Tour de France 2010 Start: 3 July, Rotterdam Finish: 25 July, Paris Coverage: Listen to the final hour of every stage on the BBC Sport website (UK only), with selected stages on BBC 5 live sports extra; Watch live on Eurosport and ITV4; Live text commentary each day on BBC Sport website
Brits upbeat over Team Sky's Tour chances
By Alex Murray
It is the biggest event in the cycling year, a three-week festival starting in Rotterdam on Saturday and finishing on the Champs Elysees in Paris on 25 July.
There are four jerseys on offer, each favouring a different type of rider: the famed yellow jersey for the overall winner, the green for the points competition, the polka dot for the King of the Mountains and the white for best placed young rider (under 25).
Here's our guide with all you need to know to impress your friends.
WHO ARE THE MAIN CONTENDERS FOR THE YELLOW JERSEY?
Alberto Contador could win his third Tour in 2010
As far as the riders are concerned, Alberto Contador is the man to watch in the race for the yellow jersey - the problem is that he's usually disappearing up the mountains ahead of them.
Last year Contador overcame the opposition, including from within his own team, to claim his second yellow jersey. This year his team will be totally at his disposal and with a route more suited to his phenomenal climbing ability, it is difficult to see him being beaten.
His closest rival is Andy Schleck, who finished 4 mins 11 secs behind him last year and also took the white jersey as best young rider. The Luxembourger is still lacking in the time trial, a key element in deciding the final outcome, but the support of his brother Frank in the mountains could swing things his way.
Ivan Basso comes to the Tour having won the Giro d'Italia and ridden a clean path to rehabilitation following a ban for his part in the Operacion Puerto blood-doping scandal that broke on the eve of the 2006 Tour when he was a leading contender.
Four years on he is again a contender and hopes to banish the demons of his past with the help of a strong Liquigas squad.
World champion Cadel Evans has been a changed man since winning that title, having endured a miserable Tour last year. The rainbow jersey has inspired him and the romance of the world champion contending for the maillot jaune is reason enough for featuring this 'eternal second' among the contenders despite the relative weakness of his BMC Racing team.
WHAT ABOUT BRADLEY WIGGINS' CHANCES?
Bradley Wiggins will be fully supported by Team Sky
The revelation of the 2009 race, Wiggins will find it tougher to repeat his fourth place now his opponents know what to expect from him.
A year's extra experience will be invaluable in helping him respond to attacks like those he faced on the Mont Ventoux and Le Grand-Bornand stages. Unlike last year, Wiggins starts the Tour knowing that he will be fully prepared for the key mountain stages.
The stakes are much higher in his role as leader of Team Sky but it gives him access to the same level of organisation on the road that has helped fuel his Olympic track successes.
The emphasis on rider-focused management is a proven formula for success on the track but Le Tour involves a whole range of variables to tackle. Many of them, such as crosswinds and crashes, are almost impossible to control.
HOW WILL LANCE ARMSTRONG DO?
Lance Armstrong goes for an eighth title in his final Tour
Either the seven-time champion is past his best at 38 or he still has the experience to make up for what the legs are lacking in his final Tour.
His third place last year was an incredible result for someone coping with the effects of a four-year retirement, fatherhood and injury and his recent performance at the Tour of Switzerland suggests he has timed his preparation well enough to be capable of chasing a podium place again.
Few other teams can boast as much experience as Radioshack. Manager Johan Bruyneel has overseen nine wins in the last 10 Tours his team has competed in and Armstrong will have strong support from Levi Leipheimer and Andreas Kloden, both of whom have stood on the Tour podium.
Armstrong has played down his own chances saying: "We'll have to be smart, lucky and play the team card." Being smart and being lucky has proven to be a winning formula for many a Tour victory.
The Texan has made a habit of being in the right place at the right time, as he was last year when the bunch split in crosswinds on the run-in to La Grande Motte. The 45 seconds he gained there were enough to put him on the podium ahead of Wiggins.
In 1999, he avoided a crash on the slippery Passage de Goi giving him six minutes over his main rivals - more than the gap between him and Contador last year - and enough of a lead to defend on the road to his maiden Tour victory. This year, the cobbles and crosswinds of the opening week present a similar challenge.
SO WHICH SPRINTER WILL WIN THE GREEN JERSEY?
Mark Cavendish will look to win his first green jersey
Mark Cavendish will tell you that no one can beat him.
"It should take care of itself if I reach my goals. There are six definite sprints (in this year's Tour) and nine possibles. I will be going full gas in all of them," the Manxman has said.
But the jersey is not simply a measure of who is quickest across the finish line. Last year Thor Hushovd was the victor despite Cavendish dominating the sprint finishes. He did so with a monumental solo attack in the mountains to claim intermediate sprint points where Cavendish is unable or unwilling to challenge.
