Where are the riders who made the top ten in last year?s Tour de France?

We cast our eye over the men who enlivened the race 12 months ago ? although perhaps enlivened is not the right word in the case of Haimar Zubeldia.

And we assess their chances this time around. Some of them, of course, won?t be there, for one reason or another.

This article originally appeared in the July edition of Cycle Sport magazine. UK readers have just over a week to get your hands on the best Tour de France guide in the world. It?s on sale until Wednesday, July 2, with the August issue going on sale the following day.

1 ALBERTO CONTADOR

Then:
Cherubic-looking Discovery Channel prodigy

Now: Chisel-cheeked big-time player at Astana

How did he do last year?

Won by default when Michael Rasmussen was withdrawn by Rabobank after being caught telling some lies about where he?d been in May.

What did he do after the 2007 Tour?

Followed the Lance Armstrong plan and (more or less) packed his bags for the holidays. Rode the Tour of Missouri in September to say thanks to Discovery Channel for ditching the team.

How about this year?

Astana have been on the outside looking in for much of the year. Barred from all races organised by ASO, Contador has raced predominantly in Spain, taking part in four stage races. He was sixth in the Tour of Valencia, third in the Tour of Murcia and won the Castilla y Leon and the Tour of the Basque Country. He was back in grand tour-winning form at the Giro d?Italia, riding in Johan Bruyneel?s favourite robotic style.

Is he riding the Tour?

No. Well, unless there?s a very late change of heart from Tour boss Christian Prudhomme. Which there won?t be. So we?ll say no. But of course that could change. Unlikely though. Does that answer your question? The last-gasp reprieve from the Giro d?Italia organiser, which allowed Astana to race, is unlikely to be repeated by the Tour. Prudhomme is on record as saying that there will be no U-turn this year, no matter what.

What will he do instead?

We can suggest he buys a Wii games console and invests in the interactive keep-fit game Wii fitness.

2 CADEL EVANS

Then:
Square-jawed outdoorsy type who never attacks

Now: Square-jawed outdoorsy type who almost never attacks

How did he do last year?

Sent July racing a phoney Tour de France. All that time wasted racing against Rasmussen, he has every right to feel robbed. It would have been a different story if it had just been Contador v Evans for three weeks.

What did he do after the Tour?

In August Evans rode the two-day race in Beijing to test out the courses for this summer?s Olympic Games. He won the time trial and was fifth in the road race, which meant he won overall. Then he was fourth in the Vuelta a Espana, fifth in the World Championship road race and sixth in the Tour of Lombardy. It meant he won the now meaningless ProTour classification. Good for him.

How about this year?

Evans has attacked! He won on an uphill finish at the Ruta del Sol in February, beat Robert Gesink on the ?easy? side of Mont Ventoux at Paris-Nice and then took the Settimana Ciclista Coppi e Bartali stage race in Italy. It?s anyone?s guess what the great, attacking Italians whose names adorn that race would think of Evans? racing style.

Is he riding the Tour?

?You just stop me, mate.? (Say it in a slightly high-pitched voice)

How will he do?

On paper he?s the favourite. He?ll rip it up in the mountains with attack after attack. Either that or he?ll sit on until the final time trial.

3 LEVI LEIPHEIMER

Then:
Dour American with a head that looks like it never sees the sun (look how pale it is!)

Now: Squeaky-voiced protester about how unfair life is

How did he do last year?

Fulfilled his destiny, made his dream a reality, socked it to the world, did it for America, finished third. To be fair, he attacked on the Col d?Aubisque when he knew second place was there for the taking. And he did win the stage with the most fake drama in living memory, the final time trial in Angouleme, a day when three men woke up with a chance of winning the Tour and people could have been forgiven for ticking the box ?none of the above? when choosing a winner.

What did he do after the Tour?

Finished second in the Tour of Germany. Won the American road race championship, hesitated for about half a second before signing a contract with Astana, said ?that looks nice? to the worst-looking national champion?s jersey design in history.

How about this year?

The most noteworthy thing about his year has been his Let Levi Ride website. Yeah, cos that?ll change Christian Prudhomme?s mind. We challenge you to look at the picture of Levi wearing a leather jacket and little woolly hat, with his best tough arms-folded look, and not laugh. On the road, he won the Tour of California, took fourth at the Castilla y Leon and third at the Tour of Georgia before being not quite as good as Contador and Klöden at the Giro.

Is he riding the Tour?

No. He?s riding for Astana so he?ll be free to do the gardening in July.

What will he do instead?

Walk the dogs. Update his website. Cry bitter tears of regret. Look forward to the Vuelta. Well, someone has to.

