Defending champion Raul Alcala and his most formidable 1993 challenger, Lance Armstrong, are both riding for Motorola this year.
They are among 112 riders competing in the 1,060-mile Tour Du Pont, America's premier cycling event. The 12-day race begins today in Wilmington with a 2.98-mile prologue. The fastest rider in the prologue gets to wear the yellow leader's jersey during the first stage of the race tomorrow from Dover to Wilmington, a flat 75-mile course.
On Friday, the Tour Du Pont moves to Maryland with a 115-mile course from Port Deposit to Hagerstown. Between Thurmont and Hagerstown, racers face their first major challenge, a 1,000-foot climb over Catoctin Mountain on Route 77.
From Hagerstown, the Tour moves to Fredericksburg, Va., and goes through a series of mountainous stages in Virginia and North Carolina before ending with a 16.6-mile time trial in Winston-Salem, N.C., on May 15.
"It's going to be a difficult race," said LeMond, who won the Tour Du Pont on a much flatter course in 1992. "It looks to be much harder than it was in 1992. The competition is much stiffer."
Five of the top nine-ranked teams in the world are competing for more than $300,000 in cash and prizes, the largest purse in the Tour's six-year history. Cyclists have come from 19 countries.
LeMond, 32, who rides for France's top team, Gan, is coming back from a series of setbacks, including a broken wrist, last year. He skipped the 1993 Tour Du Pont.
"I'm riding fairly well," he said. "I trained well this winter, but I'm a warm-weather rider. As the summer goes on, I feel better and better."
For most riders, the make-or-break stages of the race could come during a 22.9-mile time trial the fifth day and three consecutive mountainous stages afterward.
The 22.9-mile time trial in the Roanoke Valley begins four miles into the race with a 5.5-mile, 1,500-foot climb up Twelve O'Clock Knob. A staggered descent gives way to a 900-foot climb up Mount Chestnut.