Philippe Gilbert and Jurgen Van den Broeck, two men with a mission

The Belgian delegation for the Tour de France, which starts on Saturday, includes 15 riders and will be headed by in-form Philippe Gilbert, who eyes at least one stage win in the opening week, and Jurgen Van den Broeck, who hopes for a good overall ranking. Two Belgian teams are competing: Omega Pharma-Lotto and Quick Step.

Philippe Gilbert, the man with the yellow hair

Newly-crowned Belgian champion Philippe Gilbert carries the most Belgian hopes for a stage win. In the opening week, the Walloon rider has a couple of chances to take the day's prize, with some finishes uphill after a (relatively) short but steep climb, his speciality.

His first chance would come as early as Saturday, when the opening stage ends on the Mont des Alouettes. This day is also the birthday of his wife Patricia. Gilbert gets a second chance on Tuesday, his own birthday, with the uphill finish on the Mur-de-Bretagne. The Belgian hopes to brighten these occasions up with a bunch of flowers, but he also eyes the yellow leader's jersey.

Getting hold of the yellow will be hard though, if he doesn't win the opening stage. On Sunday, there is the team time trial and his Omega Pharma team are not among the favourites in that area. Still, Gilbert has chosen for a new-look hairstyle to start this Tour de France: he had his hair dyed yellow, a colour compatible with the yellow jersey...

Jurgen Van den Broeck, the man for the mountains

The Fleming Jurgen Van den Broeck has travelled to France with his confidence sky-high after taking fifth place overall last year.

The 28-year-old has become more mature and can count on the moral support of his new girl friend Femke Herygers, the daughter of former cyclo-cross world champion Paul Herygers (photo).

Van den Broeck, also dubbed VDB, wants to do better then last year and eyes the podium in Paris. He is an excellent climber, but Belgian fans fear that he will lose a substantial amount of time in the individual time trial in Grenoble, on the last Saturday, and also in next Sunday's team time trial in Les Essarts.

On Sunday, he has the same mission as team mate Gilbert: limiting the damage.

German sprinter Greipel is Lotto's third trump card

The Omega Pharma-Lotto team is sending four other Flemish riders to the start of the Tour: 34-year-old Jurgen Van de Walle, Jurgen Roelandts, Jelle Vanendert and Frederik Willems.

Their task will be to help Gilbert, Van den Broeck and the German sprinter André Greipel. The team is completed by three German riders: Greipel, Sebastian Lang and Marcel Sieberg. It will be Greipel's challenge to take a stage by winning a bunch sprint.

Quick Step: what is Tom Boonen capable of?

The question burning on the lips of Belgian cycling fans is "what is Tom Boonen still capable of"? Boonen, the former world champion, has said various times that he is no longer interested in bunch sprints anymore: too dangerous and too many "cowboys".

Despite this, the 30-year-old from Antwerp province has been sent to the Tour to win a stage and to take part in the sprints. Some even claim he would try and catch the green jersey for the best sprinter. Wait and see... In any case: Tom Boonen has seen it all in the past: he won 6 Tour stages, took the green jersey home in 2007 and had also worn the yellow in 2006. In recent years, he has not been successful at "La Grande Boucle."

The Quick Step includes three other Belgians: Kevin De Weert, promising Dries Devenyns and Gert Steegmans.

The other Belgians

In-form Thomas De Gendt, who a stage in Paris-Nice and the Tour of Switzerland earlier this season, will try to win a stage for the Dutch team Vacansoleil, which also includes veteran rider Björn Leukemans (34).

The other Belgians taking part are Gianni Meersman (Française des Jeux), Maxime Monfort (Leopard-Trek) and youngster Romain Zinglé (Cofidis).

Meersman will mainly focus on helping his team mates but will also have the freedom to try his luck in a breakaway. The West Fleming has fast legs and has his chances going to the finish in a small breakaway group. Monfort rides for the team of Tour favourites Andy and Fränk Schleck and will focus on a supporting role. 24-year-old Zinglé rides his first Tour de France.