Paris: Once again, Alberto Contador is the Tour de France favourite and, once again, Lance Armstrong stands in his way.
Although Luxembourg`s Andy Schleck seems to be his main challenger, Armstrong will lead a very strong RadioShack team that could, if they do not help their man to win the Tour, cause havoc in the three-week race and deny Contador a third title.
Spaniard Contador is the best climber and one of the top time trialists and Armstrong, who was third overall last year in his comeback season, knows that too well.
He knows more, however.
His long-time friend Johan Bruyneel, the RadioShack manager who guided him to his seven Tour triumphs, is also the man behind Contador`s two victories in 2007 and 2009.
Sports director Alain Gallopin, now at RadioShack, groomed Contador last season and knows everything about the prodigy. So do most of his former Astana team mates, who followed Armstrong at the end of last season.
Their knowledge could prove a lethal weapon in a race where every single move, every reaction is scrutinised and analysed by rivals.
"It`s an advantage," said Armstrong, who has announced that this will be his final Tour. "But he`s a complete rider with few weaknesses, he climbs better (than anybody else) and he time-trials with the best."
The nine RadioShack men in this year`s Tour were Astana riders with Contador last season when the Spaniard and the American were locked in a psychological battle that escalated during the race.
"I don`t think my team mates abandoned me," Contador, who was not sure he would stay at Astana until late in the off season, told Reuters. "At that time, I had nothing concrete to offer them."
Contador eventually stayed with Astana and the team, considered weak this season, could prove more solid around the Spaniard with Alexandre Vinokourov as his lieutenant.