The 2012 Tour de France gets underway on Saturday with a prologue in Liege, Belgium, and that will mark the beginning of Cadel Evans' defense of the yellow jersey, or as the French call it, the maillot jaune. Evans won just a single stage in 2011, but on Stages 20 and 21 he was able to capture and hold onto the famed yellow jersey, leading to celebrations at the Champs-Élysées.
This year's race, however, will be lacking some big names, as Alberto Contador, Andy Schleck and Thor Hushovd are not competing. Contador is serving a doping suspension while Schleck and Hushovd are dealing with injury and sickness. Schleck and Hushovd both wore the yellow jersey for portions of the 2011 race.
With those top cyclists out, who might challenge for the yellow jersey? Garmin-Sharp's Ryder Hesjedal could be in the running for the yellow jersey after capturing the 2012 Giro d'Italia, but winning both the Giro and the Tour would be a truly remarkable feat.
The latest odds (via Bovada) for the 2012 Tour de France place Team Sky's Bradley Wiggins at the head of the class at 7/5. Evans is right there behind Wiggins at 2/1 while Hesjedal is down at 22/1.
They and the rest of the field will face a course that will be a bit different than in years past. There will only be three uphill finishes:
This year's race features three uphill finishes, which is relatively few by recent Tour standards. The first comes on the eastern Vosges range in Stage 7, with a short, steep ride up the Planche de Belles Filles - a plateau named for a legendary mass suicide of French damsels faced by the threat of Nordic invaders centuries ago. The others are rides up to ski stations: La Toussuire in the Alps in Stage 11, and Peyragudes in the Pyrenees in Stage 17.
The three time trials -- in Liege, from Arc-et-Senans to Besançon and from Bonneval to Chartres -- will also draw plenty of attention, as these are stages that will require the riders to race against the clock instead of the peloton.
Is Cadel Evans up to the challenge or will we see a new face on the final podium later in July?