4 CARLOS SASTRE

Then:
Nice guy with a young-old face who?s pretty chuffed to be fourth

Now: Nice guy with a young-old face who?d quite like to be third. Or maybe second

How did he do last year?

Not as well as he?d have liked. Fifth place on Plateau de Beille was his best result. Launched a big attack 13-kilometres from the top of the Col d?Aubisque but was shut down.

What did he do after the Tour?

Finished runner-up in the Vuelta a Espana. Something says Sastre is destined always to be the bridesmaid, never the bride.

How about this year?

A typically quiet spring, rolling round two Spanish stage races without making an impact and going through the motions at the Ardennes Classics.

Is he riding the Tour?

Yes.

How will he do?

Podium is in reach but it?s unlikely he can win it, even if the reduction in time trialling suits him. Biggest challenge may be to even be considered leader of his own team if one of the Schleck brothers steps up.

5 HAIMAR ZUBELDIA

Then:
Generic Spaniard who rides towards the back of the front group in the mountains

Now: Invisible man who seems allergic to winning bike races

How did he do last year?

Leapt up to seventh overall after finishing third behind (cough) Vinokourov and Kirchen at Loudenvielle. Moved up to fifth as the Pyrenees progressed. It must have been the proximity to Spain.

What did he do after the Tour?

Finished 23rd at the San Sebastian Classic and 44th at the Vuelta a Espana. In other words, they let him go back to sleep.

How about this year?

Munching his way through stage races, getting progressively better as the Tour approaches. This time he?s likely to be a support rider for his team-mate Samuel Sanchez.

Is he riding the Tour?

Probably. Let us know if you spot him.

How will he do?

Considering Zubeldia has won two races in his entire 11-year career (a stage and overall of the 2000 Bicicleta Vasca, fact fans) don?t bet on him here. He?s a good climber and decent against the clock so can coast round on the cusp of the top ten with his eyes shut.

6 ALEJANDRO VALVERDE

Then:
Not-quite-as-good-as-he-was Spaniard who definitely isn?t Valv-Piti

Now: Strong on his day but no longer omnipotent. And with thinner hair

How did he do last year?

Steady without being spectacular. Not a patch on the Valverde who outsprinted Lance Armstrong at Courchevel in 2005 and was proclaimed by the Texan as the future of the Tour de France. Lay second overall after the Alps but had a shocking time trial at Albi and spent the Pyrenees clawing his way back.

What did he do after the Tour?

Finished third in San Sebastian. Kept a low profile at the World Championships in Stuttgart when the Germans started asking questions about Operacion Puerto.

How about this year?

Has won the Tour of Murcia, Paris-Camembert and Liege-Bastogne-Liege.

Is he riding the Tour?

Yes, with the back-up of a very strong Caisse d?Epargne team.

How will he do?

On the shortlist to win but it depends which Valverde turns up.

7 KIM KIRCHEN

Then:
The Luxembourger who?s not one of the Schlecks

Now: Kim Kirchen ? Fleche Wallonne winner

How did he do last year?

Started out as a rank-and-file member of High Road. Sat in the shadows as Linus Gerdemann took a stage and the yellow jersey. Took over as T-Mobile leader when Michael Rogers crashed out. Was second to Vinokourov (cough) at Loudenvielle. Held on to seventh place in the final time trial. Just.

What did he do after the Tour?

Rode the ENECO Tour and the Tour of Poland. Lucky, lucky man. Is that any way to treat your best-placed rider in the Tour de France. He was third in Poland.

How about this year?

Failed to finish his first two stage races ? the Tour of California and Tirreno-Adriatico. Won two stages at the Tour of the Basque Country, then won Fleche Wallonne.

Is he riding the Tour?

Yes, as bona fide High Road leader ? because Michael Rogers, despite his sudden return to form, isn?t riding.

How will he do?

Has his eyes on the uphill finish on day one. Then will settle in for the long haul. Reckons he can make the top five.

8 YAROSLAV POPOVYCH

Then:
The New Lance

Now: Not as good as Alberto. The New Rubiera (ie a super domestique)

How did he do last year?

Had a stinker in the Alps and all talk of him being the One To Replace fell flat. Picked up in the second half of the race but by then he was carrying bottles for Contador.

What did he do after the Tour?

Went through the motions until it was time to go on holiday. Found a job with a team that wasn?t Astana. ?Do you mind working for Cadel?? ?Not at all.? ?You?re hired.?

How about this year?

In his new Silence-Lotto colours he took a very solid third overall at Paris-Nice. Followed the paint-by-numbers Tour de France preparation plan of a stage race a month.

Is he riding the Tour?