Cavendish remains the quickest in a drag race but his HTC squad have not controlled the peloton in the final kilometres as they did last year which means that he may not have the same platform from which to launch himself.
Expect the Garmin-Transitions squad to go wheel-to-wheel as they aim to launch their green jersey hopeful, Tyler Farrar, in the final dash to the line.
KING OF THE MOUNTAINS, TOUGH TO WIN?
It is not just about being the fastest up the climbs, it is about being first over the top.
The polka dot jersey does not always go to the best climber, otherwise Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck would be the only names in contention for this one - they finished third and fourth last year.
The contenders in the modern era are specialist climbers who are not seen as a threat in the yellow jersey competition and who are allowed to slip away in the mountains and amass points. None of the recent winners will be present this year so we are guaranteed a new name in the record books.
Egoi Martinez (Euskatel-Euskadi) finished second last year to Franco Pelizotti and will hope to go one better this year, although his chances may be tempered by the need to support the aspirations of his team leader Samuel Sanchez, who could also be a contender if his yellow jersey campaign falters.
French hopes fall squarely on the shoulder of John Gadret, who climbed well at the Giro. With no overall contender on his AG2R La Modiale team, he will be given free rein to chase the polka dot jersey.
Robert Gesink could also feature along with Roman Kreuziger but their focus may be elsewhere, either in support of their team leaders, or the pursuit of the white jersey.
CAN ANYONE CHALLENGE ANDY SCHLECK FOR THE WHITE JERSEY?
Andy Schleck could claim his third White Jersey
It is hard to see anyone stopping Schleck making it a straight hat-trick of wins in the competition which has been a stepping stone to the top of the podium for riders such as Alberto Contador, Laurent Fignon and Greg Lemond.
Last year Roman Kreuziger finished 10 minutes adrift and Robert Gesink crashed out early in the race, while Tony Martin lost time in the Alps and suffered as a result of his work chasing breaks down for Mark Cavendish.
WILL A BRIT WIN A JERSEY?
Ask Mark Cavendish and the answer is "definitely". Illness as a result of dental work, domestic upheaval and ill-advised hand signals all contribute to what he describes as "the toughest period of my professional career".
But if Cavendish has not been winning every race he turns up to, he has not been losing sprints in any greater number than last year. A campaign more focused on the Tour than on the number of wins, by both accident and design, may serve him well.
If your name is Bradley Wiggins then the answer is a more considered "potentially". The 30-year-old said: "With the way everything's gone form-wise, I couldn't be in a better position."
Few riders will be as well supported as Wiggins, both on and off the bike, and the signs are that his meticulous planning for July gives him every chance of worrying more fancied riders like Contador and Andy Schleck.
HOW WILL TEAM SKY FARE?
Sky's biggest achievement may be giving the British fans a "home" team to root for at the Tour for the first time since the mis-adventures of ANC Halfords in 1987.
A realistic achievement for Team Sky would be to get Wiggins on the podium, making him the first British rider to do so.
Dave Brailsford and the Team GB mentality that drives this team is not one of settling for bronze, so expect Wiggins to go all out for the top step.
With the focus on Wiggins they are unlikely to chase stage victories but should the opportunity arise, the likes of Juan Antonio Flecha, Simon Gerrans and Edvald Boassen Hagen are all capable of delivering.
WHICH ARE THE STAGES I SHOULDN'T MISS?
Wanze - Arenberg Porte du Hainaut crosses the fabled cobbles of Paris-Roubaix and is seen as the first big test for the yellow jersey hopefuls. According to Lance Armstorng on Twitter: "Done w/ the st3 pave recon. Going. To. Be. Carnage." And he's not the only one predicting crashes, time gaps and all manner of mayhem.
Stage 8: Station des Rousses - Morzine-Avoriaz will be the first chance for Contador to launch himself skyward and leave his rivals breathless. This is where the battle for the yellow jersey starts in earnest.
Stage 17: Pau - Col du Tourmalet is what many predict will be the decisive day. Expect fireworks on the final climb as riders look to make up time or defend their position in the overall classification ahead of the individual time trial.
SO REMIND ME AGAIN, WHICH BRITS WE SHOULD BE CHEERING FOR?
Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish are the stars. If all goes according to plan it will be easy to spot them as they will be wearing the yellow and green jerseys, respectively.
Apart from Wiggins and Cavendish, Geraint Thomas should be easy to spot in his National Champion's jersey. Along with Steve Cummings he'll be a key lieutenant for Wiggins in his yellow jersey campaign.
On the Cervelo Test Team, Jeremy Hunt and Dan Lloyd both get their first crack at the Tour, in the former's case some 15 years after turning professional. Expect to see them working hard for their team leaders throughout.
David Millar and Charly Wegelius are both old hands when it comes to the Tour, although this year they will find themselves in something of a role reversal. Millar will be playing 'domestique' while Wegelius is likely to get a free hand to chase stage wins in breakaways.
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