While discussion over the battle for the maillot jaune at this year's Tour de France has reached fever pitch, there's still a green jersey up for grabs. Cyclingnews spoke with three-time maillot vert winner Robbie McEwen to get an expert's view on who will be the man for green in 2009.
McEwen knows more than the average professional about winning the green jersey at the Tour. The likeable Australian has a triumvirate of green triumphs to his name, having won the maillot vert in 2002, 2004 and 2006. He adopts the same meticulous approach to winning the points classification as he does with his preparation in the weeks leading up to those three weeks in July.
He knows which stages he needs to take points on, how much energy to expend and where the classification can be won and lost; essentially, there's no better man to assess the candidates to succeed where he has in the past. Furthermore, after the retirement of Erik Zabel and before the return of Lance Armstrong, McEwen possessed the highest tally of Tour de France stage wins of any current rider.
With his last win coming in the first stage to Canterbury during the 2007 Tour, Katusha's experienced sprinter is still searching for victory number 13, although he'll have to wait another year before he can have a crack at what's proving to be an 'unlucky' and elusive stage win. An accident during the second stage of the Tour of Belgium meant he'll be sitting out this year's edition of la grande boucle.
In the meantime a new world order has emerged amongst the sprinting elite. The rise of British phenomenon Mark Cavendish has ignited a fervour and inflamed the interest of those who love to watch the fast men battle it out for stage supremacy. Comparisons between Cavendish and McEwen have regularly been made and McEwen believes the 23-year-old can take his mantle - for this year, at least - and wear the green jersey in Paris on July 26.
"I still think Cav is the number one man for green this year just because there are 10 flat stages and he's got the best team," says McEwen. "He's likely to build up a lot of points on those stages and it'll be too hard to overhaul him on just one hilly stage.
"Cav's going uphill well , too. You don't even have to go uphill that well - you have to get to the finish in the mountains within the time [limit] and for the rest on the flat stages you've just got to score points. That can be enough."
We asked McEwen what he thinks about the big names likely to be at the pointy end of the race by the finish of the sprinters' stages at this year's Tour. While he says it will be a tough battle, he's clear on who his favourite is.
Continue to the full feature and find out who McEwen tips for the green!