"It's been a quieter last couple of months for me after crashing out of the Giro. I did some altitude training and [the Tour de] Suisse, so I think I'm ready," said Farrar. "I see four sprint stages in the first week and two in the second and two in the third."
"My number one objective is taking care of Ryder. Robbie [Hunter] and I will bop around in sprints. We know each other well and can do some good things."
Valverde and Fränk Schleck possibly contenders, too, says legendary Belgian
Five-time Tour de France champion and legendary cyclist Eddy Merckx has appointed his favourites for the 2012 Tour overall victory. "Cadel Evans, Bradley Wiggins and Vincenzo Nibali" have the greatest chances of success, according to the Belgian, who was interviewed by Le Parisien newspaper. Spaniard Alejandro Valverde and Fränk Schleck could also move into "the circle of contenders".
Nevertheless, the 'Cannibal' insisted that "the strongest rider is Alberto Contador, and he will not be there."
Merckx was also questioned as to his view on the investigation launched by American Anti-Doping Agency USADA into alleged former doping practices by Lance Armstrong and Johan Bruyneel. The 67-year-old is known to have a good relationship with both, stating, "This case is going a bit far. It's excessive. That it's opened after a federal investigation commission already closed the case, seems too much to me."
Daniel Martin's dream of a Tour de France start has finally come to fruition, but a hard crash at the Criterium du Dauphiné early this month came close to derailing the Garmin-Sharp rider's Grand Boucle ambitions for yet another year. While the two weeks between the Dauphiné and the Tour start in Liege, Belgium largely spent regaining full mobility and strength in his damaged shoulder was not how Martin expected to approach his first Tour, Martin "always tries to find the positives" and gained a healthy boost of confidence that he's not only physically, but mentally ready for the ensuing challenge of the sport's grandest race.
"Due to the crash, it's been a lot more stressful two weeks after the Dauphiné than I would have liked," Martin told Cyclingnews from his hotel in Belgium. "It would have been nice to spend some time off the bike. I never took a break from training because of the crash. I was always on the bike and trying to regain full mobility, full movement and strength back to my shoulder, which I somehow managed to do.
"Instead of spending my time recovering and relaxing in Girona, I ended up spending a lot of time on the physio table. Obviously that wasn't perfect but it's made me so much stronger mentally and so much more determined.
"[At the Dauphiné] when I was riding to the finish line, I was already thinking of the Vuelta. 'It's not so bad, I can spend July on the beach' I thought. I was already trying to make a positive out of my broken shoulder. When we got the X-rays that showed it was just a bit of bruising then the realisation came that now I have to get on the bike the next day and try to finish.
"It was a really hard week, but I was really proud that I finished because it was...
Meeting his future wife is his Tour de France highlight
When he rolls down the prologue start ramp in Liège just after half past four on Saturday afternoon, George Hincapie (BMC) will set a new record for appearances in the Tour de France. Just a day after turning 39, the New Yorker will be embarking on his 17th Tour, which will also be his final appearance in a race that he admits has been the making of him.
After BMC team backer Andy Rihs had pulled back the sheet draped over a custom painted BMC bike marking Hincapie's record-breaking appearance, the American reflected on his long career and looked forward to the Tour just ahead of him and a new life beyond.
"My first Tour was back in 1996, and I was just hanging on for dear life," Hincapie recalled during BMC's pre-Tour press conference. "I'd never realised quite how big the Tour de France was - the show, the media, the fans. I realised that nothing compares to the Tour in terms of worldwide exposure. I only made it through the first two weeks. I was hurting so bad that I was hoping that I would crash - and I crashed. Obviously I didn't make myself crash, but that's what ended up happening and I ended up with stitches in my head."
Having worked for many leading stars during his career, including Lance Armstrong, Mark Cavendish and Cadel Evans, he was asked who he felt is the most interesting? "They are all interesting in their own right," he said. "Lance because of his determination. Cav because of his wit - he's just hilarious. With Cadel, it's his sheer desire. He's had so many close calls. They were calling him 'Mr Second' and to come back at 34 years old and win the Tour is very impressive."
The American veteran then went on to outline his Tour highlights and regrets. "My biggest highlight was definitely meeting my wife. I met her in...
A review board has recommended that the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) file anti-doping rule violations against Lance Armstrong, it was announced today. The agency claims to have evidence that the seven-time Tour de France champion conspired to boost his and his US Postal team's performance through the use of performance enhancing drugs.
