Chris Froome, a climbing domestique for Team Sky, riding in the 2012 Tour de France. (Photograph: Lionel Bonaventure/AFP/Getty Images)
The most prestigious cycling race is about to start on Saturday, when 22 teams depart in Corsica and go on a three-week long ride towards Paris. Along the way they will cross the Pyrenees and Alps and arrive on the Champs-Elysees on 21 July. Once the riders cross the finish line there they will have 3403.5 km in their legs.
The 100th edition of the Tour de France is primarily a battle between Alberto Contador and Chris Froome. Others, such as Joaquim Rodriguez, Richie Porte, Nairo Quintana, Tejay van Garderen, Cadel Evans, Alejandro Valverde Andy Schleck, Thibaut Pinot, Jurgen van den Broeck and Ryder Hesjedal will be fighting for the remaining place on the podium.
Bradley Wiggins, winner of last year's yellow jersey, will not participate. Be it because of injury or team politics, he won't be able to defend his title. Other big names that will miss the Tour are Vincenzo Nibali (focus on Vuelta), Fabian Cancellara (Vuelta), Samuel Sanchez (injury), Ivan Basso (injury) and Luis Leon Sanchez (not selected).
The race for the green jersey for the best sprinter will be more competitive. Peter Sagan and Mark Cavendish are the top favorites but keep an eye out for Andre Greipel, Marcel Kittel Aleksander Kristoff, Matthew Goss, Edvald Boasson Hagen, Jose Joaquin Rojas, John Degenkolb and Nacer Bouhanni, who will be competing for stage victories.
Who is going to win the King of the Mountains jersey? A classification rider who is unable to win the race or a simply good climber who won't be up too high in the general classification and therefore gets some leeway from the peloton? Apart from the names above, Thomas Voeckler, Pierre Rolland, Frederik Kessiakoff, Mikel Nieve, Igor Anton, Johnny Hoogerland, Daniel Martin and Sylvain Chavanel are the main conteders.
The white jersey for the best young rider will likely go to Tejay van Garderen, Nairo Quintana, Thibaut Pinot or Andrew Talansky, with an outsider chance for Moreno Moser.
The 198 participants will ride seven stages in relatively flat terrain before they have to climb the first big mountains in the Pyrenees. After two mountain stages there will be another four flat stages before the cyclists arrive in the Alps, with three hilly and four mountain stages to go. The race will then end with the traditional finish on the Champs-Elysees in Paris.
In total, there will be seven flat stages, five hilly stages, six mountain stages, two individual time trials and one team time trial.
The majority of experts seem to favor Chris Froome as this year's winner and I tend to agree. There is no way of knowing how good Alberto Contador is after his doping suspension. He may have the better team, in my opinion, and is the better climber but Chris Froome is the better time trialist. If a "clean" Contador is as good as he has been in previous years then I give him the advantage over Chris Froome. We might be wiser after stage 8, the first mountain stage.
I believe that last year's winner of the green jersey Peter Sagan will defend his title successfully. He is more versatile than Mark Cavendish, whom I don't expect to stay ahead of the peloton in particular hilly terrain. Other sprinters will merely fight for stage wins.
Predicting the winner of the mountain jersey is like predicting the lottery numbers. Fact is, the sooner Chris Froome or Alberto Contador ride in yellow the bigger the chances for non-classification riders such as Thomas Voeckler, Pierre Rolland, Johnny Hoogerland or Sylvain Chavanel. If Froome and Contador refrain from attacking the yellow jersey until the Alps then Jurgen van den Broeck and Nairo Quintana could be the ones to beat.
Most experts will have Tejay van Garderen or Nairo Quintana down as the favorite for the white jersey but I believe that Thibaut Pinot could have the last laugh. Van Garderen and Quintana are domestiques for Cadel Evans and Alejandro Valverde respectively. Evans and Valverde are well in their 30s and may require the help of van Garderen and Quintana often. Thibaut Pinot is a team captain and can ride his own race, in line with the team strategy of course.