Yes. As Cadel?s bitch. Can we say that? Probably not. We mean ?loyal lieutenant?.

How will he do?

Not as well as Evans. Top ten is a definite possibility unless he has to turn himself inside out for the leader.

9 MIKEL ASTARLOZA

Then: Spaniard often confused with former world champ Igor Astarloza

Now: This year?s Cyril Dessel. Will never have it so good again

How did he do last year?

Clung on to the big boys on the stage to Briançon, then defended his place in the top ten for all it was worth. Prompted the reaction: ?Well, Astarloza will slip down today? on every time trial and Pyrenean stage in the second half of the race but never did.

What did he do after the Tour?

Dined out on tales of finishing ninth in the Tour. In other words rode two more races and phoned the travel agents. Sixth at San Sebastian, 19th in the Eneco Tour, all the time repeating ?Can I go now, boss??

How about this year?

Sixth at the Tour of the Basque Country, fifth in the Tour of Romandie, top ten in the Dauphiné. Perhaps he won?t disappear from sight.

Is he riding the Tour?

Yes. He?s a team-mate of Samuel Sanchez and Haimar Zubeldia at Euskaltel. They could have three in the top 10.

How will he do?

Not as well as last year.

10 OSCAR PEREIRO

Then:
Possibly the defending champion. Or not. Oh, heck, we don?t know

Now: The 2006 champion. Until the Landis appeal is heard. Oh heck, we don?t know

How did he do last year?

Not as well as in 2006. He was tenth ? as he was in 2004 and 2005. That is his level. In 2006 he got lucky with that break that took nearly half an hour. Lightning like that doesn?t strike twice.

What did he do after the Tour?

Rode half the Vuelta before abandoning. Turned up at Paris-Bourges in October after he was presented with the yellow jersey for ?winning? the 2006 race. ASO took it upon themselves to strip Landis of his title before the inevitable Court of Arbitration appeal from the American. A strategy that may require Pereiro to use the services of parcel force and a jiffy bag to send the jersey back to Paris. Here?s a wacky idea ? let?s say no one won in 2006.

How about this year?

Unspectacular to say the least. Quit Paris-Nice, 17th at the Tour of Romandie, biding his time for the Tour.

Is he riding the Tour?

Yes.

How will he do?

A very useful helper for Valverde. Should forget any ideas about being the leader. Will finish tenth.

THE MEN WHO WON THE STAGES

Fabian Cancellara ? London and Compiegne

World time trial champion ? nailed on to win the time trial at Cholet

Robbie McEwen ? Canterbury

At 36 he?s showing signs of slowing for the first time, until he suddenly picked up at the Tour of Switzerland. One last stage would be fitting

Gert Steegmans ? Ghent

Won?t have to lead out Tom Boonen this year. Sprinting duties fall to him.

Thor Hushovd ? Joigny

Strongman who may fancy his chances of the yellow jersey on the opening weekend

Filippo Pozzato ? Autun

Hopefully he?ll come up against Mark Cavendish and the Manxman can show him a clean set of wheels in the sprint

Tom Boonen ? Bourg-en-Bresse and Castres

Was the big favourite for the green jersey again ? until the incident with the nose power (allegedly)

Linus Gerdemann ? Le Grand Bornand

Won?t be at the Tour this year because he?s struggling to recover from a fractured leg and ankle ligament injuries sustained in Tirreno-Adriatico. Tour will come just too soon for him

Michael Rasmussen ? Tignes and Col d?Aubisque

Currently residing in Mexico or Italy, we?ll never tire of that joke, with no team willing to take him on

Juan Mauricio Soler ? Briançon

Looks like he?s stepped off the drawing board of animated movie Les Triplettes de Belleville. Could be a serious top ten contender

Cedric Vasseur ? Marseille

Retired during the winter. Now head of the professional cyclists? union

Robert Hunter ? Montpellier

Will be Barloworld?s number one sprinter, despite the signing of Italian Enrico Gasparotto

Alexandre Vinokourov ? Albi and Loudenvielle

Serving a disgracefully short one-year ban for blood doping

Alberto Contador ? Plateau de Beille

On holiday

Daniele Bennati ? Castelsarrasin and Paris

Swapped pink and blue of Lampre for lime green of Liquigas. On form at the Giro. Will probably be in the Tour team.

Sandy Casar ? Angoulême

Will target another stage win or could even bid to be the best-placed Frenchman overall. After all, that?s not hard.

Levi Leipheimer ? Angoulême time trial

On holiday. But not with Contador.

RELATED LINKS

What the Dauphiné Libéré told us about the Tour

What the Tour of Switzerland told us about the Tour