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Cavendish needs flying start -- Kelly

The green jersey could remain elusive for Mark Cavendish in the 2011 Tour de France, according to four-time maillot vert winner Sean Kelly.

Consistency is the key to the points classification race, says Kelly, who believes Cavendish will have to do more than add to his prolific record of 15 Tour stage wins in three years to wear green in Paris.

A change to the points system -- with one heavily rewarded intermediate sprint per stage, rather than three carrying a handful of points -- could favour world champion Thor Hushovd (Garmin-Cervelo) and Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-ISD), the winners of the points classification ahead of Cavendish in 2009 and 2010, respectively, according to Kelly.

The Waterford man, now a British Eurosport commentator, said: "There's no guarantee with winning six stages. If you have good sprinters finishing in the top four or five every day they'll look at other opportunities to take points.

"That's where Cavendish has paid a price. Hushovd has done it a number of times in intermediate sprints and last year we saw it early on with Petacchi.

"It's all about getting a really good start and that's what Cavendish has got to do this year."

In 2010, Cavendish's build-up was disrupted by illness and a crash at the Tour de Suisse and he appeared short of confidence after a fall on the opening road stage to Brussels.

He failed to contest the sprint into Reims before bouncing back with aplomb, winning stages five and six, but his green jersey rivals were already well clear and he lost out by 11 points to Petacchi in Paris.

Like team-mate Hushovd, American Tyler Farrar is a realistic contender for green, as is Cavendish's HTC-Highroad colleague Matt Goss, who will be riding in his first Tour, but won Milan-San Remo earlier this year.

Cavendish is highly fancied, though and is determined to make amends for what he perceives to be the injustice of missing out in 2009, when Hushovd benefited from the Manxman being relegated for an indiscretion into Besancon.

Kelly added: "He's going in as one of the favourites. Hushovd's going to be a danger and with the new regulation concerning the intermediate sprints, it could be a benefit to Hushovd.

"We've seen him do it very successfully in the past, getting into a breakaway, and that is going to be of major importance this year. He will try that tactic again this year, definitely.

"If he sprints well in the flatter stages too he'll be a real danger.

"Cavendish is going to be going for the sprints 100pc and he's going to have to contest the intermediate sprints on the flatter stages."

Today's 191-kilometre stage from Passage du Gois to Mont des Alouettes Les Herbiers is likely to be something of a lottery, with teams jostling for positions which could be integral in the context of the next three weeks.

The winner on the day will take the yellow jersey and although Cavendish believes he could take the 16th stage win of his career today, he says others will be favourites and his HTC-Highroad team will not dictate the race.

Kelly added: "It's going to be an interesting first day. There's going to be so much nervousness in the bunch -- almost 200 riders fighting to be among the first 30 riders."

Irish Independent