For the first year, the Tour de France Grand Départ will have no rider wearing the dossard 1 number of the previous year's champion, no clear favourite for the overall win, and a challenging parcours that will likely leave the general classification wide open until the penultimate stage. Cyclingnews' Laura Weislo tips the favourites and a few who could surprise in this year's Tour.
Coming into the second year of the post-Lance Armstrong era, no single rider has donned the iron gauntlet of domination that Armstrong employed. Floyd Landis' feel-good Hollywood comeback story turned horror-show doping case of last year is still unresolved on the eve of the Tour. Instead, over the last year, the sport has been cleaning house in the wake of Operación Puerto.
Gone from Le Tour is Ivan Basso who admitted his 'intent' to blood dope for last year's Tour. Likewise for Jan Ullrich, who remained quiet but was betrayed by his own DNA and retired. Also taking a back seat in this year's race will be CSC Manager Bjarne Riis, who admitted to using EPO to win the 1996 Tour and was guilted into stepping back. Out is green jersey hope Alessandro Petacchi, who used too much asthma medication in the Giro and is facing a possible one-year ban.
What we are left with is a seemingly level playing field, which will make for another exciting and unpredictable Tour. In last year's race, a poker game between the teams let a break take nearly 30 minutes on stage 13, giving Oscar Pereiro the yellow jersey he'd hold until the second to last stage time trial - and he still has a chance to get it back one year later.
With Pereiro unlikely to be given another 30-minute buffer, the favourites for this year's Tour can be drawn from the top of last year's heap with few exceptions. The main exception is Alexandre Vinokourov, who missed out on the 2006 Tour because of Liberty Seguros née Astana links to Operación Puerto via Directeur Sportif Manolo Saiz.
Read the full preview of race favourites.