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5 riders to watch at the 2014 Tour de France

PARIS (AP) — With only one time trial and 25 ascents in the Vosges, Alps and Pyrenees mountains, the route of the 2014 Tour de France unveiled in Paris on Wednesday should lend itself to riders who are particularly strong in climbs. Here's a look at five riders who should bring the race alive next July:

CHRIS FROOME

Unquestionably the man to beat in 2014, because he was so dominant and unflappable in winning the 2013 Tour. Be it in mountains or time trials, the Kenya-born Briton has no apparent weakness. Blew away rivals in 2013 with repeated and sustained uphill accelerations. Remarkably cool under pressure. Adroitly handled intense media scrutiny as pre-race favorite and when leading the Tour; dealt mostly patiently with pointed, at times accusatory, questions about doping; insisted he rides clean. Team Sky released detailed data on Froome's doping tests and performances in mountain ascents to combat suspicion generated both by the apparent ease of his victory and cycling's long and painful history of betrayal by drug cheats including Lance Armstrong. In his prime years as a cyclist (he turns 29 in 2014), backed by one of cycling's strongest and best-funded teams, and wiser and feared on the back of his 2013 show of strength, Froome has makings of a multiple Tour champion.

NAIRO QUINTANA

Skinny, small and light, the 2013 Tour runner-up is superb going uphill but lacks the power and technique to challenge Froome in time trials. In 65 kilometers (40 miles) of time-trialing at the 2013 Tour, the Colombian gave up a whopping 4 minutes, 27 seconds to the taller, somewhat more muscular leader of Team Sky. Froome's eventual winning margin in Paris was 4:20, underscoring how much of Quintana's dogged riding in the mountains, where he tested Froome more than any other competitor, was undone by his comparative weakness in the clock-race. The 2014 Giro d'Italia, with nine uphill or mountain-top finishes and a time-trial climb, might better suit the Movistar rider. Nine bone-jarring cobbled sections on Stage 5 of the 2014 Tour could also prove treacherous for lighter riders like Quintana.

VINCENZO NIBALI

Winner of 2010 Spanish Vuelta and 2013 Giro d'Italia; targeting 2014 Tour de France having skipped race last year. Italian's duel with Froome will be greatly anticipated. More complete rider than Quintana; nevertheless gave up nearly 4 minutes to Froome in two long time trials at 2012 Tour. Finished third behind runner-up Froome and winner Bradley Wiggins that year. Keeps questionable company: 28-year-old's general manager at team Astana, Alexandre Vinokourov, was banned from riding for two years for blood doping at 2007 Tour.

ALBERTO CONTADOR

Winner of five grand Tours (France '07, '09; Giro '08; Vuelta '08, 2012). Served doping ban and stripped of wins at 2010 Tour of France and 2011 Giro d'Italia after tests found traces of banned fat-burner clenbuterol; Contador blamed contamination, said it came from eating steak. At 2013 Tour was shadow of former dominant self; dropped by Froome on mountain climbs; tried clawing back lost time by hurtling downhill, upsetting Froome, who accused Contador of taking "uncalculated risks." Finished off podium in fourth. Although only 30, must prove at 2014 Tour that he isn't already washed up.

ALEJANDRO VALVERDE

2013 Tour ruined on Stage 13; broke wheel when pack was riding flat-out on rolling plains of central France, costing Spaniard insurmountable loss of time. Labeled "the future of cycling" by Lance Armstrong at his first Tour in 2005; won 2009 Spanish Vuelta; subsequently missed two years serving doping ban; runner-up at 2012 Vuelta, behind Contador, and third in 2013. At 33, time quickly running out for him to make bigger impact.

Follow John Leicester at http://twitter.com/johnleicester

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