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Tour de France kicks off: Who to watch

Alberto Contador, coming off two consecutive wins, is the clear favorite. But he's stuck in a legal battle over allegations of doping that could nullify any titles he wins this year.

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Cyclist Cadel Evans of Australia answers questions of reporters during a press conference at the team hotel in la Roche sur Yon, western France, Friday. The Tour de France cycling race starts on Saturday, with the first stage over 119 miles starting in Passage du Gois and finishing in Mont des Alouettes, Les Herbiers.

Laurent Cipriani/AP

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Before the 98th Tour de France kicked off this morning on the Atlantic coast, a doping scandal already loomed over the peloton.

The favorite, Spain's Alberto Contador, already tested positive for a banned drug last year. But with the legal wrangling still in process, he's being allowed to compete and could well win his fourth Tour victory before the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) decides his case.

If Contador wins the race but loses the case, that would make this the second Tour in five years to have its victor defrocked by a doping scandal.

In addition, the rightful winner of this year's Tour would be deprived of the opportunity to stand in yellow atop the podium in Paris on July 24 – an irreplaceable moment of personal satisfaction and public glory worth millions of dollars in endorsement opportunities.

"We wanted a quick resolution, before the Tour, but it looks like it was too much to ask," said Tour director Christian Prudhomme earlier this week.

The contenders

Pedaling hard against Contador for victory is a crop of rising stars, most prominently Andy Schleck. The lean Luxembourger has finished second to Contador two years running and is one of the only riders who can stick with the Spaniard on the Tour's grueling mountain stages.

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