Get Ready for Part 2 of Armstrong VS. Contador
In final Tour de France appearance, 7-time Tour champion Lance Armstrong takes aim at former Astana teammate Alberto Contador.
- fourth at last year's Tour - and Kazakh star Alexandre Vinokourov. Or perhaps Cervelo TestTeam's Carlos Sastre.
The race celebrates its 100th year in the Pyrenees, with four rides through the mountains on the French-Spanish border. There is a twin billing of the dreaded Tourmalet pass - including an uphill finish on it in Stage 17.
Among other race highlights will be Tuesday's Stage 3, featuring a total of 13 kilometers (8 miles) of bone- and bike frame-jarring cobblestones.
Among sprinters, keep an eye on Britain's Mark Cavendish. He won six stages last year but wants to take home the best sprinter's green jersey, which has eluded him in each of his last three Tours.
U.S. rider Tyler Farrar will be looking to make his mark in that discipline along with veterans such as Australia's Robbie McEwen, Spain's Oscar Freire and Norway's Thor Hushovd.
For an event where so many stars have been caught doping, linked to drugs scandals, or hounded by persistent suspicion about cheating in recent years, the 2009 Tour appeared relatively clean.
The only positive test last year was on Mikel Astarloza of Spain, whose system turned up endurance-booster EPO. He had won the 16th stage.
France's anti-doping agency accused the UCI of lax controls at last year's Tour, sparking a new, bitter feud between the two sides - and ending their cooperation on anti-doping checks.
Because of that squabble, this year the World Anti-Doping Agency will fill the void left by the French agency and deploy six independent observers to keep watch on the UCI's doping controls.
Race organizers say UCI's biological passport program and hard penalties are helping to curb doping in the peloton and deter cheats.
"Without being a 100 percent guarantee, it's clearly an improvement compared to what was done in the past," said Tour director Christian Prudhomme in an interview with French sports daily L'Equipe. "I'm convinced there has been a real step forward."
Armstrong remains in the crosshairs about doping. French prosecutors say his 2009 Astana team is facing a preliminary investigation after the discovery of suspicious syringes during the race. That probe is ongoing.
Landis dropped a bombshell in April, accusing Armstrong of doping, teaching other riders to cheat, and paying off a top sport official after allegedly testing positive in 2002. Armstrong has denied Landis' claims.
U.S. officials are investigating the claims, and the UCI has asked members in four countries to do so, too.
Despite all of that, Armstrong is focused on the Tour - which will be his last, according to a post he made on his Twitter page this week.
He doesn't seem to be stressing out about it, and is thinking of his wife and four - soon to be five - children. And putting his illustrious career in perspective.
"I have to be happy: 39 years old, I've been doing this for 17 years, and I'm still at the front," he said. "Despite the (expletive) that I read in the newspapers, and on the Internet everyday, about people talking about me, the record speaks for