Chris Froome gets his Tour de France defence started on Saturday as cycling's most storied and prestigious event sets off in Leeds.
The Briton cruised to victory in the 2013 edition, never relinquishing the lead he took on Stage 8, but he faces tough competition for the yellow jersey this year.
Spain's Alberto Contador is Froome's prime rival for this year's Tour. The Tinkoff-Saxo rider has returned to some strong form this season, and his two previous wins will stand him in good stead to compete.
Read on for a look at the latest odds for the general classification winner and a closer examination of the top riders in with a chance in 2014.
|Tour de France 2014 Odds|
|Tejay Van Garderen||BMC Racing||40-1|
|Jurgen Van Den Broeck||Lotto Belisol||66-1|
Certainly the favourite to win this year's race, Froome will be hoping to make it three consecutive victories for Team Sky after Sir Bradley Wiggins' 2012 triumph.
Wiggins' absence—he was not selected for Sky's nine-man squad, per the Telegraph's Tom Cary—may be a blessing for Froome as there will be a merciful lack of talk concerning the pair's reportedly fractious relationship.
In Richie Porte he has a trusted and talented lieutenant, as well as a strong team of riders to support him on the mountains and protect him when needed.
Froome won the Tour de Romandie and Tour of Oman earlier in the season, but he lost out to Contador in a crash-effected Criterium du Dauphine in June, a key Tour warm-up.
While Froome's chances in that race were damaged by a fall—he had won the first two stages—it did show he will not have things all his own way in the Tour this year.
However, he is still the man to beat, and should he still be in touch for the penultimate stage—the only time-trial—he should take the win once again.
The 31-year-old Spaniard is the most decorated stage race winner in the field and has five grand tour victories under his belt as well as his 2010 Tour de France win of which he was stripped due to a doping violation.
He came fourth in 2013 but was off the pace and could not overcome Froome on the climbs, but this year, he has shown he has the form to challenge for the yellow jersey.
Contador is a fearless rider tactically and will have a very strong team around him for this year's Tour de France. He won Tirreno-Adriatico in March and the Tour of Basque Country in April in dominant displays.
He eventually came second in last month's Criterium du Dauphine—but was not far away—as well as claiming the runner-up spot in the Tours of Algarve and Catalonia.
Most pundits believe everybody else is racing for third place behind Froome and Contador with some of the riders also conceding as much, per Sky Sports:
The pair should certainly put on a show, and Contador looks to be in a position to challenge Froome in a way nobody did last year.
The 29-year-old Vincenzo Nibali is certainly no slouch—he won the Giro d'Italia last year—but as the odds suggest, while he is third favourite, he is an outside bet for this year's Tour de France.
However, he eschewed the possibility of defending his Italian title this year so as to prepare for a tilt at the Tour, a measure which shows how seriously he is taking things.
The Astana rider has a team around him who could do some damage in the mountains, although the flats are a different story, and Froome has the edge in the lengthy time-trial.
Nibali looks to be the best of the rest outside of Froome and Contador, but he could spring a surprise considering his intelligence, increasing improvement and experience as a grand tour winner.
All odds provided from Oddschecker.com.
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