having a massage.

Cadel Evans
2006 Tour odds: 40-1

  • Vital statistics - A former BMX and mountain bike racer, he was left languishing at T-Mobile before moving to Davitamon-Lotto, who gave him his Tour debut this year.

  • Strengths - A never-say-die attitude and always happy to ride alone. Even when more talented climbers upped the tempo in the Tour, he managed to stick with them.

  • Weaknesses - His time trialling needs work, while his mountain biking past means he has more of a steady pace on the hills rather than the biting attack of his rivals.

  • What Armstrong thinks - "You look at him and wonder how he gets stuff done he's so relaxed. But he's showed he's got what it takes to win the Tour de France."

  • Did you know? - He's a self-confessed Tintin obsessive - "I am a Tintin freak - he's the only cyclist who gets a framed picture on my bedroom wall."

Yaroslav Popovych
2006 Tour odds: 17-1

  • Vital statistics - The 25-year-old Ukrainian, snapped up by Discovery on Armstrong's request for the season, made his name in the Giro where he was third in 2003 and fifth in 2004.

  • Strengths - A good-quality climber and gritty competitor, he can ride against the clock too.

  • Weaknesses - He may not quite have it all on the toughest climbs but he has youth on his side and could drastically improve

  • What Armstrong thinks - "It remains to be seen what he goes on to do, but I have no doubt that Popo is a future Tour winner."

  • Did you know? - A planned bid by Discovery for Alexandre Vinokourov was reportedly scrapped after the form shown by Popovych in the Tour.

Jan Ullrich
2006 Tour odds: 7-2

  • Vital statistics - One of the most naturally-gifted riders in the peloton, the 31-year-old has been overshadowed since his 1997 win by Armstrong.

  • Strengths - One of the best time triallists around, he is a competent climber and canny rider.

  • Weaknesses - Armstrong has probably been his greatest weakness. Added to that, he lacks the explosiveness of others on the hors-category climbs.

  • What Armstrong thinks - "Jan remains one of the best riders around and next year you can be sure he'll be leading the chase for the win."

  • Did you know? - Was once banned from cycling after testing positive for amphetamines taken in a German nightclub.

Alejandro Valverde
2006 Tour odds: 9-1

  • Vital statistics - Armstrong has labelled the 25-year-old the possible "future of cycling" and was third in the 2003 Tour of Spain and fourth a year later.

  • Strengths - A talented climber and time triallist, he has the two main skills needed to push for the podium.

  • Weaknesses - Is a bit fiery and temperamental and has riled too many people on his way to the top.

  • What Armstrong thinks - "If he were to win the Tour next year, I wouldn't be surprised."

  • Did you know? - This year was bidding to become the first Tour debutant to win the race before being forced to retire.

Alexandre Vinokourov
2006 Tour odds: 7-1

  • Vital statistics - The attacker supreme, his best Tour finish is third in 2003. Aside from that, though, he's won pretty much anything and everything.

  • Strengths - His attacking - can pounce wherever and whenever - and relishes riding against the clock.

  • Weaknesses - His attacking - sometimes he attacks when he doesn't need to - and has arguably moved to a lesser team in Liberty-Seguros for next season.

  • What Armstrong thinks - "Vino is arguably the most complete cyclist around. He can attack, time trial and mountain climb. When it all clicks, there's probably no match."

  • Did you know? - His best friend Andrei Kivilev died in a cycling accident in 2003.

Odds courtesy of Bet 365.



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