Tour de France 2012 Predictions: Breaking Down Top Contenders in Epic Race

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Tour de France 2012 Predictions: Breaking Down Top Contenders in Epic Race
Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Oil up those chains and strap on your helmets, because the 2012 Tour de France is right around the corner.

The event will kick off with the prologue (individual time trials) on Saturday, June 30, with the first of 20 stages being held on Sunday, July 1. The grueling 2,173-mile race will start in the Belgian city of Liege and end in Paris three weeks later on Sunday, July 22nd.

The following men are the pre-race favorites for the 99th running of the Tour de France.

Cadel Evans (Australia, BMC Racing)

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There's no better way to start this list than with the defending champion, who won last year's race by surpassing Andy Schleck on the final time trial.

He became one of the five oldest Tour de France winners that year at the age of 34. Now at 35-years-old, Evans will look to become the second oldest winner behind only Firmin Lambot, who won the 1922 Tour at the age of 36.

Evans will have his work cut out for him, as he's struggled in some of the buildup races to the Tour. With his experience and savvy, though, you can never count out the Australian.

Bradley Wiggins (Britain, Team Sky)

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Wiggins is the most dangerous threat to Evans' bid for consecutive titles.

He finished fourth overall in 2009, and after crashing early in last year's race, the Brit will be highly motivated this year.

Wiggins has been excellent in the Tour tune-ups this season, winning the Paris-Nice in March and the Criterium du Dauphine earlier this month. If he can continue his success on cycling's biggest stage, he will become the first Briton to win the historic race.

Denis Menchov (Russia, Katusha)

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The 34-year-old Menchov is always a contender in long races, as he has won two Vuelta de Espana's (2005, 2007) and one Giro d'Italia (2009). He also finished second overall at the Tour de France in 2010.

Menchov is a versatile cyclist, excelling both in time trials and in climbing stages. If he can receive a boost from his teammates, he will be among the leaders heading into the final days.

In the end, I think Menchov's poor team will cost him. Barring a crash or injury, I'm picking Wiggins to make history with his first Tour de France title.

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