Alexandre Vinokourov: 3rd in 2003; 5th in 2005. Didn’t race in 2006 Tour after five teammates were implicated in a doping scandal. The 33-year-old Kazak has won three Tour stages, and the 2006 Tour of Spain. Strong on mountain climbs, and has worked to improve his time trials.
Levi Leipheimer: 6th in 2005; 8th in 2002; 9th in 2004. The U.S. rider’s Discovery Channel, casting around for a new champion since seven-time Tour winner Lance Armstrong retired in 2005, hopes that Leipheimer will at least finish in the top three.
Andreas Kloeden: Runner-up to Armstrong in 2004 and third last year. The tall, skinny German was a close associate of Jan Ullrich, who has since retired under a doping cloud. Kloeden now rides for the Astana team of Vinokourov. He is a strong climber and very fast. Won the Tirreno-Adriatico race in Italy in March.
Oscar Pereiro: Runner-up to Floyd Landis last year and could still be declared the 2006 Tour champion if Landis loses his appeal after testing positive for synthetic testosterone. The Spanish rider’s mountain climbing strength is offset by a weakness in time trials. Pereiro placed 10th in 2004 and 2005, winning a tough climb that year in the Pyrenees.
Cadel Evans: Abrasive, talented, fearless, Evans placed eighth in his first Tour two years ago and fifth in 2006. The 29-year-old Australian rider is a danger because of his strong climbing ability and stamina. Second at the Dauphine Libere race earlier this month, France’s second-biggest stage race after the Tour.
Week 1: Starts in London, with prologue time trial near Trafalgar Square. The relatively flat terrain of the first week favors sprinters. Favorites for the overall title stay tucked in the main pack, safely away from the front riders nervously jostling for position.
Week 2: With the race going clockwise around France, riders reach the mountains quickly with the first of three Alpine stages on July 14 — a 122.1-mile trek from Bourg-en-Bresse to Le-Grand-Bornand. The following day has the first of three uphill finishes up to the ski resort of Tignes. The hardest Alpine stage is on July 17, taking in famed climbs such as the Col de l’Iseran and Col du Galibier. The second week ends with the opening time trial, 33.5 miles around Albi.
Week 3: More tough climbs, in the Pyrenees, and another time trial on the penultimate day. Stage 16 on July 25 is considered the toughest: 135.2 miles rising to a finish up the Col d’Aubisque. That stage comes after a rest day preceded by another tough leg from Foix to Loudenvielle — featuring the Col de Portet d’Aspet and the Port de Bales. The Tour finishes in Paris, on the Champs-Elysees.