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Armstrong looks vulnerable for Tour

SINCE his comeback in January Lance Armstrong has looked a shadow of the man who posted a record seven consecutive Tour de France victories and he seems unlikely to match his awe-inspiring prime when the race starts on Saturday in Monaco.

The 37-year-old American, who returned to competitive cycling with Astana three-and-a-half years after retiring, has appeared more human on the bike and could benefit from this to win the hearts of the French fans.

The ultimate winning machine in his heyday, Armstrong has had a strained relationship with the country of his greatest triumphs.

"I hope he will not be there. Is he afraid of France? Nobody forced him to come, he only has to stay at home. He cannot win the Tour. I hope (Alberto) Contador gives him a beating," Frenchman and five-times Tour winner Bernard Hinault was quoted as saying by Le Parisien last month.

Armstrong, who fought testicular cancer before dominating the Tour from 1999 to 2005, has had more lows than highs since returning to racing at the Tour Down Under.

In the first stage of March's Tour of Castilla y Leon, Armstrong crashed and broke his collarbone.

He recovered in time to take part in his first Giro d'Italia in May. He managed a creditable 12th place overall, although his 53rd in the final time trial showed the American was not ready to hammer the competition as he used to.

However, Armstrong is confident he can do well in France.

"I don't have the same confidence now but I am about as fit as in 2003, when it was a very tight Tour. Let's say I have a three-to-one chance to win," he said.

Italian rider Ivan Basso is convinced the American can pull off a surprise.

"He will ride the Tour like no one else because he has the experience of seven Tour de France wins," he said. "He will go like a beast."

What you need to know

Why is the Tour overall leader's jersey yellow?

In 1919, Tour organizers decided the race leader should wear a special jersey making him easy to identify by spectators. They picked yellow as it was the color of the paper on which L'Auto, the sports daily sponsoring the race, was printed.

What is the green jersey?

It is the jersey awarded for the points classification and a great consolation prize for sprinters as they usually win more stages, if by a slimmer margin.

Points are awarded to the top 20 finishers in each stage, the rider finishing with the most wins the jersey.

What is the polka dot jersey?

It is the jersey awarded to the best climber of the Tour or 'King of the Mountains.' Points are awarded at the top of each hill or mountain, which are rated from fourth to first category depending on their difficulty. Some exceptionally tough climbs are rated "hors categorie" (out of category).

Why do riders often finish in the same time?

Because only seconds are taken into account in the overall standings and not fractions of seconds. It is usually considered that all the riders included in the same group are given the same time on the finish line regardless of whether they are at the front or the back.

Cycling is an individual sport so why are there teams?

The Tour is raced by 20 teams of nine riders. Each team usually includes a leader - the man with the best chance for the final classification - sprinters, climbers and every type of rider who can help the team win a stage, take a jersey and bring home prize money.

Teammates are often seen riding ahead of their leader because they are protecting him from the wind.

How do riders pee?

If the race is raging at full speed, riders do so on their bikes, but most of the time they stop early in the stage when the pace is leisurely.

It is an unwritten rule of the peloton that you do not attack when a rider or a group have stopped for a pee.


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