LUXEMBOURG, July 5 (UPI) -- The world's most famous cycling race begins Saturday with the world's most famous cyclist the overwhelming favorite to win for the fourth straight year.
Lance Armstrong's domination of time trial and mountain stages has brought him three Tour de France titles and his route to another one has seemingly been eased this year by the absence of would-be challengers Jan Ullrich, Marco Pantani and Gilberto Simoni.
"But it's up to us to make the race exciting," Armstrong said Friday. "Despite the absence of people like Pantani and Ullrich and Simoni, it's still a thrilling, exciting event. It still has difficulty, it still has pain and suffering, and the things people like to see. At least I think they like to see that.
"I think it will be exciting. I think that there are plenty of good riders that can make the race."
Armstrong singled out former teammate Tyler Hamilton.
"He has both skills that are needed to ride a good tour," Armstrong said. "He can time trial and he can climb. He has the experience of having been here and having done the tour several times.
"He has a great team leader in Bjarne Riis. He has experience, he knows what he's doing, and I think you see he's taken Tyler to another level with his direction. Tyler's a threat. In my opinion he's one of the favorites."
Armstrong and the rest of the field will appear Saturday in the traditional Tour de France opening, known as the prologue.
It is a short individual time trial that will be conducted in Luxembourg. The first stage will also be held in Luxembourg Sunday with the first critical stage coming next Wednesday when a 68-kilometer team time trial will be held.
"This is why I work hard and train hard and prepare hard," Armstrong said. "That's why I still get nervous before the Tour de France. The day I show up and say 'you're right, I'll be in front, I'm not nervous, I'm relaxed, big deal,' that's the day that you lose. Anybody can win. Well, not anybody - but almost anybody."
The race ends July 28 in Paris.