Tour Down Under: Lance is the word... but not the favourite

André Greipel returning to defend his title

Australian cycling fans have only got one man on their mind this week: Lance Armstrong. The American is making his return to professional cycling at the Tour Down Under, but the seven-time Tour de France winner's early arrival in Australia's fifth largest city - Adelaide, South Australia – has local media and race fans alike in a flutter.

Despite tough talk from local authorities of a four-vehicle police escort for training rides, on Armstrong's first training ride he was flanked only by other big-name riders like Stuart O'Grady and Pat Jonker. It's something that has proven a pleasant surprise amongst local enthusiasts, who have found themselves riding in a bunch with the cycling legend on their morning ride.

While the first test of Armstrong's fitness is a topic of interest, there's also a race to be had and chances are Armstrong is not going to be in the running for that title. After becoming the discovery of last year’s event and cycling season, Team Columbia’s André Greipel will return to defend his title.

Greipel has the support of a strong Team Columbia which includes George Hincapie, Adam Hansen and Australian time trial champion Michael Rogers. While Hansen helped control the action on last year’s race-deciding Willunga climb, the former Crocodile Trophy winner will be challenged by having to complete another lap of the climb in this year's course.

Another rider returning to Adelaide, albeit competing with a different squad, is Tasmanian Wesley Sulzberger, who has proven in the past that he's more than capable on tough courses. He joined Marc Madiot's Française des Jeux team late last year and may well prove the dark horse of the field, despite the team's all-white kit.

His brother, Bernard, is the reigning national criterium champion while Wes took silver in the 2007 U23 world championship road race. The younger Sulzberger has a couple more years of tough racing in his legs which should complement his immense natural talent nicely.

Matt Goss is another potential winner - he's strong in a sprint, can last on a climb and rose to prominence in stage racing terms with great performances in the Tour of Britain in 2007 whilst riding for the SouthAustralia.com-AIS team. He returned last year with CSC Saxo Bank and won the second stage, impressing throughout the week-long event. This length and style of race suits him, and he's due for a big overall victory - there's no better place than home soil for that to take place.

One thing's for certain - whoever is in the hunt for the title may have to shoulder less pressure and attention than previous years thanks to the 'Lance Factor', leaving the door open for a surprise result or a big breakthrough win for an ambitious youngster.

For more information and race news go to Cyclingnews.com.

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