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Tour de Luxembourg starts the countdown to the Tour de France

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Lance Armstrong (Radioshack)

Lance Armstrong (Radioshack) (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/
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Lance Armstrong (Team RadioShack) keeps his eyes on the prize.

Lance Armstrong (Team RadioShack) keeps his eyes on the prize. (Image credit: Jon Devich)
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 Fränk Schleck (Saxo Bank) shows his baby daughter's name tag

Fränk Schleck (Saxo Bank) shows his baby daughter's name tag (Image credit: Stephen Farrand)

Lance Armstrong (RadioShack), Frank Schleck (Saxo Bank), Kim Kirchen (Katusha), Thomas Löfkvist (Team Sky) will all begin their build-up for the Tour de France at this week's Tour de Luxembourg.

The race begins on Wednesday evening with a 2.6km prologue around the Luxembourg capital and continues with four road stages around the small central European country. All four stages loop around the Luxembourg countryside and have hilly profiles, although there are no testing mountain stages.

Stage one is from Luxembourg to Hesperange over 179km around the east of the country, stage two is from Schifflange to Differdange in the west and covers 202km. Stage three is from Eschweiler to Diekirch in the north over 191km and the final stage is from Mersch to Luxembourg over 149km. It ends with several laps of the capital.

Armstrong wears number 12

Armstrong is the biggest name on the start list, although Frank Schleck won the race in 2009 and is the local hero along with Kim Kirchen.

The Texan is using the Tour de Luxembourg to get in some much-needed racing after crashing out of the Tour of California. He will be joined by fellow Tour de France contender Andreas Klöden, Sam Bewley, Daryl Impey, Tiago Machado, Ivan Rovny, Gregory Rast and Bjorn Selander. Armstrong will wear number 12, with Klöden wearing 11, indicating that he is team leader.

Schleck leads a six-rider team after injury and race programmes made it impossible for the Saxo Bank to field a full eight-rider squad. Stuart O'Grady and Richie Porte were due to ride but the Australian veteran is still recovering from breaking his collarbone in the Tour of California, while Porte is recovering from his excellent but testing ride in the Giro d'Italia.

Team Sky has a strong team for the Tour de Luxembourg, with Thomas Löfkvist, Simon Gerrans, Juan Antonio Flecha and Kurt-Asle Arvesen all in the line-up. They are joined by Kjell Carlstrom, Serge Pauwels, Ian Stannard and Ben Swift.

Kirchen has had a quite 2010 season with just a sixth place in one of the Challenge Mallorca races. He will also ride the Tour de Suisse later in June but needs to show some form if he is to be a contender in July.

Giovanni Visconti leads the ISD-Neri team in Luxembourg. The Italian team was not invited to the Giro d'Italia but Visconti retained the lead in the UCI Europe Tour ranking and so will ride the Tour de Luxembourg in the special white Europe Tour jersey. New signing Patrick Sinkewitz will make his debut for ISD-Neri in Luxembourg.

Other names to watch for include Jimmy Casper (Saur-Sojasun), Jens Voigt (Saxo Bank), Brice Feillu (Vacansoleil), Serguei Ivanov and Danilo Napolitano (Katusha), and Sandy Casar (Francaise des Jeux).

In 2009 Frank Schleck won stage three and took the race leader's jersey, holding on to win overall by ten seconds ahead of Andreas Klöden.

We will knows this year's winner on Sunday and also have an indication of Lance Armstrong's form for the rapidly approaching Tour de France.

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