PORTO VECCHIO, Corsica — Britain's Chris Froome and two-time Tour champion Alberto Contador of Spain may be considered the overall favorites for the 100th anniversary of the Tour de France, but there are other riders who are expected to play a role in cycling's most prestigious race.
Mark Cavendish, called the "Manx Missile," is a favorite to win the mostly flat Stage 1 (132 miles) from Porto Vecchio to Bastia in the race's debut on the French Mediterranean island of Corsica on Saturday.
Among the other contenders are 2011 Tour winner Cadel Evans of Australia — though at 36, his legs aren't the freshest — and his young BMC teammate Tejay Van Garderen of the United States, plus Spain's Alejandro Valverde of Movistar and Joaquim Rodriguez of Katusha.
Bradley Wiggins, the 2012 Tour winner and a teammate of Froome's, is injured and sitting out the 2,115-mile race this year.
Andy Schleck, who inherited the 2010 title stripped from Contador, said this year's mountainous course would have suited him under normal circumstances. But he's coming off a rough year, including a crash injury to his lower back that kept him out last year.
"The Tour's always full of surprises," said Garmin-Sharp team director Jonathan Vaughters, insisting his American squad could have contenders like Ryder Hesjedal of Canada and Andrew Talansky of the United States.
This is the first Tour since Lance Armstrong was stripped of his record seven victories for doping, which he acknowledged on U.S. television in January after years of denials that were exposed as lies by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.
Armstrong made himself an uninvited guest at the Tour on Friday as he told Le Monde that it was "impossible" to win the Tour without doping in his era. Then, he said doping was "part of the job."
Contador predicts an action-packed race. The 30-year-old Spaniard was stripped of his 2010 Tour title and missed out last year because of a doping ban. He could be the biggest challenger for Froome. Both riders excel in mountain climbs that are featured heavily this year.
Cavendish, who is considered one of the finest sprinters of his generation, has won other coveted prizes in his sport. In 2011, he took both the green jersey given to the best Tour sprinter and the rainbow-striped jersey awarded to cycling's road-race world champion.
The yellow jersey, however, has eluded his grasp.
"To be able to wear that for at least a day in your life, it's a thing to make any rider's career," Cavendish said of the yellow jersey. "It would be a beautiful thing."
Cycling could use some beautiful things.