1. Alberto Contador, Astana
Alberto Contador is the odds-on favorite to take his third Tour de France title this year-his first riding against Lance Armstrong and several other former teammates. While Contador's "new" Astana team might lack some firepower from last year's squad, he certainly won't miss the drama that came with sharing team leadership with Armstrong. Following a second-place finish in June's Critérium du Dauphiné—a key Tour de France warm-up event—Contador has spent his time training in the Pyrenees, acquainting himself with the key mountain stages on-tap in the Tour's decisive third week. If Contador and his team make it through the Tour's tense and frenetic first week unscathed, look for him to use his exceptional mix of climbing and time trialing ability to repeat his win from last year, confirming himself as the world's undisputed number one Grand Tour rider.
2. Andy Schleck, Saxo Bank
Andy Schleck would have probably won a Tour de France title by now if it weren't for Alberto Contador. Perhaps the race's best pure climber, Schleck's unafraid to attack when the road heads into the high mountains. Unfortunately for Schleck, Contador is as good or better of a climber and an even better time trialist. If Schleck can limit his losses against the clock, he should once again find himself in a position to challenge everyone in the mountains. Winless so far this season, Schleck's been content to help his Saxo Bank teammates-especially his older brother, Frank-take important wins while slowly improving fitness. Schleck is a real contender to bring the Yellow Jersey back to Luxembourg.
3. Lance Armstrong, RadioShack
Team RadioShack's leader has not enjoyed his usual painless build-up to the Tour de France. Sickness, crashes and scandals have partly derailed his plans for an historic eighth Tour title. Armstrong crashed out of the Tour of California and dealt with allegations by Floyd Landis that he used performing-enhancing drugs during his career. But with podium finishes in the Tour of Luxembourg and the Tour of Switzerland, Lance is beginning to show glimpses of the form that saw him win seven-consecutive Tours from 1999 to 2005. He'll have the strongest team in the race—Andreas Kloden, Levi Leipheimer, Chris Horner, and Dauphiné-winner Janez Brajkovic join him-as well as the sport's most accomplished director supporting him. Everything appears to be in place, will Lance have the luck to match his unwavering determination and self-confidence?
4. Bradley Wiggins, Team Sky
Riding for Garmin-Slipstream last year at the Tour, Bradley Wiggins burst onto the scene with a surprising fourth-place finish. Known more for his exploits against the clock and on the track, the British rider proved to be quite an adept climber as well. This year he leads the upstart Team Sky, a big-budget British squad hoping to make a splash at the Tour. Wiggins chose to repeat his Tour de France preparation from last year, riding the Tour of Italy for race miles and his final pre-Tour competition. Wiggins and his new sponsors hope the time spent training and scouting the Tour's key mountain stages will reap dividends when the race heats up during it's tough second and third weeks. If Wiggins handles the pressure of the Tour's spotlight, he might deliver his home fans in England their best Tour finish to date.
5. Jurgen Van Den Broeck, Omega Pharma-Lotto
Want to impress your friends on your next group ride? Tell them to watch-out for Jurgen Van Den Broeck at the 2010 Tour de France. A talented climber and an accomplished time trialist, this young Belgian finished last year's Tour (his first) in 15th place overall—and he wasn't even the leader of his team. He returns to this year's Tour with a team dedicated to helping him score an even higher finish by the time the race hits Paris. Van Den Broeck finished fourth in this season's Dauphiné with an impressive performance against several of the men expected to be some of the Tour's key protagonists. If his team of climbers and rouleurs can deliver him to the Alps feeling fresh and confident at the end of the first week, Belgium just might find its first legitimate Tour contender in 20 years.
6. Cadel Evans, BMC Racing
With multiple top-five finishes in all three Grand Tours, Evans is without a doubt the most successful modern tour rider never to have tasted overall victory. The Australian has ridden every Grand Tour since last year's disappointing misfire at the Tour de France. His second place in the Tour of Spain and fifth place in the Tour of Italy speak more to the current World Champ's talents. Eager to prove that his improved BMC team deserves its invitation, look for Evans to go on the attack early, not waiting to let others dictate the overall battle for the Yellow. Among the GC favorites, Evans is also one of the better time trialists.
7. Ivan Basso, Liquigas
The last person to win the Giro d'Italia and the Tour de France in the same year was Italian Marco Pantani in 1998. Basso hopes to emulate that achievement this July. At one time, Basso appeared to be the heir-apparent to Lance Armstrong; he's completed the Tour de France four times, finishing 11th, seventh, third, and second. Back to racing last season after a two-year suspension for blood doping, this will be his first Tour de France of the second half of his career. Of the major contenders, Basso's one of the more complete riders, improving his time trialing over the years to match his skills as a climber. He also has one of the strongest teams in the race with riders like Roman Kreuziger and Peter Sagan on board. Will Basso's newfound confidence give him a mental edge in the race he once seemed destined to win? Or did the Giro effort leave him too tired and deflated to launch a serious challenge in France?
8. Denis Menchov, Rabobank
It will be the last time he's mentioned as a Tour de France contender if Rabobank's Menchov doesn't deliver the goods. With two top-five Tour finishes on his record and wins in both the Tour of Italy and the Tour of Spain, this is the only Grand Tour title that's eluded the Russian. Menchov's been rather anonymous in his build-up to this year's race, skipping the Tour of Italy to focus exclusively on a top result in France. He started the Criterium du Dauphiné with fine performance in the opening time trial, a result which had several pundits wondering if this would indeed be Menchov's year—and then he lost several minutes on the climb to Alpe d'Huez, rekindling the doubt in everyone's minds. Menchov's most difficult rival might just be his teammate, Robert Gesink, a talented Grand Tour rider in his own right. If Menchov shows any signs of weakness when the Tour first hits the mountains, Rabobank's Dutch sponsors-and fans-will begin lobbying for Gesink to be handed the reins of the team.
9. Samuel Sanchez, Euskaltel
Known more for his results in hilly one-day races, Samuel Sanchez—the reigning Olympic road race champion—is looking to improve upon his seventh-place finish from 2008. The runner-up to Alejandro Valverde in last year's Vuelta a Espana, Sanchez has also finished 10th, sixth and third in his national tour. Sanchez needs to perform well in the Tour de France's time trials in order to have a shot at the podium in Paris. But for a man who has won Grand Tour time trials in the past, that's a manageable task. Look for Sanchez and his orange-clad Euskaltel teammates to target the Tour's Pyrenean stages-the backyard for many of the Basque team's most rabid fans. As the race progresses, it will be interesting to see if Sanchez decides to sacrifice a lower top-10 placing for a stage win-perhaps on the Tourmalet?
10. Roman Kreuziger, Liquigas
This young talent is one of a handful of riders whose fathers raced with Lance Armstrong. But don't let that stop you from taking Kreuziger seriously. He finished 13th in his first Tour de France in 2008 at the age of 22. Last year he improved upon his initial result, finishing just inside the top 10. This year he joins Ivan Basso as co-captain of team Liquigas; together they'll form what is arguably the most potent one-two punch in the race. Kreuziger seemed to peak a bit too early last year—his youthful exuberance may have gotten the best of him. But this season he seems to have raced a bit more conservatively, choosing his efforts and riding within himself so as to arrive at his top fitness level just when he needs to be. If he and Basso can avoid stepping on one another's toes, a top-five result is well within the young Czech's grasp.
2010 Tour de France