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Nic Ladds 4th Jul 2009 - 9:11

Back Denis to be a menace to Lance and Alberto

One of the most physically punishing events of the year gets underway as the Tour de France prepares for another year of punishing climbs, lightening fast sprints and hopefully for once, no scandal.

The fact seven time winner Lance Armstrong makes his sensational come back in this year's Tour has added to the excitement and the Texan is 4/1 second favourite to recapture the title he made his own.

To add to the excitement, the first stage takes place in Monaco for the first time in 45 years, and the final stages are on a punishing mountain climb which could mean the winner is not decided until the dying moments of 'le Tour'.

He rides for his old team Astana which also boasts the favourite for the yellow jersey, Alberto Contador who at even money will be the one for many punters as he appears to be at the top of his game.

He won in 2007 but didn't compete last year as his team was not allowed to enter, but he went on to win the Giro d'Italia and the Vuelta a Espana in 2008 and really will be tough to beat.

Cycling however is much more of a team game than one may think and the fact that the two great riders are meant to work together in parts will either see Astana dominate the whole race or go in to complete meltdown with the individuals simply not working together.

Should this happen there will be a host of rivals waiting in the wings to see if they can get a hand on the coveted 'maillot jaune'.

Andy Schleck is 7/1 in the betting to take the jersey for the Saxo Bank team and he has the skills to trouble Contador in the mountain stages.

He finished 12th in this last year and has done nothing but improve since with some blistering form this year and he is a live contender who has a strong team behind him including his brother Frank who can be backed at 50/1 for outright glory.

Cadel Evans who has finished second in each of the last two years is 9/1 to go one better this time but his scandal hit team doesn't look likely to provide him with much support. He will without a doubt be a contender in the sprints but he will have too much to do single handed and is overlooked this time.

Denis Menchov could get in the mix at 12/1 as he has a very strong team around him who are there to help him to win rather than a host of individuals who will have to try and work together.

He will undoubtedly time trial well but loses it too often in the big climbs to trouble the market leaders seriously but if he can get it together for this then he is a live each way contender.

Finally a mention to last year's winner Carlos Sastre who is priced at 18/1 to take the title again, but neither Contador nor Armstrong were in the race last year, and while he is an excellent climber it is unlikely he will find the form to take a second tour.

This looks a belting renewal of the great race which looks seriously tough and there are bound to be thrilling finishes and spectacular wipe outs at every stage.

For a bet, either Contador or Armstrong certainly look the most likely winner but an each way bet on Denis Menchov could be the call as he has the whole team geared towards him winning and with that kind of support anything is possible.

Denis Menchov each way - 12/1

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