PARIS • Alberto Contador will cement his status as the best grand tour rider of the modern era if he emerges the winner of the Big Four's battle royale at the Tour de France - which starts on Saturday and is the most highly anticipated race in decades.
The Spaniard is looking to achieve the Giro d'Italia/Tour double for the first time since the late Marco Pantani in 1998.
However, the competition has never been fiercer for the seven-time grand tour champion, who will retire at the end of next year.
Chris Froome, the 2013 champion, and Nairo Quintana, who hopes to become the first Colombian to win the Tour, look fresher while defending champion Vincenzo Nibali will also be in the mix on a treacherous course.
The first goal will be to make it to the first rest day after riding on cobbles, through potentially bunch-splitting winds and mastering dangerous courses as well as a tricky team time trial, a discipline Froome's well-oiled Team Sky machine have failed to master lately.
"Organisers want to create a show every day but they put the riders at risk," Eusebio Unzue, Quintana's Movistar team manager, said.
Last year, Froome and Contador crashed out of the Tour and Nibali powered to victory as Quintana had skipped the race.
This time, all four should be in decent shape when the three-week race starts in Utrecht, Netherlands, on Saturday.
Should they fail, a swarm of second fiddles or young guns, led by France's Thibaut Pinot and Romain Bardet, will be ready to seize their opportunity in a very mountainous Tour.
"If one of them (Pinot, Bardet or American Tejay van Garderen) attacks and we start looking at each other, it could change the Tour," said Quintana who possesses the ability to attack far from the finish.