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Zülle among favourites for Tour de France

Alex Zülle preparing himself for the Tour de France at the recent Dauphine Classic

(Keystone)

Switzerland's Alex Zülle, who came second in last year's Tour de France and in 1995, is one of the top contender's for this year's cycling event which gets underway on Saturday.

Zülle, from St Gallen, will also be joined by five fellow countrymen at cycling's most prestigious event, including Laurent Dufaux from canton Vaud, who finished in fourth place last year. The others are Markus Zberg, Armin Meier, Roland Meier and the young Swiss-American, Sven Montgomery.

Montgomery, who finished fourth in Switzerland's largest cycling race, the Tour de Suisse, last week, will be making his debut in the Tour this year.

Thirty-one-year-old Zülle has devoted his entire training schedule to the Tour de France and is aiming to become Switzerland's second winner, following in the footsteps of Hugo Koblet, who took the title 49 years ago.

He has changed his strategy under the guidance of the Spanish coach, José Miguel Echavarri, who also managed the fortunes of Tour's five-times winner, Miguel Indurain. He decided to enter the Tour de France with a third less racing days under his belt than in previous years, so as to divert his energy into training.

He is feeling more confident and mentally focussed ahead of Saturday's start than on previous occasions.
"I have really done everything in my power to be successful", Zülle said.

Zülle is considered an outsider by pundits who will be keeping a close eye on the main favourites and last three winners, Germany's Jan Ullrich, the American, Lance Armstrong and the Italian, Marco Pantani.

Swiss cycling fans will also get a chance to see race on home soil, when the 17th stage of the Tour de France comes to Switzerland. The stage on July 19 will start in the French town of Evian-les-Bains, on the south of Lake Geneva, and finishes in Lausanne in Switzerland, on the north side of the lake.

The city is home to the headquarters of the International Cycling Union, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.

swissinfo with agencies

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