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Page last updated at 17:04 GMT, Friday, 3 July 2009 18:04 UK

Riders ready for Tour de France

Date: 4 July - 26 July
Coverage: BBC Sport website: text commentary of each stage and streamed BBC commentary of the last 90 minutes of each stage available; commentary on selected stages on BBC 5 Live sports extra

Cavendish and Armstrong
Cavendish is the GB star while Armstrong is making a comeback

Lance Armstrong and Mark Cavendish are among the star names who will be hoping to make the headlines when the Tour de France begins in Monaco on Saturday.

Cavendish won four stages last year and goes into his third Tour as a contender to become the first British rider to win the green jersey as best sprinter.

Seven-time champion Armstrong has come out of retirement to ride again.

But Armstrong's Astana team-mate Alberto Contador is favourite to top the podium in Paris on 26 July.

Despite this, Astana boss Johan Bruyneel has played down the rivalry between the team-mates.

"There have not been a lot of opportunities for them to be together," said Bruyneel.

Cavendish targets Tour finish

"There are also the language and cultural barriers between them. If you see things go well on the road, you tend to see things going well at the dinner table.

"The rivalry between Lance and Alberto is obviously something the media has picked up on, but anything like that we have to put out of our minds."

Spaniard Contador won in 2007 but his new team were barred entry into last year's race because of several positive drugs tests returned by former riders.

Reigning champion Carlos Sastre is back, now at the helm of the Cervelo Test Team.

And Luxembourg's Andy Schleck, Australian Cadel Evans and Giro d'Italia winner Denis Menchov of Russia are also contenders for overall victory.

Starting with the 9.6-mile prologue time trial in Monaco, the event will cover 2,150 miles, in 21 stages, stopping off in Spain, Andorra, Switzerland and Italy as well as France.

In the Tour de France you've got to be content with one stage win and I will be as long as I reach Paris

Mark Cavendish

Along with Cavendish, Bradley Wiggins and David Millar - who both ride for Team Garmin-Slipstream - and Charles Wegelius make up the British contingent in the race's 180-strong field.

But Cavendish, who rides for the Columbia-HTC team, is likely to hog the limelight.

After a strong start to the season that included victory in three stages of the Giro d'Italia and the Milan-San Remo Classic, he bids to become the first Brit to win a Tour jersey since Robert Millar was King of the Mountains in 1987.

Speaking to BBC Sport earlier this month, Cavendish said his main aim this year is to finish the race for the first time, although he believes there are "six or seven" stages that could suit him.

Four of those come in the first week, with a visit to Barcelona before the race moves into the Pyrenees, and more come in week two, before the riders reach the Alps.

"I've done two Tours now and won four stages last year but I didn't reach Paris," he said.

Simon Brotherton on 606

"Sure, it would be nice to win four stages again but in the Tour de France you've got to be content with one stage win and I will be as long as I reach Paris.

"If I reach Paris and I win as much as I can along the way, maybe the green jersey comes then. But I won't be disappointed if I don't have it."

Cavendish, who struggles in the mountains, will have to deal with seven mountain stages if he is to reach Paris.

And the toughest of them all will be the climb of Mont Ventoux in Provence, when the Tour has a mountain finish on its penultimate stage for the first time in its 96th running.

Armstrong, who won the race from 1999 to 2005, believes Ventoux will be key but has spent the week before the race training in the Alps around Annecy, where the potentially decisive time trial takes place on 23 July.

Armstrong, 37, broke his collarbone in March but took part in the Giro d'Italia, which he finished in 12th place overall, almost 16 minutes behind Menchov.

"It's not going to be easy to win," he admitted.

"In December and January, I thought it would be easier. It ends up being more difficult than I thought, perhaps because of the crash, of the complicated season or simply because I'm older now."

The American has admitted to feeling nervous ahead of the start of the race.

"I don't have the same confidence as I had before, that's natural, I think, after being away for four years," he added.

"I come with an extreme sense of excitement and also, quite honestly, a heck of a lot of nerves but come Saturday afternoon I'll be excited to be there."

Armstrong's Tour dominance was built around a strong team and - although Astana are on paper the strongest team in the race - they have publicly committed to supporting Contador as their team leader.

This could lead to some difficult tactical decisions for Bruyneel if both men are challenging in the general classification late in the race.

However, Armstrong said he would be willing to support Contador if the Spaniard proves likelier to win.

"Out of respect for him, out of respect for the team and out of respect for the rules of cycling, I would do it with pleasure," he insisted.

"We really have a clear-cut favourite that we can say he is better than the other contenders.

"Nobody wants to lose. I'm not going to act irresponsibly. And at the end of the day, we will have to follow the orders of the team's director."

Menchov, meanwhile, has declared himself "comfortable and confident" ahead of his bid to become the first man to win the Giro and Tour in the same year since Marco Pantani in 1998.

"It will be difficult, but I know I can win," said the 31-year-old, the best young rider of the Tour in 2003 who finished fourth in 2008.

Menchov will have the help of a strong Rabobank team and rising Dutch star Robert Gesink, who is riding in his first Tour.

"Robert is an important part of our team," said Menchov. "He is a strong guy and he is good in the mountains."

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see also
Tour de France ones to watch
03 Jul 09 |  Cycling
Understanding the Tour de France
03 Jul 09 |  Cycling
Boonen handed late Tour reprieve
03 Jul 09 |  Cycling
Briton Wegelius gains Tour slot
01 Jul 09 |  Cycling
GB cycling chief backs Tour aim
30 Jun 09 |  Cycling
Cavendish eyes Tour sprint crown
01 Jun 09 |  Cycling
Contador to lead Astana Tour team
25 Jun 09 |  Cycling
Boonen banned from Tour de France
18 Jun 09 |  Cycling
Valverde to miss Tour de France
23 Jun 09 |  Cycling
Armstrong confident ahead of Tour
31 May 09 |  Cycling
Armstrong unfazed by Tour changes
23 Oct 08 |  Cycling
Armstrong to return with Astana
24 Sep 08 |  Cycling

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