All eyes on Armstrong as 2009 Tour de France gets underway

All eyes on Armstrong as 2009 Tour de France gets underway Monaco- The first stage of the 2009 Tour de France got underway Saturday in Monaco as Dutch rider Kenny van Hummel rolled down the starting ramp.

Prince Albert II of Monaco gave the official start to the race, but most of the attention was focused on seven-time Tour winner Lance Armstrong.

The 37-year-old Texas native is making a comeback to the Tour after a retirement from cycling of more than three years and the 15.5km individual time trial through the streets of Monaco appears tailor-made for him.

Most observers agree that the Swiss rider Fabian Cancellara is the man to beat Saturday, and the two-time world time-trial champion has also declared himself the favourite to win the first stage.

"For the time trial, my confidence is at its maximum," the 28-year-old Team Saxo Bank rider said. "My rivals will want to get out their heavy winter coats for when I pass them. It will be hard to beat Cancellara."

But Armstrong said that the course suited him to a tee.

"It's a good course for me, hard and technical," he told the daily L'Equipe. "I lived here. I know the streets like the back of my hand."

Much of the interest in the stage will be focused on a race within the race, between Armstrong and Astana teammate Alberto Contador.

Contador, who won the race in 2007, is wearing the team leader's number, and has been declared the leader by team manager Johan Bruyneel.

Armstrong has always declared his willingness to work for Contador, but only if the 26-year-old Spaniard proves himself to be the stronger rider.

Either man could use the results of Saturday's stage to make an argument as to who will lead the Astana team through the grueling three weeks of the Tour de France.

The Tour ends July 26 in Paris. (dpa)