New Zealand's most experienced road cyclist, Julian Dean, believes Cadel Evans can upset the odds and win this year's Tour de France.
Dean, who has ridden the Tour seven times, has been forced to sit out this year's three-week race around France because he broke his leg in the Tour of Catalunya in March.
But having riden alongside all of the leading riders in this year's Tour, he is picking Australia's Evans to finish in Paris in a yellow jersey for the second straight year, beating Bradley Wiggins from Britain in the process.
"If you look at the way Wiggins and his whole team has been riding, it's something quite phenomenal," Dean told the Sunday Star-Times from his home in Spain.
"But the Tour de France is a different beast, while Wiggins is going in as the favourite, Cadel has had a lot of Tour experience and you can't ignore that.
"If you look at Cadel and how many attempts it took him to win the Tour de France, that's given him experience to build and he was finally able to crack it last year.
"Knowing how the Tour de France is and the stress that goes on the athletes in it, I really believe Cadel is going in with the upper hand.
"One of the big difficulties is getting through that first week to 10 days where there are a lot of crashes and Cadel has got that experience of getting through that period of the race uninjured and unharmed."
Because there are 101km of time trialling and just three summit finishes in this year's tour, the pure climbers have no chance of winning this year's race. Vincenzo Nibali, Dennis Menchov, Jurgen Van Den Broeck, Sammy Sanchez, Frank Schleck and Robert Gesink should all be battling out for a place on the lowest tier of the podium on the Champs Elysees.
But the fight for yellow is more complex than a straight fight between Evans and Wiggins. Both will need a strong team of riders to support them. If they don't get that help, they won't win.
"If you look at the way Sky have been riding, they're definitely the stronger team," said Dean.
"There is though a lot of experience on the BMC team aside from Cadel. They have guys like George Hincape and Manuel Quinziato."
The Tour started last night with the 6.4km prologue around the Belgian city of Liege, but the racing will get under way in earnest tonight in the 198km stage from Liege to Seraing.
It is not a stage for the general classification riders, but it will be the first battle for those chasing the sprinter's green jersey.
Last year Mark Cavendish won this contest, but this year he has other objectives.
"I don't think Cav will be contesting the green jersey, his focus will be on the Olympics and he'll stop in the Tour early," said Dean.
"The green jersey is going to come down to Matt Goss [Australia] and Peter Sagan [Slovakia].
"The new points system they started last year for the green jersey, with a single sprint in the middle of the stage, has changed the points competition a lot.
"These guys that can climb a bit better like Sagan and Goss who can make it to the sprint after a couple of climbs, will have a big advantage."
As for Dean's Australian Orica-GreenEdge team, he is predicting stage wins for them.
"They've got some really good opportunities. What they've done really well is having one focus, which is to try to win stages in the Tour de France. They haven't got caught up on trying to spread themselves too thinly with too many objectives.
"The Tour de France is very stressful. You have moments where you can sit back and relax, such as in the intermediate sprints if you've got a rider who's going for GC, but Sky are going to have to go after those sprints too, plus all of the sprint finishes and the mountain finishes.
"There is a lot of work for them to do there, but GreenEdge's advantage is that they're focused on the sprints. They've got a couple of opportunists in Michael Albasini and Simon Gerrans for breakaways."
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