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Five-time Tour de France winner Bernard Hinault named his four favourites for this year’s race – and Cadel Evans is not among them.
His casual comment at an Adelaide media conference reflects a prevailing view in cycling that Evans’ Tour “sweet spot” has come and gone.
When prompted for comment on Evans, Hinault certainly did not write off the Australian’s chances.
But the initial candid comment was all about defending champion Brad Wiggins, his Sky lieutenant Chris Froome and former Tour winners Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck.
Hinault is particularly bullish about Contador, the Spaniard who missed last year’s Tour de France because of a doping suspension and then returned to win the Vuelta a Espana (Tour of Spain).
“It will be between four riders – Wiggins, Contador, Froome and perhaps Andy Schleck,” Hinault said.
“In regards to what happened last year, Contador will definitely be on the podium.”
Asked for his thoughts on Evans, Hinault said: “Last year, he wasn’t at the same level as the year before.
“We’re not at the start of the Tour de France yet and many things can happen.
“Yes, he can (contend again) – he has the experience.”
Evans was dogged by illness in his title defence last year and finished seventh.
He will turn 36 this year.
Hinault was speaking at the Tour Down Under in South Australia, where he is an official guest.
He is the last Frenchman to win the Tour de France, having taken out his fifth title in 1985.
As usual, he was scornful of the current crop of French riders.
“There are French with high potential who don’t train hard enough,” he said.
“The problem in France is you have too many teams and not enough riders.
“And the riders are paid too much.
“There is no competition between the riders in France.”
Hinault is keen on cycling’s globalisation and this was a big reason why he is visiting the Adelaide race for the first time.
A few days before coming to Australia, he was in Africa to watch racing.
Asked if an African rider could win the Tour de France before the next French champion arrives, Hinault smiled and said “it is possible”.
The man nicknamed The Badger for his fierce competitive streak still rides about 200km a week and looks extremely fit.
While he acknowledges the technology, which is an integral part of modern training in the sport, can help younger riders he said the key to success has not changed from his day.
“There aren’t 100 different ways to train in cycling – the basics are the same,” he said.
“It’s about having the will to do it (to) the maximum.
“What I did 30 years ago, the basics are the same – exactly.”