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These eight favorites will battle for victory in the 2008 Tour de France

One of these eight men will win the 2008 Tour. Here, we break down each of their chances based on four key metrics. CADEL EVANS (Aus), Silence-Lotto Climbing Though not a pure climber, Evans is consistent and economical on all types of climbs. He rode last year’s Tour with or just behind the leaders in the mountains. This year he has been more assertive, especially in his winning ride at the Coppi & Bartali Week. Time Trialing

By The Editors of VeloNews

CADEL EVANS (Aus), Silence-Lotto

CADEL EVANS (Aus), Silence-Lotto

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One of these eight men will win the 2008 Tour. Here, we break down each of their chances based on four key metrics.

CADEL EVANS (Aus), Silence-Lotto

Climbing
Though not a pure climber, Evans is consistent and economical on all types of climbs. He rode last year’s Tour with or just behind the leaders in the mountains. This year he has been more assertive, especially in his winning ride at the Coppi & Bartali Week.

Time Trialing
Evans finished second in both Tour TTs last year and was later given the stage 13 win when Vinokourov tested positive for blood doping. Honed during an earlier mountain bike career that included two World Cup titles, Evans’ skills are solid, and now he is a talented time trialist.

Tactics/Experience
Despite having only four grand tours behind him, Evans knows how to follow the right wheels, and he has consistently avoided the inevitable first-week crashes and delays that have hampered other GC contenders. His performance was masterly in his three victories this season.

Team
Evans didn’t want to lose Chris Horner to Astana but replacement Yaroslav Popovych — who was third in the 2003 Giro — bolsters the Aussie’s chances in the mountains. One negative is the work his teammates put out on flatter stages for sprinter Robbie McEwen.

CARLOS SASTRE (Sp), CSC

CARLOS SASTRE (Sp), CSC

CARLOS SASTRE (Sp), CSC

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Climbing
ls as a support rider for Ivan Basso and Tyler Hamilton before becoming CSC team leader last year. He won a mountaintop stage of the 2003 Tour, and he will try to make big gains on this year’s four summit finishes.

Time Trialing
With a podium finish beckoning, Sastre lost four minutes to rival Andreas Klöden in the final TT of the 2006 Tour, while last year he conceded 2:47 and 2:33 to Evans in the respective TTs, for a total of 5:20. This year, he has to limit his TT losses to a 3:00.

Tactics/Experience
Sastre, a veteran of 17 grand tours who has completed the Tour-Vuelta combo five times, knows the race inside out. He’s not afraid to attack long-distance — as he did with Soler on the Aubisque stage last year — but tends to overestimate his strength.

Team
Manager Bjarne Riis is a master tactician, but CSC has lost David Zabriskie and Christian Vande Velde, while veterans Jens Voigt and Bobby Julich aren’t getting any younger. But it still helps to have powerful teammates like Fabian Cancellara and the Schleck brothers.

DENIS MENCHOV (Rus), Rabobank

DENIS MENCHOV (Rus), Rabobank

DENIS MENCHOV (Rus), Rabobank

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Climbing
Menchov is not a pure climber and does not like drastic tempo changes in the mountains, yet he can generally follow the right wheels. That’s enabled him to stay with and out-sprint stronger climbers to win mountaintop stages at the Vuelta and Tour.

Time Trialing
In winning two Vueltas, Menchov took both time trials in 2005, and was second and fourth last year. At the 2007 Tour, he burned all his matches in support of longtime yellow jersey winner Michael Rasmussen, and he was an anonymous 21st in the only TT.

Tactics/Experience
When on top form, as he was during his convincing win at last year’s Vuelta, Menchov impressively stage-managed Sanchez and Sastre’s raging “best Spanish rider” battle by allowing each just enough leash, yet not enough to threaten his leader’s jersey.

Team
Last year, the team gamely defended Rasmussen’s lead until he was booted after stage 16, with Menchov abandoning in disgust the next day. Team unity has not been Rabobank’s strong suit, but this may change with the retirement of Dutch hero Michael Boogerd.

FRÄNK SCHLECK (Lux), CSC

FRÄNK SCHLECK (Lux), CSC

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Climbing
Winning a stage atop L’Alpe d’Huez should automatically grant one top-climber status, and that’s what Schleck did at the end of a long collective breakaway to beat a motivated Cunego in 2006. Last year was not as kind to Schleck, who struggled in a supportive role.

Time Trialing
As a long and lanky climber, Schleck is not a TT specialist. The best he can hope for is to limit his losses. But maybe he can turn it around because he has shown he can ride strongly alone, as he did in his victorious solo break at the 2006 Amstel Gold Race.

Tactics/Experience
Schleck has ridden only four grand tours, but he has shown tactical skills in his podium finishes at the Tour of Lombardy, Amstel Gold Race and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. So he does know how to use his team and navigate the peloton when in a winning position.

