Last year saw a British rider, Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky), win the Tour De France, while team mate Chris Froome joined him on the podium having finished second.
Wiggins will not be defending his yellow jersey this year after pulling out injured, but Froome is the bookies’ favourite to take the maillot jaune in the 100th edition of cycling’s greatest race, which rolls out in Corsica tomorrow.
However, if there is to be a Brit atop the podium in Paris for the second year running, Froome will have to defeat three former champions and a host of fiercely strong contenders for the fabled jersey and a place in road cycling folklore.
Here is a list of the big-name contenders who will be battling to win cycling’s greatest prize over the next three weeks.
Chris Froome (Team Sky)
Having worked tirelessly as super domestique to deliver Bradley Wiggins to the top step of the podium at the Tour last year, Chris Froome now wants his own shot at the yellow jersey.
The Kenyan-born Brit, 28, finished second overall last time out, collecting a stage victory before putting his personal ambitions aside and supporting his team leader to glory.
This year however, it is all about Froome and the Team Sky leader is in the form of his life going into the grand depart in Corsica tomorrow, Saturday June 29.
Last month, supported by seven of the team who will ride for him at the Tour, Froome claimed victory at the Criterium du Dauphine, the key pre-Tour form finder.
His second place last year matched his finish at the 2011 Vuelta a Espana, and he followed it by finishing fourth on his return to Spain last year, proving he has the calibre to perform at a Grand Tour.
He has also beaten his main rivals already this season, with Contador finishing over four minutes behind Froome at the Dauphine.
On paper, Froome is quite rightly the big favourite for victory but the race, as we are so often told, is not won on paper.
Being favourite will mean nothing without a strong ride to back it up and Froome is carrying the hopes of an expectant nation on his shoulders into cycling’s biggest race.
If he can match the fierce intensity required of him, he will be well placed to deliver Team Sky’s second consecutive Tour win – but he must produce the performance of his life to do it.
Alberto Contador (Team Saxo-Tinkoff)
Spanish superstar Contador, the best Grand Tour rider of the last decade, is back and has a point to prove.
The two-time Tour champion, who also boasts two overall Vuelta a Espana wins and a Giro d’Italia victory on his incredible palmares, missed last year’s Tour through suspension after a positive doping test.
The ban saw him stripped of a third Tour title and the 2011 Giro d’Italia but having returned last year by winning the 2012 Vuelta, the 30-year-old now wants his yellow jersey back.
At his best, Contador is peerless in the mountains and a ferociously good time trialist to boot. His Grand Tour record shows he knows what it takes to succeed on the biggest stage.
He has already seen off the challenge of the returning Lance Armstrong in 2009 so Froome will hold no terrors for the Saxo-Tinkoff leader.
This season, however, despite three podium finishes and three further top-ten placings, Contador has been unable to match the incredible achievements of Froome.
Second to the Kenyan-born Brit in the Tour of Oman, and a step behind him in third at Tirreno-Adriatico – despite topping the points classification – he was a lowly tenth as Froome stormed to victory at the Dauphine earlier this month.
While he certainly has the calibre to succeed at the Tour, he will need to prove the form book wrong if he is to beat Froome to the top step of the podium in Paris on Sunday July 21.
He won’t lack support (Michael Rogers, a key lieutenant to Wiggins last July, will be a valuable aid) – while long-term domestique Jesus Hernandez will also be alongside him.
Froome starts as the favourite, but the Brit can be sure any slip-ups will be seized upon to the full by Contador.
Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha)
Purito finished last year as world number one and has continued his fine form in 2013.
The diminutive Spaniard, 34, finished on the podium at both the Giro and the Vuelta last year, and he is keen to mount a strong GC challenge at the Tour this time around.
Already a strong climber, with a parcours littered with the small, punchy climbs he specialises in, Rodriguez has also been earmarked as a polka dot jersey contender.
But it is the maillot jaune he really wants, and the multiple Grand Tour stage winner certainly has the calibre to challenge Froome and Contador.
