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The Tour de France ladder

An Euskaltel rider gets ready at the Tour de France start ramp.

An Euskaltel rider gets ready at the Tour de France start ramp. (Image credit: Audrey Tautouer/Cyclingnews.com)

Not only has race director Christian Prudhomme pulled out all the stops with one of the most exiting routes in years, but there are no less than four previous winners scheduled to start.

In our latest of Tour ladder, our brave dozen have gone through a whole host of experiences; from Grand Tour success and career-defining wins, to crashes, court races and total losses of form. It has been one of the most breathtaking months cycling has seen.

Vive le Tour!
 

After riding the Ardennes and putting in some strong performances (fifth if La Flèche Wallone and 16th in Liège) the Silence-Lotto leader took himself off to Romandie, where he used the tough climbs to hone his Tour form and finished seventh overall in the process.

Things got even better after Evans took his second win of the season in yesterday's Dauphiné time trial, putting seven seconds into Contador and over 30 seconds to his other rivals. It was an impressive performance over a course not to dissimilar to this year's opening time trial at the Tour. After Gilbert's stage win in the Giro, it finally looks like Lotto's disastrous start to season is turning around, with Evans poised to lead a solid charge at the Tour.

5 Michael Rogers (10)

Team Columbia's Australian flattered to deceive in last month's Giro. After winning the opening team time trial and finishing in the top ten in four of the first eight stages, the Australian was within touching distance of the leader's jersey. However, on the key stage 12 time trial he lost close to three minutes and was sorely put in his place on the tough mountain stages that followed. He rallied to finish a credible eighth overall.

Still, this was his first Grand Tour since crashing out of the 2007 Tour de France and missing much of last season with Epstein-Barr virus. A solid but not spectacular return to stage racing.

If we were only to look at what's happening on the bike then we'd nudge the Caisse d'Epargne rider up the ladder after his win at the Volta a Catalunya. However, we also have to look at what's happening off the bike and in particular, in the courtroom, and this month has been another shocker for the Spaniard. In fact if anyone can tell us just how ethical it is for him to be racing whilst legal proceedings are going on, we'd love to know.

Banned from riding for two years in Italy - and with the Tour set to pass through the country - it looks as though Valverde will miss out a chance to race at all. To make matters worse, the UCI is said to be considering whether to extend the ban, while the Spaniard is busily petitioning CAS. Who knows how it will all turn out or when there will be a final answer?