Team
The aging CSC team may be a tad weaker this year, but the top-ranked UCI ProTour team for the past three years still has what it takes. So should Schleck or teammate Sastre be in contention for the podium, they’ll have as much support as any rider could ask.

DAMIANO CUNEGO (I), Lampre

DAMIANO CUNEGO (I), Lampre

DAMIANO CUNEGO (I), Lampre

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Climbing
“The Little Prince” is a fearsome climber who has won mountain stages in the Giro and the most recent editions of the hilly Amstel Gold Race and Tour of Lombardy. In his only Tour appearance two years ago, he took the best young rider’s award.

Time Trialing
Cunego has worked diligently on his time trialing, but his dedication has yet to translate into consistent performances against the clock. However, it should be remembered that a motivated Cunego grabbed his 2006 white jersey largely due to an inspired final TT performance.

Tactics/Experience
Cunego won the ’04 Giro with brilliant tactical moves; but he also made some rash decisions that angered teammate Gilberto Simoni. With maturity, and as the Lampre leader for the past four years, he looks ready to step up at the Tour

Team
The big doubt is whether Lampre has the climbing firepower to really help Cunego in the mountains.

KIM KIRCHEN (Lux), High Road

KIM KIRCHEN (Lux), High Road

KIM KIRCHEN (Lux), High Road

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Climbing
Kirchen is considered a solid all-around rider. But he has two top-fives in the Tour of Switzerland and was seventh at the 2007 Tour. This year, he won two hilly stages of the Tour of the Basque Country before winning the Flèche Wallonne, a true climber’s classic.

Time Trialing

He placed seventh in the 2007 Tour by getting into long breakaways in the mountains, not because of his weak time-trialing. But at April’s Basque Country race, he was 12th in the TT, only 12 seconds behind his teammate Marco Pinotti, a renown time trialist.

Tactics/Experience
After five years with the high-profile Fassa Bortolo team, and now in his third year with High Road (formerly T-Mobile), Kirchen is a tactically savvy rider. He can do another strong Tour if team leader Michael Rogers has not recovered from his Epstein-Barr bout.

Team
High Road has been a big success in 2008, despite Rogers’ illness and Linus Gerdemann’s injury. Now based in California, the team has young, successful riders and an internal drug-testing program as stringent as Slipstream and CSC.

MAURICIO SOLER (Col), Barloworld

MAURICIO SOLER (Col), Barloworld

MAURICIO SOLER (Col), Barloworld

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Climbing
Soler is the latest in a long line of superlative Colombia climbers, though he’s taller than two-time Tour KOM Lucho Herrera. Last year was Soler’s Tour debut, but he made brilliant solo attacks in the Alps, winning stage 9, and matched the best in the Pyrenees.

Time Trialing
This was his big weakness at the 2007 Tour, but Soler has worked on his time trialing through the winter. His athletic build and long solo breaks indicate that he could develop into a more than adequate time trialist. And at 25, time is on his side.

Tactics/Experience
Soler showed good timing in his attacks at last year’s Tour, particularly in leaving the pack to join an earlier break on the Col du Télégraphe on stage 9 and then riding clear of the break on the Galibier. His instinctive tactical sense is sure to benefit him again.

Team
No one gave much thought to Barloworld, a Pro Continental team, before last year’s Tour. But Soler’s teammates rode strongly to give him a boost in the early parts of mountain stages. Hopefully, they can give him more consistent support this July.

ALEJANDRO VALVERDE (Sp), Caisse d’Épargne

ALEJANDRO VALVERDE (Sp), Caisse d’Épargne

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Climbing
Those who doubt Valverde’s abilities in the mountains only need to recall his 2005 victory over Lance Armstrong high atop Courchevel. What’s most impressive about Valverde is his ability to sprint at the end of a long climb. However, he has proven inconsistent over long races.

Time Trialing
This is his Achilles’ heel. Valverde finished sixth overall in the Tour last year, 11:37 off the pace of race winner Alberto Contador. In 2007’s two long time trials, Valverde finished 47th on stage 13 (6:08 behind the stage winner) and 17th on stage 20 (3:38 behind the stage winner). More important, he lost more than five minutes cumulatively on Contador and more than seven minutes on Cadel Evans.

Tactics/Experience
His 2008 win at the classic one-day race, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, demonstrated Valverde’s foxy skills. In the closing kilometers Valverde and breakaway companion Davide Rebelling (Gerolsteiner) were outnumbered by CSC teammates and brothers Fränk and Andy Schleck. Valverde kept his cool, waiting until the end to pounce.

Team
Caisse d’Épargne showed its class when it helped defend the race lead for a few days for Oscar Pereiro in the 2006 Tour. In addition to Pererio, Valverde also has the able assistance of Vladimir Karpets this year.

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