Anything can happen over the next three weeks, but here we take a look at the riders most likely to be in the spotlight throughout the Tour de France. Below is a guide to what are expected to be the most pivotal and exciting stages, and a breakdown as to what the different colored race jerseys signify.
Five riders to watch
Lance Armstrong (Astana) – There is a fascination about this man and everything he does that transcends sport. Even though it would take an extraordinary set of circumstances for him to stand any chance of winning the Tour, all eyes with be on Armstrong to see how much his years away from the sport have taken out of him.
Alberto Contador (Astana) – The Tour favorite could not possibly ask for a more experienced or accomplished rider than Armstrong to help him on his quest for glory. A magnificent climber, Contador will look to establish himself in the mountains and wrap up the title.
Cadel Evans (Silence Lotto) – The Australian is a former mountain-biking star who has adapted brilliantly to professional road cycling. He could be a genuine threat if his team can focus its energies behind him but is prone to mental meltdowns.
Carlos Sastre (Cervelo Test Team) – The 2008 champion will like the climber-friendly conditions this year, but could be hurt by a lack of support from his relatively weak new team.
Mark Cavendish (Columbia-High Road) – The Brit is the most electrifying sprinter in cycling and racked up four stage wins last year. He is strongly tipped to win the green jersey with several stages on the course suiting his aggressive style.
Five stages to watch
Stage 4, July 7: Montpellier
The team time trial returns to the Tour for the first time since 2005, Armstrong's final year before retirement, with a new set of rules that eradicates the previous protection for weaker squads. Now there is no limit on the amount of time any team can surrender and Astana, spearheaded by Contador and marshaled by Armstrong, could stamp its authority here.
Stage 7, July 10: Barcelona to Andorra Arcalis
This grueling mountain stage begins in Spain, ends in the tiny nation of Andorra, and could have a critical effect on the outcome of the race. A brutal ascent to the finish line will test the reserves of all.
Stage 16, July 21 Martigny to Bourg-Saint-Maurice
A dramatic sheer drop following the day's final climb offers the potential for thrills and spills and serious time could be gained or lost.
Stage 20, July 25: Montelimar to Mont Ventoux
The horrendous climb up Ventoux claimed the life of Britain's Tommy Simpson in 1967, and the lack of oxygen makes it a ferocious test of will and nerve. Just a day out from the end of the race, everything is to play for and the perilous nature of this stage means no lead is safe.
Stage 21, July 26: Montereau-Fault-Yonne to Champs-Elysees
If history is anything to go by, the Tour will have been already won and the final stage will be little more than a procession. Expect a fierce sprint finish at the end though, as the sprinters look to close out in style.
Yellow – overall race leader
Green – points leader
White with red polka dots – best climber
White – best young rider (under 25)
Rainbow – reigning world champion