Four-time Tour de France green jersey winner Sean Kelly believes significant changes to the points classification at the 2011 Tour will encourage sprinters like Mark Cavendish and Thor Hushovd to adopt more aggressive tactics in their expected battle for the green jersey.
At last month's 2011 Tour de France route presentation in Paris, race organiser Amaury Sports Organisation (ASO) announced a plan that will see more points awarded at stage finishes and the number of intermediate sprints reduced from two to just one per stage. In addition, rather than the first three riders collecting six, four and two points, respectively at intermediate sprints, the new format will see 15 riders collect points, with 20 points on offer for the first rider over the line. Kelly told Cyclingnews that the renewed format will see the major sprinters show more interest in the intermediate prime than at present.
"If you have a stage with a climb at the beginning then it's going to be suited more towards a rider like Thor Hushovd because he's going
to make his team ride hard to get rid of the sprinters. But on the flatter stages there will be a situation where Cavendish puts his team on the front to control the race and he's going to go for the intermediate sprint the same way as the finish," he said. "It's going to work both ways; it's going to be a varied situation."
While the final layout of the Tour stages will not be revealed until next June, just four of the 12 stages that make up the final two weeks of the race have been classified as flat by organisers. During his own career Kelly demonstrated the advantage of climbing ability in the chase for green, with his final points classification win in 1989 coming off the back of a ninth place finish overall.
"I started out at that Tour going for a place in the general classification, thinking about a place on the podium. But I always had the green jersey in my mind. Just in case I didn't really get high up and close to the podium, I would concentrate on the jersey in the final week. The advantage I had was I could climb and would pick up points in the mountain stages."
Kelly said that while the 2011 points format offers Cavendish the opportunity "to chase a big number of points", the placement of intermediate sprint points on the hillier stages could tip the scales in favour of World Champion Hushovd. The Norwegian has already
claimed the green jersey twice (2005, 2009) and next year will have the added advantage of working in tandem with new Garmin-Cervélo
teammate Tyler Farrar. He also has a unique opportunity to become the first rider since Belgium's Freddy Maertens in 1976 to win the green jersey whilst wearing the rainbow stripes of world champion.
"As we've seen in the past - especially last year  - Hushovd is willing to go on the attack early in the stage. If he can do that and get away in a break, he can pick up some points," he said. "There are going to be certain days when the terrain presents that situation.
"Once we get the [stage details] and find out where the sprints are then you can say who'll have the biggest advantage."
Kelly wholly endorsed ASO's decision to alter the format of the classification, which has remained largely unchanged since the 1960s.
He said the onus now was on the organisers to position the sprints for maximum impact upon the race for green.
"You can be sure that ASO are going to look at where they place the sprints closely. It's all about making interesting racing and that's what ASO have been trying to do in the last few years," he said. "This year's Tour was a good race, with the route and the way it was laid out. Now, here's another new idea and when there's going to be big points on offer at the intermediate sprints they're definitely going to be contested every day."