His success at Grand Tours, at which he has achieved seven top-ten finishes, shows he is more than capable of mounting a three-week campaign.
He also beat both in sprint finishes at last year’s Vuelta to claim three stages and finish third overall.
However there is a reason he is yet to win a Grand Tour, and the reason was never more obvious than at last year’s Giro.
Rivalled by very few in the mountains, he falls down in the time trials and despite improvements Contador and Froome will see last year’s Giro – where Rodriguez held the maglia rosa until losing 47 seconds in the final individual time trial – as an encouraging sign.
If Rodriguez can gain enough time in the mountains he has a shot at the yellow jersey but he has a big task on his hands to beat Contador and Froome.
Cadel Evans (BMC Racing)
Alongside Contador and Radioshack-Leopard’s Andy Schleck, 2011 champion Cadel Evans is one of three former winners bidding to win the centennial Tour.
The Australian veteran, now 36, was considered a favourite to rival Bradley Wiggins last year but after showing good early form to come narrowly second behind the Team Sky leader in stage seven, he was unable to maintain his yellow jersey defence eventually finishing seventh.
He vowed to return as BMC Racing leader this year though, and will start the 100th tour leading a team which includes last year’s white jersey winner Tejay Van Garderen and six of the team who helped him win in 2011.
His early-season form certainly did not suggest he would be competing at the Tour, with just a podium place at the Tour of Oman to his name.
However, he put in a stunning campaign to finish third at the Giro d’Italia last month, becoming the oldest rider to make it to the Italian podium since 1928.
A veteran of the Grand Tours, with four top-three finishes and a further six top-tens, Evans now wants a second yellow jersey to add to his palmares.
Backed by a proven support team and with rising star Van Garderen also at his side, Evans is well-equipped to challenge for the maillot jaune, but it remains to be seen how much his Giro campaign has taken out of him.
Furthermore, having struggled to maintain his challenge over three weeks last year, claims he is too old must also be disproven if he is to top the podium in Paris.
His 2011 win shows he knows how to succeed at the Tour, and his great Giro performance shows he is not done yet but to win a second yellow jersey would take a huge effort from both himself and his team.
Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Lotto-Beliol)
An experienced and consistent campaigner, Jurgen Van Den Broeck has built his entire 2013 campaign around the Tour.
The 30-year-old Belgian rider has secured four top-ten finishes this year and is looking to improve on last year’s fourth place – a repeat of his 2010 overall finish.
A climbing specialist who can also time trial, this year’s route certainly plays to his strengths and he will be hoping this is the year he breaks through.
Lotto-Beliol have promised their support too, naming him as a joint leader with sprinter Andre Greipel and building a squad capable of pushing on both fronts.
However, with Greipel harbouring serious ambitions of winning the green jersey, Van Den Broeck will have to perform from the off in order to convince the team it is worth splitting their resources.
Furthermore, Van Den Broeck, despite strong rides throughout his professional career, has never won a major multi-stage race so there are doubts he could mount a three-week challenge strong enough to compete for the yellow jersey.
His reputation as a nearly man – given credence by his two fourth place Tour finishes, and similar results in the Criterium du Dauphine – show he is good enough to compete but not yet to go all the way and reach the podium.
He is also at a disadvantage compared to the leading contenders in that his support team lacks the strength of Team Sky and Saxo-Tinkoff, further suggesting a slow start could see them turn their attention to Greipel’s green jersey bid.
Van Den Broeck will need to produce the performance of his life if he is to win the yellow jersey. However, it is not an impossible task.
Few people expected Ryder Hesjedal to even come close to winning the Giro d’Italia last year, but the Canadian proved a strong, consistent ride in both the mountains and the time trials is enough to win a Grand Tour.
He may start as an outsider, but with a course suiting his strengths and the possibility of some high-profile slip-ups in Corsica and the double ascent of Alpe d’Huez, a strong ride could well see Van Den Broeck among the forerunners come the final stages.