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Swiss riders in short supply on Tour de France

Switzerland's Sven Montgomery will be looking to snatch a stage win

(Keystone Archive)

The world's greatest cycling race, the Tour de France, kicks off on Saturday with only three Swiss riders lining up for the opening time trial in Dunkirk - the lowest number for 20 years.

Lugano's Rubens Bertogliati will be riding with the Lampre team, while Sven Montgomery and Daniel Schnider will both be hoping to make an impact with the La Francaise des Jeux squad.

But all eyes, once again, will be on the champion of the last two years and the pre-race favourite, America's Lance Armstrong.

The US Postal Services team rider heads into the Tour as the newly crowned world number one thanks to last week's victory in the Tour de Suisse. His dominant performance, especially in the time trials, provided further evidence that Armstrong is at the peak of his powers going into the race.

However the 30-year-old has been keen to play down suggestions that this year's Tour is his for the taking. "I disagree that I'm the overwhelming favourite," he said. "I think there are a lot of guys that are just as strong as me."

"One weakness could be that I've arrived at my form a bit early," he continued. "But the truth is that in the mountains in Switzerland, I wasn't at my best. I was suffering and things weren't clicking."

Chief among the pretenders for the title is the 1997 champion Jan Ullrich, who won Olympic gold in Sydney and was runner-up to Armstrong in last year's race. "I've noticed that my form is at the point where I'm ready to go," warned the German. "If it doesn't work out this time, then it probably won't ever."

Other potential rivals to Armstrong's crown include Spain's Joseba Beloki, France's Christophe Moreau and the Italian, Francesco Casagrande.

The three-week Tour covers 3,400 kilometres of French and Belgian countryside and includes seven tough mountain stages. The race comes to an end with the traditional ride down the Champs Elysees in Paris on Sunday July 29.

swissinfo with agencies


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