Tour de France Contenders

In July, one of the deepest Tour de France fields in years will see several riders not named Lance staking their claim for yellow. Here are the ones to watch.

Tour de France, Eiffel Tower     Photo: courtesy of A.S.O. Presse

AFTER A THREE-YEAR hiatus, Lance Armstrong will ride again this year in the Alps and the Pyrenees. While he's again a favorite going into the Tour—would you bet against him?—he's no longer the favorite. Several names (some familiar, some new) will be trading places at the top of the standings as the 2,175-mile Tour unfolds July 4–26.

Truth is, after sitting out much of the spring with a broken collarbone, Armstrong, now 37, would do well just to be the top guy on his squad. His young Astana teammate Alberto Contador, the 2007 Tour champion, is most people's pick for yellow. And Astana can also count on Levi Leipheimer—who finished third in the '07 Tour and sixth in this May's Giro d'Italia—and Haimar Zubeldia, who's finished in the top five at the Tour twice. All have indicated that they'll work in support of whichever rider proves strongest, so there could be some serious intrasquad battles in the race's early stages.

Sponsorship difficulties in May pointed to a possible name change for Astana before the Tour, but regardless of what the team is called, it's loaded. Below are our picks for the main players to watch. And Armstrong? We'll handicap him in second, right behind Contador. He's too good at proving the doubters wrong.

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