Le Tour 2009 intrigues like few before it
Can he do it again? Despite the strong list of contenders, the majority of the focus at this year’s Tour de France will be on Lance Armstrong and whether he has the capability to record a remarkable eighth victory.
Mystery surrounds just what Armstrong can do at the Tour.
Age is certainly against him.
He was already the oldest champion of the modern era when he rode into Paris in yellow in 2005.
Four years later, and with his comeback impacted by a broken collarbone, can he really replicate his former glory?
His Giro d’Italia form demonstrated he could still be a contender in the mountains, even attacking in a late stage.
While his comeback has been motivated by the incredibly noble task of increasing awareness for his Livestrong foundation, he is still a racer at heart.
With teammate Alberto Contador taking the lead rider status at Astana, is Armstrong really intent on being a ‘domestique’ to his young rival?
If Armstrong is up to the task, their rivalry, how they work together and how the balance of power swings between them, will be the most fascinating story that unfolds over the next three weeks.
Contador is a much stronger rider than when he won the Tour two years ago and should he play his cards right, he should be riding into Paris in yellow.
Should Contador stumble, who is to stay Armstrong won’t be in a position to capitalise.
Those legs may be old but they’ve carried Armstrong through this race before and there is no denying his toughness and will.
The duo will be ably supported by a team deep in experience and talent with the likes of Leipheimer, Kloden and Popovych looking to protect Contador and kill off the opposition.
The only question mark over the outfit is unity; especially given the behind the scenes politicking that cloud the team and whether Contador and Armstrong can really work together.
But under the guidance of Johan Bruyneel, the team is in safe hands.
Then there is Cadel Evans.
After his second consecutive second place in last year’s tour, Evans pledged his commitment to winning the race for Australia.
There can be no denying his desire, talent and improved time trial capability, but you need more than this to win Le Tour. You need a support cast who can guide you through the race.
It doesn’t seem Evans has that.
The loss of teammate Thomas Dekker, the latest victim of the sports more stringent drug testing, robs Evans of a crucial sidekick.
While expectations are high here in Australia, unless there is a monumental collapse at Astana, it’s hard to envisage an Aussie victory.
Even then there is the likes of the Schleck brothers, stars at last years Tour, Giro di Italia victor Denis Menvhov and last years victor Carlos Sastre to worry about.
Fellow Aussie Mick Rogers will also appear high in the general classification.
With this calibre of rider in contention, the general classification will still be fluctuating at the penultimate stage, on the fearsome Mont Ventoux, often referred to as the toughest climb in France.
But there is the three weeks of drama in between to play out with the usual twists and turns Le Tour is renowned for.
It’s fitting this year’s race commenced on the streets of Monaco, synonymous with glitz and glamour, for the return of Armstrong, Contador and Astana gives the race exactly that.
Adrian Musolino is editor of V8X Magazine, and has written as an expert on The Roar since 2008, cementing himself as a key writer who can see the big picture in sport. He freelances on other forms of motorsport, football, cycling and more.