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A look at 2011 Tour de France contenders

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PARIS (AP)

A look at some of the top contenders at the 2011 Tour de France, from July 2-24:

-Alberto Contador, 28, Spain, Saxo Bank: The three-time Tour champion from Spain is the overwhelming favorite to defend his title. Contador had an impressive buildup to the Tour, winning the Giro d'Italia in May. Contador, arguably the best climber in the world, also claimed victories at the Tour of Murcia and the Tour of Catalunya.

But he will race while knowing he could be suspended and stripped of all of his titles dating to July 2010 by the Court of Arbitration for Sport. CAS will decide in August whether to suspend him for a positive test for the banned anabolic agent clenbuterol during last year's Tour.

Another question mark hanging over Contador is whether he can recover from the efforts he made during the Giro. No one has been able to win the Giro and the Tour in the same year since the late Marco Pantani did it in 1998.

Contador won the last three Tours de France he competed in and is one of only five riders in history to have won all three of the sport's Grand Tours (the Tour, Giro and Spanish Vuelta).

-Andy Schleck, 26, Luxembourg, Leopard-Trek: Schleck lost last year's Tour by only 39 seconds. He finished second to Contador in the last two Tours and was the only rider able to follow Contador's pace in the mountains last year.

With only one individual time trial scheduled this year on the Tour - in Grenoble on the eve of the finish in Paris - Schleck, who is not a specialist of the race against the clock, has reason to believe in his chances. He's also still eligible for the Tour's white jersey given to the best young rider, which he could win for a record fourth time.

He will be supported by a strong team that includes his brother Frank, Jakob Fuglsang, Fabian Cancellara, Jens Voigt or Maxime Monfort.

-Cadel Evans, 34, Australia, BMC Racing: Regarded as a perennial underachiever, Evans silenced his critics when he became world champion in 2009 with a great display of self-control and mental toughness.

The Australian, a two-time runner-up on the Tour (2007-2008), showed he was capable of doing well in the high mountains with his second-place finish at the Criterium du Dauphine a few weeks ago. He also won the Tirreno Adriatico and the Tour de Romandie this season.

Evans also will take advantage of his strong BMC Racing team and of the experience of teammate George Hincapie, an American competing in his 16th Tour this summer.

-Ivan Basso, 33, Italy, Liquigas: One of the most talented riders of his generation, Basso finished third in the 2004 Tour and second in 2005 during Lance Armstrong's heyday.

After returning from a two-year doping ban in 2008, he won the 2010 Giro, but arrived exhausted on the Tour and finished 32nd. He decided to skip the Giro to focus on the Tour this year, but a bad training crash in May has cast doubt on his form.

-Bradley Wiggins, 31, England, Sky: Wiggins failed last year to follow up his surprising fourth-place finish in the 2009 Tour, but the British rider positioned himself as a dangerous rival to Contador this year with his victory in the Criterium du Dauphine, a traditional Tour warmup.

In the Alpine stages of the race, the former track specialist and Olympic champion was able to fight with pure climbers even in the hardest climbs, showing the potential to aim for a podium finish at the Tour.

-Jurgen Van Den Broeck, 28, Belgium, Omega-Pharma: Van Den Broeck finished fifth last year in his second appearance on the Tour, giving his fans hope for a first Belgian podium finish at the race since Lucien Van Impe's second place in 1981.

Van Den Broeck prepared well for the Tour with a fourth place at the Criterium du Dauphine, winning a stage.

-Robert Gesink, 25, Netherlands, Rabobank: The young climber finished sixth last year and is aiming for a podium finish after working to improve his time trialing.

-Samuel Sanchez, 33, Spain, Euskaltel: The Olympic champion missed the podium last year after crashing in the Pyrenees and having Denis Menchov overtake him in the next-to-last stage of the race.

-Ryder Hesjedal, 30, Canada, Garmin-Cervelo: The former mountain bike specialist came to prominence during last year's race with a seventh-place finish. With David Millar, Christian Vande Velde and Johan Van Summeeren as teammates, the Canadian can aim for a top-five spot.

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