“USADA can confirm that the independent three person Anti-Doping Review Board (ADRB) has conducted a full evaluation and has made a unanimous recommendation to move forward with the adjudication process in accordance with the rules," a statement from USADA read.
"All respondents will have the opportunity to exercise their right to a full public arbitration hearing, should they so choose, where all evidence would be presented, witness testimony would be given under oath, and an independent group of arbitrators would ultimately decide the outcome of the case. USADA will continue to follow the established procedures that are compliant with federal law and were approved by athletes, the U.S. Olympic Committee, and all Olympic sports organizations."
The allegations against Armstrong were leaked to the press earlier this month. USADA claims that Armstrong, Johan Bruyneel, Michele Ferrari and US Postal team doctors engaged in a doping conspiracy. It also alleges that Armstrong's blood values from his comeback years showed indications that he was doping.
Ochowicz comments on the pending Evans vs. Wiggins battle
It is easy for a Tour de France build-up to become dominated by a singular theme: it's what unites the press room contingency before the racing starts. This year the term "two horse race" has clouded almost all of the pre-race press conferences - save for Europcar - with Bradley Wiggins (Sky) and Cadel Evans (BMC) favourably tipped as the only true contenders.
However, as both Wiggins and many of his actual rivals have been keen to stress, over the next three weeks conjecture and pre-race hype will be put to one side, with the road, the conditions, luck and bravery the true determining factors in this year's race.
At BMC's press conference on the outskirts of Liege, Jim Ochowicz underlined that while Evans and Wiggins are in form, there will be a number of other riders sensing their Tour chance. With Alberto Contador banned, Andy Schleck injured and Joaquim Rodriguez resting, the race has been deprived of the strongest three climbers in the world, therefore, while Evans and Wiggins have less proven challengers, Robert Gesink, Samuel Sanchez, Denis Menchov, Levi Leipheimer and Ryder Hesjedal will sense their own opportunities.
"I don't want to speak for Wiggins, but if I were him, I would be considering the fact that Cadel has been here and won, and that's a big challenge for Wiggins. But there are other contenders who have been there in Grand Tours as well and competed. Look at Hesjedal, he just won the Giro but not many people are talking about him, he's under the radar. The double, that can still happen. You have plenty of others as well," Ochowicz told...
The 2012 Tour de France is set to kick off from Liège, Belgium with Dutch rider Tom Veelers (Argos-Shimano) taking to the prologue start ramp first at 2:00 PM local time for the 6.4km race against the clock.
The 198-rider start list will include Garmin-Sharp's David Millar, who has had a stomach bug but who is confirmed for the start. He goes off at 2:59 PM.
There is no rain in the forecast for Liège, so the majority of the specialists are stacked at the end of the start sheet: defending Tour champion Cadel Evans is last at 5:17 PM, just behind 2004 prologue winner Fabian Cancellara. Giro winner Ryder Hesjedal is off at 5:11 PM, while Bradley Wiggins heads out five minutes earlier.
Although it has been a tradition in the past, Evans will not wear the yellow jersey of defending champion in the prologue.
Van den Broeck for the overall, Greipel and Vanendert for stages
Coming into the 99th Tour de France the Lotto-Belisol team made it clear they came to Liège with one major goal and that was getting Jurgen Van den Broeck on the podium in Paris. Sprinter André Greipel and climber Jelle Vanendert can go for stage wins if those plans don't interfere with the overall goal.
Thanks to no less than seven bunch sprint victories in the last five weeks the team enters the Tour de France with a good morale. "The team-spirit is good," team manager Marc Sergeant said. "These guys are going through a fire for each other. With Jurgen we have one true leader for the general classification but if there's the opportunity to win a stage then we'll go for it. With Jelle we have a man for the stage on Sunday [the uphill finish in Seraing]. He showed in the Amstel Gold Race that he can do it. Normally you win if you beat Peter Sagan, if it wasn't for Enrico Gasparotto. On Monday it's a stage that's destined to finish in a bunch sprint. We have a good team and a good lead-out to support André Greipel."
Sergeant believes that Jurgen Van den Broeck has what it takes to aim high in the general classification. The podium seems the highest possible result but Sergeant didn't hide that he hoped for even more. "You never know what happens with Wiggins or Evans. Three weeks of racing is really long. They both can have a weak moment. Look at what happened with the untouchable Lance Armstrong on the Joux-Plane," Sergeant said. In order to be the one that can profit from any problems by Wiggins or Evans, the Belgian rider has to make sure he sits in a good position overall himself. That means he'll have to deal well with the more than 100 time trial kilometres.
"As soon as Jurgen learned about the course and the time...