Cycling: Five to follow in France

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Age 27 (Neth) Rabobank

Let us hope that Richard Krajicek's shock dismissal at Wimbledon is not an omen for his old schoolmate. Boogerd won a stage at Aix-les-Bains on his Tour de France debut in 1996, weeks after Krajicek became the Wimbledon champion. Fifth in last year's Tour showed that the lad from The Hague was gaining in experience, and this year his strength in the mountains should bring Boogerd closer to a place on the final-day podium in Paris. The Dutch will be hoping that he can be their first winner since Joop Zoetemelk 19 years ago.

Best performances: 1996: Tour de France stage (Aix-les-Bains). 1998: Catalan Week. 1999: Amstel Gold classic; Paris-Nice.


30 (Russia) Mapei

He missed the Giro d'Italia this year after scoring an overall victory and two second placings in three years. Such performances make the Russian a likely candidate for Tour honours. He could not beat Marco Pantani in the 1998 Giro but he made the Italian fight for every second, especially in the Dolomites. Tonkov is a reasonable time trial rider and a scrapper in the mountains. These are the qualities from which Tour champions are made. In 1992 and 1993 he won the best young rider category in the Giro, but has yet to be fully Tour-tested. Two Tour outings (1994 and 1995) ended in retirement.

Best performances: 1995: Tour of Switzerland. 1996: Giro d'Italia. 1997: Tour of Romandy; three Giro stage wins; two Vuelta a Espana stage wins. 1998: Giro d'Italia stage win.


27 (United States) Cofidis

Lance Armstrong was seen as the new Greg LeMond (the first American to win the Tour) but Julich's third overall placing last year brought a rethink. If he can reproduce last year's form, with a touch more confidence added, perhaps he can follow LeMond and his three Tour triumphs. His record does not excite, but he showed last year that he has the big-match temperament.

Best performances: 1997: Three Route du Sud stage wins; Tour de l'Aine stage win.


29 (Spain) ONCE

An all-rounder who was lumbered with the title of successor to five-time Tour winner Miguel Indurain, which was made worse because there is a physical resemblance. He won the Vuelta a Espana last year after his team, along with other Spanish squads, quit the Tour in protest. His team manager, Manolo Saiz, at first a persona non grata with the Tour, is sure to arrive more purposeful than ever and with the world No 1, Laurent Jalabert, absent from his line-up, everything is geared to Olano.

Best performances: 1995: World road race champion; Vuelta a Espana second overall, plus three stage wins. 1996: Tour of Romandy; Tour of Galicia. 1997: Tour de France stage win; Grand Prix Merckx. 1998: Vuelta a Espana; World time trial champion.


29 (France) Polti

He has the best Tour credentials of the quintet. Four times Virenque has won the mountains category and, more importantly, he was runner-up in 1997 and third in 1996. In 1992 he wore the Tour leader's yellow jersey for a day, and has always saved himself for the big race. If he can ignore the fact that he is "unwelcome" as far as the Tour hierarchy are concerned, Virenque could be considered favourite, if only on past performance and his mountain-climbing ability.

Best performances: 1994: Tour de France stage win, plus best climber. 1995: Tour de France stage win, plus best climber. 1996: Tour de France best climber. 1997: Tour de France stage win, plus best climber. 1999: Giro d'Italia stage win.