Tour de France 2013: Mark Cavendish eyes yellow jersey in opening stage

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“This year will see more action than in past years,” he added. Of Froome, he said: “I would have no motivation to be here if I thought I couldn’t beat him.”

Among longer-shot 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 Spaniards Alejandro Valverde of Movistar and Joaquim Rodriguez of Katusha.

Bradley Wiggins, the 2012 Tour winner and a Sky teammate of Froome, is injured and sitting out this year. Last year, Froome was more impressive than Wiggins in the mountains, but that race was more heavily weighted to time trials — Wiggins’ specialty — than in this year’s edition.

Like Wiggins last year, Froome has had a nearly flawless run-up to the Tour: the 28-year-old Kenyan-born Briton won four of five races he started. He said he’s confident, but not fond of the “favorite” moniker.

“It’s an absolutely privilege for me to be in this position,” he said, but “there is a certain amount of pressure that comes with it.”

“Coming in as the race favorite sets that precedent of people looking to beat you … so it definitely opens doors that people may be ganging up,” he said, acknowledging the possibility that Valverde, Contador and Rodriguez might form a Spanish alliance against him.

Contador is high in Froome’s mind.

“I don’t think we have seen Contador at his best yet,” he said. “His goal was never to perform well at any of the races building up to the Tour, but then to come to the Tour at his absolute best. I believe he’ll be here at his best — and that’s what we’ll expect.”

Andy Schleck, who inherited the 2010 title stripped from Contador for testing positive for the muscle-building drug clenbuterol, 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 Luxembourg rider considers himself an “outsider,” not a favorite.

The race spends three days on Corsica’s winding, hilly roads. It then sets off on a clockwise run through mainland France along the Mediterranean, into the Pyrenees, then up to Brittany and the fabled Mont-Saint-Michel island citadel before a slashing jaunt southeastward toward the Alps before the Paris finish.

“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. “The easy answer is: Yes, it’s Chris Froome vs. Alberto Contador, but I think we’re going to try and make the answer not as easy.”


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